“Is data the currency of the future?” - CIO

“Data is giving rise to a new economy – Fuel for the Future” - The Economist

 “Data is the currency of the future and that future is now” - The Guardian 

The urgency contained in these and similar headlines surprises no one. The digital age promises data driven decision-making that monetizes data in ways never seen before. Is your company prepared to leverage all of its data to its full benefit? Does your company recognize data as a strategic asset to be used to strengthen competitive advantages? While many companies have pockets of usable data very few have recognized the value in building a single source of truth with their information, wherever it may come from. 

This is not a new problem or opportunity. It may be that the rest of the world is finally catching up with manufacturing. The pain points for manufacturers—too little data, too much data, data stuck in file cabinets or multiple spreadsheets and integrating external supply chain data—has changed little over the years. 

This is 2018. Haven’t we solved these problems already? 

The answer to that question is, of course, “Yes, we did solve those problems already.” And then we solved them again. And again. And again. After nearly 40 years of building and delivering automated, real-time statistical process control solutions, there are still a significant number of manufacturing organizations who are doing things with the patchwork described earlier. Maybe we have been asking (and answering) the wrong question. Perhaps the problem is not the data, slow and manual or automated and continuous, but bigger organizational issues that need addressing. Organizational problems that extend beyond the scope of a quality director. 

However, let’s take a step back for a moment and take a high-level view. We believe the reason this problem has to be solved again and again is that many manufacturing leaders across functions (operations, engineering, supply chain and so forth) have failed to appreciate and build on the considerable strengths quality function leaders bring to the table. And at the same time, quality function leaders have not always been able to align their strengths for the benefit of their colleagues. 

This silo-ing of both strategic and operations with disparate data systems and goals creates a sub-optimized system. 

Sub-optimized real-time data systems are a sign that strategies across manufacturing functions are misaligned. It is very challenging to create a data-driven, real-time, problem-solving culture when key decision makers lack a single source of truth. 

For quality leaders, a deeper understanding of your colleagues’ needs creates an opportunity to foster that problem-solving culture. You will be better equipped to help align all the key players in your organization and ground your organization in real-time data. In organizations where the walls between these functions have been lowered and the organizations have developed core competency in real-time data, we see higher performance, increased supply chain flexibility, improved customer satisfaction, increased asset usage, reduced material and human costs, and increased revenue.

Operations Leaders

In our experience, operations leaders (vice presidents/directors of operations, and plant managers) are concerned first and foremost about top and bottom line. The kinds of questions they ask are:

  • How can I improve schedule adherence?
  • What’s our scrap/waste/rework rates?
  • How do we optimize material costs?
  • How can we improve throughput and revenue?
  • Can we optimize human resources?

These questions are important because increasing throughput and capacity can drive revenue (top line) growth. And better material, waste, and human cost management can drive margin (bottom line) growth. 

Most leaders today recognize that they need the help of every colleague in the company to answer these questions. So an enabling question—a “by what method” question—is: “How do we build a culture of problem solving, discipline, and accountability?”

Of course, as a quality leader in your organization you know the answer: a single source of truth that provides everyone ready access to real-time actionable intelligence.

Engineering Leaders

Engineering leaders may be focused on either manufacturing engineering or design engineering. 

While there may be some overlap, manufacturing engineering want to know if the manufacturing process is optimized for quality, productivity and throughput. An optimized manufacturing flow increases asset utilization, reduces costs and increases quality.

Design engineering is focused more on the product and the customer. They want to know if the product design is optimized for manufacturability. They are probably asking questions like:

How do manufacturing defects impact customer satisfaction?

Can design improve the customer experience?

These are important questions because a product design that is optimized for manufacturability decreases defects, increases customer satisfaction, and reduces warranty costs.

For both of these groups the answers are in the data. Like operations leaders, engineers need a single source of truth that provides everyone ready access to real-time actionable intelligence.

Supply Chain Leaders

Supply chain leaders often have the widest (or highest) perspective. They are the link between suppliers and customers.  They are concerned with the entire supply chain, and the performance of each link in the chain. They are likely to be asking questions such as:

  • How is quality across my supply chain?
  • How can we be more responsive and flexible for our customers?
  • How do we optimize pull through supply chain?

The optimized supply chain increases speed, flexibility and responsiveness. Achieving success without a single source of truth that provides everyone ready access to real-time actionable intelligence can be very challenging.

Continuous Improvement and Quality Leaders 

Many organizations have separate functions for quality and continuous improvement. Both functions are critical to organizations. 

Continuous improvement leaders are likely to be asking questions such as:

  • What improvement projects should be the top priority?
  • Are improvement teams productive, or do they spend all their time chasing data?
  • How can we reduce project cycle times?
  • Do improvements stick?
  • How do we measure success?               

These questions are important because the faster an organization can identify and resolve problems the better. CI teams are under pressure to deliver results, and in many organizations, projects have failed to yield the expected results. While there are many reasons for this, often isolated solutions sub-optimize the whole system. 

For continuous improvement leaders, a single source of truth that provides everyone ready access to real-time actionable intelligence is critical to optimize the entire system.  It also provides the critical capacity to monitor performance after the fact to ensure that improvements stick.

Single Source of Truth

All four of these functions would benefit from a single source of truth so that everyone has ready access to real-time actionable intelligence. This single source of truth:

  • Can be mined for priorities and insights
  • Provides real-time actionable insights
  • Enables drill down analytics
  • Fosters faster problem identification and resolution
  • Can aggregate and connect product and manufacturing defects to customer/field complaints
  • Improves communications up and down the supply chain to build trust and confidence
  • Increases capacity to sense and respond to manufacturing problems in a timely manner

Building a single source of truth does not begin with a technology solution. It starts with gathering key personnel from across the enterprise to create a strategic data vision. The group will eventually define the use of this data asset and set appropriate enterprise goals to achieve their objectives. The players we have identified will bring their discipline specific preconceptions to the discussions, but it is vital to keep the work at a strategic level for the benefit of the entire enterprise. Q