Operational and business intelligence are very broad and open terms used in day-to-day conversation by not only manufacturers, but by many businesses. Because of this, the market is now quite saturated. Vendor messaging can be 75-90% the same or very similar, which makes the selection process for a solution a difficult one. “Capturing data in near real time from multiple data sources and turning it into valuable information” is heard time and time again, using roughly the same terms. This messaging confusion made me wonder about what really matters. What would be most important to me, if I were responsible for selecting a new enterprise manufacturing intelligence solution for my employer?
In response to this query, I have identified five key capabilities that you should seriously evaluate when selecting your next Operational or Business Intelligence (BI) solution.
- Ease of development and maintenance. What is the point of a solution if you can’t get it implemented or keep it up and running in a reasonable time frame without spending a lot of resources to deploy? Understand what is “under the hood” and see how well it can support your IT staff. Even more importantly, ensure that visualization, validation, integration and collaboration of the product can be done quickly and efficiently with your existing IT landscape. Make sure you also take into consideration after the first go-live and understand how hard it is to roll out fixes, dashboards, KPIs, measures and even rolling the entire solution to different plants. Deployment and maintenance occur at many levels. Just like getting a puppy, you will have to take care of it for its entire lifetime.
- Empowering the end user. There is inevitably going to be conflict between business users pressured to sell more product at better margins, the operations / engineering team to “make it happen” and those in IT tasked to give them both the data they need to make the right decision. The end result is an IT department that is flooded with multiple report, screen and execution changes from across many of their complex systems. Due to this scenario, most changes take between three to six months to complete and roll out to the users. Operational Intelligence tools that empower business and operations people to get their data, perform all sorts of analysis, collaborate and then publish – all without IT intervention – are winning the war. Requests like “For product ABC, what is the most common reasons for failure between stations three and nine during the night shift?” should be easily answered without a new report. An operational intelligence solution that empowers end users to use tools they already know (ex: Microsoft Excel) is ideal, so that no training is required.
- Pre-packaged solution, not just a tool. Most BI solutions are massive and very powerful in their features and functions. Yet, despite their size (and cost), in the end they are typically very “tool-like.” What I mean is that you still have to understand and validate your business requirements. Then you must define the process, understand the source system, implement, test and complete deployment. This is often the hardest part, and can often require many iterations to get it right. World class operational intelligence systems instead offer more of a pre-configured, out-of-the-box solution that is based on not only international standards but also real world experience within their verticals. Providing existing integration, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measures, reports, dashboards and screens significantly reduces the risk and time required for new implementations, helping to accelerate time-to-value.
- Complex analytics. The world is getting smaller, faster and more technologically powerful. What was not even possible three years ago is now the norm. It seems like sometimes the only constant is change. As such, when you are evaluating new operational intelligence solutions, look for those in the marketplace that can support predictive, multi-variant Statistical Process Control (SPC) and other complex statistical modelling capabilities. Further, understand which vendors are continuing to invest in their product and whose product enables frequent changes and updates. The manufacturing world continues to grow more complex. End users naturally expect more, given the pressure to increase margins while competing against greater global competition. Any advantage that can let end users make decisions “beyond the horizon” before they are visible to others – such as by leveraging more advanced, complex analytics – will surely provide significant return on investment in the form of profits, customer satisfaction and competitive advantage.
- Aimed at operations. It sounds simple, but this concept is often missed. Operations people need many different tools that allow them to perform their jobs better. These tools must be tailored specifically for their role and day to actions including metrics, alerts, cockpits, reports, screens, widgets and scorecards. Basically, any solution which offers the capability to enable decisions to be made faster, easier, to the point and more accurately is a valuable asset in today’s market.
That sums it up. I hope you find this list of five capabilities helpful as part of your operations intelligence evaluation process. Obviously there are other factors, so please take the time to understand and evaluate what’s important to your selection process with the appropriate weighting. Just remember to consider this decision is for the product’s entire lifecycle and rollout plan, and not just a decision of cost. You can always negotiate price, but you can’t simply do so with regards to product capabilities. Anyhow, good luck, happy hunting, and may your decision be the right one!