A new year represents a new start. Here in the United States, we narrowly avoided falling off the fiscal cliff (this time), but as our Congressional leaders try to work to fix our nation’s financial problems, manufacturers around the world should keep focused on the future and the investments that will propel business forward.
The technology trends in 2013 are not necessarily new, but they are taking new form, interconnecting in a way that will create a significant shift in how data is used. We are standing at a crossroads. It is where the Information Superhighway meets Big Data to merge the structured and unstructured data needs of today’s businesses and supply chain ecosystems into a coherent platform for delivering information and automating business processes where and when needed. So buckle up.
There is so much data floating around out there—much of it unstructured—that it is difficult to capture, curate, store, search, share, and analyze. An ocean of hard-to-harness information swirls around the web, from brand-based conversations on social media platforms to the highly structured data associated with tracking cargo moving through the supply chain. Big data provides the tools and platforms needed to glean intelligence from data and turn it into business knowledge. And, as pointed out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, today’s big data intelligence adds more precision for managing data and predicting market trends. And, it does this fast by analyzing volumes of varied information with high velocity (the “3 Vs of Big Data” as Gartner calls it). As of 2012, about 2.5 exabytes of data are created each day according to the HBR article.
Yet while many have hyped-up Big Data platforms and Cloud services over past years – most based on the fundamental concepts of Hadoop (on which Google was founded) and terms like MapReduce, HDFS, Hive and Pig Latin – it is in fact these technologies that form the basis for finding information with similarities. They allow, for example, a customer service employee to learn all there is to know about a particular customer in terms of past orders without having to rely on the screens of their native CRM application or content management system. The Big Data problem for today’s business is not just a matter of having a good Intranet crawler go against their document repositories. Rather, it is the convergence of Big Data technologies that can also access data locked up inside today’s business applications and relational databases, not to mention at an ever lower total cost of ownership, that can unlock the greatest potential for Big Data in today’s enterprises.
Internet of Things
It is those small, low-cost sensors that give us visibility into every moving part of an organization, and, which will also be responsible for generating a ton of new information in the big data world. According to a recent IDC report, machine- and sensor-generated data will increase to 42% of all data by 2020, up from 11% in 2005. Tiny devices, controlled by intelligent software, are tracking communications from machine-to-machine without any human intervention and can monitor everything from the temperature inside a milk delivery truck to a worn out gauge in an oil refinery. And, when such data is tightly combined with manufacturing intelligence, business analytics, and new kinds of visualization technologies, the Internet of things will provide a powerful competitive punch – and a lot more data.
Business Process Management
Having the ability to analyze big data can accelerate business transformation as well. The ability to become a more dynamic, adaptable business hinges on the ability to know how to use the data towards the goal of evolving and automating business processes; towards to transforming the next wave of manually-performed or unstructured processes to the next plateau of productivity and competitiveness. This is where the need to distill Big Data down into salient data points via advanced search and analytics becomes the next tool for gaining the necessary insight and navigating the forest of process improvement opportunities available. In order for that to happen, there must be an underlying business process management (BPM) capability in place. It is the blueprint for how a company works between internal departments, as well as with external partners and customers. By creating a process-centric model for the business and then integrating big data results, a company has the ability to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. In other words, this process-based setup takes the information that has been analyzed and makes it actionable; it is then that the enterprise achieves the next level of agility [sigh of relief].
Agility, after all, is the only way to operate efficiently and competitively in today’s economic climate. While the U.S. may have managed to avert a fall off the financial cliff this past December, and the asset bubble of the last decade, there is still much uncertainty around the U.S.’s looming fiscal and tax reform, sluggish economic growth, lingering high unemployment rates and debt ceiling. Now more than ever, manufacturers need technology to fine-tune operations and stay the course. Leaders in their industry are sure to look at Big Data as one more key technology to explore in their journey through the thorny woods of this decade.