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How to Get Smart Using Business Intelligence

The ways in which manufacturers extract and apply business intelligence (BI) are in transition. Depending on a variety of factors, manufacturers are relying on everything from manually produced spreadsheets to inflexible legacy ERP systems all the way to “smart manufacturing” approaches utilizing IoT and even IIoT.

While the overall trend is toward more integrated and flexible systems that can process voluminous amounts of data, yielding analytics and metrics for improved decision-making, a majority of manufacturers still have yet to commit to the newer, “smarter” technologies. In the RSM International Association blog entitled How smart manufacturing is pushing the industry forward, the author cites a report published by the Conference Board of Canada indicating that some manufacturers were still relying on old legacy software systems, often 20 years old or more. An associate director at the Board stated,

“In lieu of data and facts, many operational leaders are still relying on experience, gut, and manually produced spreadsheets to make decisions.”

Indeed, tried-and-true legacy ERP systems sure beat manually produced spreadsheets when it comes to gathering data and generating intelligence. Unfortunately, manufacturers that continue to rely on these manual systems risk falling further behind those who have gotten “smart”.

Forward-looking manufacturers who have made the leap are gaining a competitive edge through their use of advanced data analytics and metrics to generate business intelligence that makes their manufacturing and business processes more efficient improves their risk assessment capabilities and enhances their ability to respond to customer needs quickly and effectively.

Smart Manufacturing Opens Up New Doors to Business Intelligence

For starters, smart manufacturing delivers greater connectivity across the entire enterprise, as well as the ability to process exponentially larger volumes of data from myriad input points – all of which provide more extensive production intelligence. Smart manufacturing also leverages “asset intelligence,” which enables management to shift from a reactive to a more predictive and proactive approach to machine maintenance, resulting in significantly improved uptime. Having access to so much “intelligent” data also helps to bridge the divide between management and shop floor operations.

Business Intelligence tools, including ERP, reporting and analytics solutions can provide answers to a wide range of potential impediments to efficiency, cost control, customer satisfaction and overall profitability, just to name a few. Here are a number of the most pressing questions that manufacturers can address with the right BI tools in place:

  • How do we improve processes throughout the enterprise to increase productivity, reduce waste and eliminate bottlenecks?
  • How do we integrate production, operation, sales and financial data to improve planning and forecasting?
  • How can we better meet customer needs and expectations in order to gain their confidence and retain their loyalty?
  • How can we optimize space in our warehouse(s) and what procedures can we implement to optimize labor resources?
  • How can we better track performance throughout our supply chain and make improvements, where needed?
  • How can we optimize our inventory levels, so that we don’t encounter stockouts or excesses?
  • How do we improve processes so that we can deliver orders to our customers as fast as possible?
  • What problems are most responsible for machine downtime and how can we best resolve them?
  • How can we improve workplace safety and ensure compliance with all guidelines?

Cloud-based ERP Analytics Boost Business Intelligence

Today’s new cloud-based ERP analytics tools can bridge the data divide between management and the shop floor, offering clearer visibility into the connections between issues and/or improvements in the production process and the overall bottom line of the business. These real-time analytics tools often display data in an easy-to-comprehend visual form and are designed to be flexible so that analysts can customize their own charts, graphs, reports, and dashboards to display exactly what they want to see. Plus, they’re usually accessible from one centralized portal, which means that all departments can share the same data and stay on the same page.

Cloud-based ERP Analytics Tools offer manufacturers a host of benefits, including:

  • Mobility – ERP systems with integrated mobile technology are great at keeping everyone fully informed and on the same page. Personnel throughout the enterprise can access data 24/7 through their laptops, tablets and smartphones and stay connected. Connected mobile devices are quickly becoming indispensable for accessing and analyzing data and, since they can travel anywhere, they can provide a highly effective way to demonstrate compelling data-fueled insights to stakeholders out in the field.
  • Fast Learning Curve –It used to take weeks, if not months, to get up to speed on these systems, but times have changed in a big way. The new user interfaces make it surprisingly quick and easy to gain proficiency, enabling users to get comfortable performing basic tasks in just minutes, and perhaps just a few hours to master the more advanced features and functionality.
  • Optimization Throughout the Enterprise – BI data helps every department run more efficiently and contribute more positively to the bottom line. For example, fluctuations between projected and actual output anywhere in the production process can have a ripple effect on inventory management, sales and distribution.
  • Cost Reductions – Data-based analytics can help significantly reduce costs in many areas, including production, packaging, warehousing, transport and inventory tracking.
  • Enhanced Quality and Safety – The emergence of embedded computerized sensors is a tremendous asset in identifying defects and other issues that could result in an inferior product. These sensors are repositories of vast amounts of information that can generate analytics used to improve the quality and safety of products and thereby greatly reduce the number of discards due to product flaws that persist through the entire production process.
  • Improved Labor Productivity – Manufacturers can make use of “big data” analytics to optimize worker efficiency and minimize error rates on the shop floor. This information can be utilized to help identify causes of under-performance and institute new processes and procedures to make the necessary adjustments.

Now Is the Time to Get Smart

Manufacturers that are still operating under the old paradigms of manual or outdated ERP systems (or some combination of both), risk falling behind their competitors who have invested in smart manufacturing technologies that can deliver highly useful business intelligence. If your company has been waiting to make the leap, now may be an opportune time to investigate your options. Be sure to identify exactly what types of BI tools you’ll need and make sure that they all can integrate “under one roof.” We’re confident that once you implement your new smart manufacturing solutions, you’ll be able to noticeably decrease downtime and costs and increase efficiencies throughout your operations and your supply chain – all of which should boost your bottom line.

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