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Business Intelligence Helps Manufacturers Keep Smart, Stay Sharp

In this age of Big Data, it is possible for manufacturers to warehouse and mine internal and external data, and use this data to their advantage.

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Are you one of the many manufacturers drowning in a sea of financial, operational, and sales data? Sorting through and managing all of this information is often tedious, and having to decide which information is accurate or the most current is frustrating. In fact, for some companies, keeping up with the pace of data generation is a futile endeavor, with much of the data left underutilized, or untapped and unused. However, finding a way to conduct analyses and generate reports is vital to today’s decision making. An investment in business intelligence (BI) software would be a wise move in these times of fluctuating profit margins, increased global competition, and expanding regulations. BI empowers your organization to make well-informed, timelier, and more intelligent business decisions.

BI uses an intuitive interface to transform raw data –– by sorting, grouping, filtering, graphing, and dashboarding it –– into vital and useable information for reporting and analytical decision-making. Data from multiple sources is gathered, analyzed, and shared with many users through sophisticated real-time methods such as interactive reports, graphs, or dashboards. These reports are designed to your criteria: budgeting, forecasting, financial reports, cost-benefit analysis, and more. Interactive dashboards and point-and-click navigation make drilling down to a transaction or record level, filtering or exporting data on the fly, and posting reports uncomplicated as well. BI is an empowering and dynamic set of features typically at its best when used with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. So, if you are currently managing your operation with separate systems, or using an external, non-intelligent report writer, you might consider integrating all of them into one ERP solution.

Analytic competencies across the organization

Data Analysts and Data Scientists continue to do the heavy lifting, however, sophisticated data analysis is trickling down into the day-to-day activities of manufacturers. In fact, today’s data analyst may be your operations manager, supply chain executive, accountant, or a salesperson. More than ever before, your staff is open to accessing and using critical data to leverage the information available to them to streamline and improve their performance, and to increase their productivity. Thanks to the Internet, social media and “smart” electronics, employees in today’s world also have a greater aptitude for technology and are demanding these types of features to respond to ad hoc business questions or to reference browser-based analytics. BI technology offers state-of-the-art capabilities that are easily used by a diverse employee base, operating across a multitude of varying systems and sites.

This top-down interest throughout the organization is demonstrated in how data is typically used through the BI functionality. Management, sales, and operations rely on the system to perform various analyses and to create timely reports for informed decision making. Cross-functional and departmental analytics are performed to evaluate the organization through key performance indicators (KPI’s) such as maximizing asset productivity, reducing operating and supply chain costs, increasing customer satisfaction, honing manufacturing efficiency, facilitating quality improvement, and more. BI also facilitates the collection of more accurate safety and compliance data, and the compilation of reports to regulatory or governing agencies. Finally, since traceability is critical in manufacturing, BI analyses and reports may be used to help uncover problems, coordinate product recalls, and track accountability.

Simplified data visualizations

The average attention span is shrinking. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average attention span of a human being in 2015 is 8.25 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Thus, it’s important that every dashboard and analyses be designed with the “goldfish effect” in mind; the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds.

The information filters of humans’ brains appear to be functioning on “fast-forward” in this ever-innovative age of technology and information. This desire to process information and take action quickly has led humans to demand agility in the delivery of information and simplicity in its visual presentation. As social beings, humans also want the ability to interact with, and share, this information. Within the context of a business enterprise, BI technology offers a simplified user experience that makes accessing, understanding, and interacting with important data easier for everyone involved.

When integrated with your ERP, BI gives your staff the ability to: create real-time financial and operational reports quickly, with drag-and-drop simplicity and spreadsheet ease of use; design custom, easy-to-use dashboards with graphs, charts, and reports using simple point-and-click capabilities; drill-down to the detailed data from anywhere in the database; export data to Microsoft Excel; and post reports to Microsoft SharePoint, or other web application platforms, for wider sharing and collaboration.

Consolidate data from many sources into one

The modern manufacturing enterprise collects data from multiple sources for such activities as production management, production planning, quality management, product lifecycle management, inventory management, warehouse solutions, supply chain management, security, customer relationship management, and sales and marketing. This data is being collected from people, processes, and equipment on a variety of devices, including sensors and video cameras. It is important that this variety of data, gleaned from various sources, be centralized into one comprehensive database that can be broken down into defined, useable parts as needed and accessed by multiple users. BI does this and more.

BI functionality, when integrated with an ERP software solution, makes it possible for non-technical business professionals with varying degrees of responsibilities in the manufacturing enterprise to access, view, understand, and act on this critical data to conduct their business. The language of BI is recognizable and comprehensible. Tables, field names, screen prompts, menus, all are easily understood. There’s no need to be versed in cryptic computer programming language. Drag-and-drop features also make it easy to create reports, and to gather and share data from geographically remote sites, supply-chain partners, or customers via shared, self-servicing web portals.

Thus, in this age of Big Data, it is possible for manufacturers to warehouse and mine internal and external data, and use this data to their advantage. BI, integrated with an ERP software solution, will help you discover and analyze what is happening in the company –– recognizing strengths and areas in need of improvement. Then, BI can help you make accurate and informed decisions and design plans for your business to run more efficiently, profitably, and competitively now and in the future.

Daniel Erickson is Director of Product Strategy at ProcessPro.

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