A little as a year ago, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were being told about the benefits of big data, but most didn’t know where to start or have the time and expertise to produce insights that actually impacted their business. Today, SMEs are now actively implementing big data into their processes — extending the use of data collected from multiple departments throughout an organization and its supply chain. Being able to tap into data retrieved from their partners, suppliers and end-users alike is a lot more common for SMEs today than you would think.
According to BI Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) devices connected to the Internet will more than triple by 2020, from 10 billion to 34 billion. IoT devices will account for 24 billion, while traditional computing devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, etc.) will comprise 10 billion. The research firm also noted that businesses will be the top adopter of IoT solutions because they will use IoT to: lower operating costs; increase productivity; and expand to new markets or develop new product offerings.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
New trends in data and the increasing presence of the IoT can be leveraged without sinking in terms of time, investment and payback. The balancing act is to navigate this data with a minimal amount of resources to find anomalies in the simplest way. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software can help SMEs do just that. PLM offers the ability to retrieve valuable information including design data, product engineering, manufacturing and field data and tie this information to a central product record to reference for new product iterations. While the big PLM players have made acquisitions, tacking on expensive data analysis services to their pricing or additional fees for integration to other systems, there are PLM vendors out there looking out for the SME by providing a simpler, more streamlined way to leverage the IoT and big data trends in a more significant, beneficial framework. It won't seem like a tsunami crashing down but rather the kind of waves that you would want to ride and that would actually ride you to the shore — on solid ground and in one piece.
For starters, PLM technology that connects processes within multiple departments and active teams from engineering, operations and manufacturing can create a closed-loop, enabling manufacturers to develop products that are able to leverage IoT data to improve product development processes. The IoT data gathered from a product’s real-world performance and quality could impact all stakeholders across the company in product design and development, manufacturing, sales and marketing, customer operations and after-sales services. It can also make a difference for suppliers as well since this feedback can be circulated back to the suppliers of the parts being used in the product design. Suppliers can then make any adjustments to parts to optimize performance.
IoT data often has the ability to deliver data points in real time and close the lifecycle loop. Product planning, design and quality departments can now learn from a product’s operational behavior to improve features that customers use most. For example, IoT data managed with PLM will enable manufacturers to track and configure product design requirements based on usage patterns and allow for the redesign of parts or systems to improve quality. In addition, mobility improvements give users access to PLM data and processes from their mobile devices, allowing them to securely review, respond and react faster. It gives them the ability to record and process audit findings and any quality issues onsite or in the field.
Leveraging the Digital Age
Manufacturers have consistently focused on improving quality, performance, reliability and positive relationships with customers. However, it has become evident that the next generation of competition is digital, and seems to entail change in everything from designing products to supply chain management. The product manufacturer that never had to worry about embedding electronics and software components into their product design are now finding they are having to do just that. Having to buy chips and software off-the-shelf is changing the supply chain for manufacturers. They must work with new suppliers and determine delivery schedules, costs, end of life, etc. PLM helps manage the more complex supply chains by connecting directly to online content providers to predict issues with key factors such as availability early-on in the development process to save time and money.
There are still some potential challenges for SMEs in regards to how best to use the data they’ve acquired. SMEs want to be able to harness the power of this data available to them without drowning in it, along with that, potentially losing their progress. Useful, meaningful data retrieved can assist SMEs in gaining a competitive edge through designing better-engineered products. Data is streaming in faster than ever and from more sources than ever as the new movement towards IoT grows and mobility brings even more connectedness, resulting in more information.
Riding the Wave
There is no doubt that this data trend is here to stay. For SMEs, this means finding a way to ride the wave to be able to reap the business benefits without drowning in the data. It is apparent that PLM technology designed for SMEs with its ability to centrally manage complex product data, connect internal and external departments and devices, and track and resolve product issues, is a natural solution. SMEs who turn to their PLM provider will be able to take advantage of Big Data and the IoT in order to design better products and maintain a competitive edge.
Chuck Cimalore is CTO at Omnify Software.