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From data to wisdom: charting your shop’s new path

Before metalworking coolants are drawn, lubricants changed, adhesives applied or before any conversion coating solution is even dreamt about, data are being collected and managed somewhere along the food chain. I am no expert in data science but I do appreciate how much (and how fast) industry is being tantalized with the power of data. What’s relevant for any shop is that meaningful data management will save you time, make you more efficient (therefore more competitive) and, increase your market reach. Those things rolled up will also keep you on the playing field longer as well. But there’s one key caveat: data are commodities and gathering is a path to nowhere unless you look for wisdom.

Data is your steel

In simple terms, data flow and the insight gleaned from it, keeps you and your machines in business because any other way is becoming too disconnected from reality and therefore too ineffective. The term “Big Data” we hear so much about describes the aggregated form of extracting actionable intelligence from seemingly disparate, and often times non-traditional, sources. The factory identified with churning out identical products en masse is an antiquated model. Data show, mass customization is the new industrial black and it’s shinning. But there are two common misconceptions all balled up in these statements:

One. Not all data is derived from the market. Some, you grow your own. Data and information is oft interpreted as being “external” based—what you buy at the market. In fact, your own crop (your own business sources) is just as important. The best examples are your financial and sales information. It’s just as valid to unravel your own trends and patterns as any other insight you might uncover externally.

Two. Data is your steel. Data are merely the raw material that enables action and decision. As you know well, all steel is not created equally. Some is used to support a tool; from others you produce your finest product. But you perform your best when the steel is ordered, gathered, cleaned, organized and stored so it can be accessed and then transformed at the right moment.

Information is what you want. You derive information from patterns in your data. But data are numbers and facts, they lack context and come without interpretation. Information is your processed steel—the useable material.

Why is “data” trending?

Look from 10,000 feet to understand why “data” hording is on the rise and why it doesn’t rest, say, at the manufacturing level. The supply chain is equally affected.

The market rules and what’s RISING is demand for “less of more”. Consumers are demanding more selection and more say in the specificity of the products it chooses. This is giving rise to more categories, more fragmentation and more distribution challenges (or opportunities, depending on what side of the fence you sit). The concept was essentially used as prophecy in the 2006 book “The Long Tail—Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” by Chris Anderson.*

What’s FALLING at the same time, is the cost of producing smaller batches of a larger variety of stuff with each unit tailor-made for a specific customer. So, without getting too far out on this tangent, a trend does exist: world markets are more connected, data is more available and information technology is more abundant. Meanwhile, pressure on the supply chain hasn’t changed much:

  1. Deliver on demand
  2. Accept less of more (this is new)
  3. Do it faster
  4. Make it cheaper
  5. Make it better.

For now, the best way to respond is to huddle your people and increase your understanding of information the same way you learned how to handle steel. In this way you can properly exploit the value of these resources—and the trend—toward accomplishing your goals.

From data to wisdom—a team sport

There’s no doubt, much of the anxiety over big data is caused by hype:

“Big data investments in 2013 continue[d] to rise, with 64 percent of organizations investing or planning to invest in big data technology compared with 58 percent in 2012. However, less than eight percent of survey respondents have actually deployed.”—Gartner, Inc.

Welcome to the Internet, your friend and your foe. Yes, it creates unnecessary anxiety, but it’s also allowing all sorts of data to inform every facet of modern manufacturing and beyond, no matter how disparate it seems. From environmental and sustainability issues to design, precision, quality and competitive cost, anyone can obtain external data, place it into some reasonable context and use it. In other words, anybody can buy a machine and purchase steel but they will probably fail for lack of knowledge, experience and insight.

At this point, you might argue that, after all this hype, it still comes down to “people” once again. I’d have to agree, but only if you’re smart enough to take appropriate action because of it.

Let data dazzle you and information direct you on your path, because only knowledge can illuminate data significance. Collective wisdom is a team sport that enables your shop to exploit the value of data, experience, information or any other resource you now have access to (including a very smart distributor I know).

HIT Solutions believes the more your business keeps up with important trends, the more you will improve your product, and improve your bottom line.

Leave me your comments below; share your thoughts.

*Chris Anderson is a British-American author and entrepreneur. He was with The Economist for seven years before joining WIRED magazine in 2001, where he was the editor-in-chief until 2012