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Self-service BI and Analytics: The quick win for manufacturing digitalisation

With all the conversations around Industry 4.0, robotics, AI, IoT, and Data Analytics, it should come as no surprise that the UK manufacturing base needs to grasp the opportunity to exploit new technologies and ensure their future competitiveness.

There is a big opportunity for UK manufacturing to deploy digital technologies. In a recent report on Robotics, The Manufacturer highlights how other countries such as Germany and France have already been much quicker to adopt the digitalisation of industry. The term Industry 4.0 was originally coined in Germany and there are massive investments in digitisation already in place.

The adoption of digital manufacturing and the readiness of the Yorkshire region was recently the focus of a study commissioned by Digital Catapult, a technology innovation centre, set up to unlock digital growth in the UK.

The study conducted by the Centre for Industrial Analytics at the University of Huddersfield, conducted with 51 manufacturers, digital services, and regional/national bodies aimed to uncover the challenges and opportunities facing the region’s manufacturers. A number of themes emerged.

The research highlighted the need and desire of manufacturers for a ‘start small and prove the concept’ approach which lowers risk, aids understanding of the practical application, and benefits of digitalisation and boosts confidence.

It also recognised that there are barriers to digital adoption in terms of a general and widespread lack of digital skills, as well as the challenge of change management processes in the workplace. However, we believe there are some quick wins to be had.

The struggle of connecting and utilising data

Manufacturers are already ‘awash with data’, as one company in the study put it. Having already invested in a variety of enterprise software to manage business operations, resource planning, and customer relations, the existing challenge facing many manufacturers is how to connect data sources to improve planning for example, or use data diagnostically.

Many felt they were ‘not fully exploiting the data they had’. Here’s where a self-service business intelligence solution could transform reporting, data analysis, and the sharing of data to deliver actionable business insights.

The self-service BI solution

Self-service BI tools are designed to put simple data exploration tools in the hands of those who have the industry knowledge. The use of these tools is not reliant on having data scientists in an organisation; they can be used by anyone.

The data challenge for most businesses, and not just in the manufacturing arena, is that the data held in legacy systems is difficult to access. Just getting timely reports on which to base business decisions is often a real challenge. Self-service BI tools solve this problem.

Business intelligence dashboards are designed to connect directly to any data source and help users visualise data, making it easy to understand. Exploring data is made easy by using filters and simple tools to drill down to get to the underlying data from the original source.

Different sources of data can be displayed alongside each other, connecting data from different systems to aid planning and monitoring of outputs. These types of tools have long been in use in the financial arena, and their value has already been proven.

Predicting future trends better than a forecast could

It’s worth understanding the difference between descriptive analytics – data that allows businesses to manage current operations – and predictive analytics.

Predictive analytics allows users to create models using existing datasets which can then be used over new datasets to predict likely outcomes. Predictive maintenance is one such application of such analytics.

The considerable opportunity for improving efficiency and output by collecting data from machine sensors and the IoT is seemingly limitless and could be used diagnostically as well as predictively.

Analytics tools need not be the domain of just larger companies. Self-service analytics providers put easy to use tools within reach of any SME willing to invest in their ability to be competitive in the future.