Jan 22 2013

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Navigating Today’s Thorny Forest of Manufacturing Technology Trends

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.

Big Data

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.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2013/01/navigating-today%e2%80%99s-thorny-forest-of-manufacturing-technology-trends/

1 comment

  1. Anjela Mangrum

    The manufacturing industry is continually evolving due to globalization, technological changes, desire for more profitability, and efficiency in competition. These changes have created the need to review how manufacturing companies manage their employees. The traditional approach was concerned with only three aspects with linear relationships: Acquire, Engage, and Retain. The current generation of workers and the evolving manufacturing industry trend has made the tradition approach of talent management become less effective.

    For example, many manufacturing companies have downsized their workforce through voluntary exits, but at the same time they continue the difficult task of hiring very skilled labor. As technology improves and the manufacturing process becomes more complex, more and more highly skill workers are needed. Since they are in high demand, the good ones will tend to possess certain qualifications that will enable them excel in their career. These workers are usually well trained, highly skilled, capable of complex trouble shooting, flexible and able to solving problems under minimal supervision.

    After the competitive task of acquiring these people is complete, many manufacturing companies are faced with the dilemma of how to manage them. Many graduates who possess the above qualities belong to Generation Y. These are people born in early 1980s to early 1990s. They tend to be technologically savvy, versatile and would work in a company for only a few years before moving on to another. This is due to their life experiences and aspirations in life e.g. rise to senior level within a short time. This is unlike the traditional workers who are mostly content with their positions and can work for many years expecting a promotion.

    Manufacturing companies are seeing the need to shift their style of talent management. One of the new approaches to talent management that should embraced to ensure their survival in the highly competitive world is the “holistic model”. This model encompasses three major interlocked aspects in addition to the previous three. These are Develop, Deploy and Connect with a strong emphasis on capability, commitment, performance, and alignment. The aspect of connect is important because the Generation Y employees want to work beyond the functional boundaries, they need to be involved in initiatives such as Total Production Maintenance, lean manufacturing , six sigma, supply chain optimization , global sourcing and complex product launches. These initiatives may go far outside the scope of the job description they were hired to do initially. To attract and retain the required talent, the work schedule need to be flexible, concepts such as telecommuting should be embraced so that some functions can be done at home, and the work environment needs to be tech- savvy.

    In conclusion, as the manufacturing industries aim for global expansion, profitability growth, and productivity improvement; the significance of talent management will continue to increase in future because of the scarcity of the talents and aggressive competition among the manufacturing industries globally and within your tightening competitive sphere.

    Have you noticed any generational differences in employees that you’ve found interesting or enlightening?

    Anjela Mangrum, the co-owner of Mangrum Career Solutions, partners with manufacturing businesses to assist in their executive placement, onboarding, retention and outplacement needs. She also works to empower individual job seekers by helping them gain a competitive edge in their job search.
    manufacturing search firm

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