Digital transformation journey: It’s all about the data

The topic of digitalisation continues to dominate business conversations – and there are noteworthy examples of how digitalisation and automation are benefiting corporates globally. New technologies are also entering the market to further transform business functions, including machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet-of-Things and new prediction tools.

With the sheer number of new products and solutions being launched almost daily, the digitalisation process can be overwhelming for corporates seeking to kickstart their business process transformation. This is especially true for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who are looking to invest their limited resources into new technologies, and have the added pressure of making sure those investments translate into benefits within a short time.

As SMEs start to develop their transformation strategies, it is important to place primary focus on the tried and true data solutions that will fundamentally improve shop and factory floor efficiencies. These enhancements, related to operational processes, will provide early wins and incremental business savings to fund larger-scale, and more disruptive, technologies in the long term.

Tried-and-true data solutions for the shop and factory floor

The fundamental value of any digital transformation journey is to improve communication and visibility between different business divisions in an organisation – and implementation of data solutions is key. Staff must be provided with realtime updates on ongoing operational processes, and they must learn how to use digital solutions that give them access to this system-wide view. In turn, this will provide them valuable information that will help them react to sudden changes on the shop and factory floor, minimising lag time, and contributing to greater efficiencies.

Enterprise-wide communication tools

Digital transformation relies on the accuracy, availability and application of data, and so error-free and smooth exchange of information between different business divisions is crucial. Staff should be able to communicate with different points on the operation line, and effect immediate changes in their operations when needed.

For example, the headquarters of a delivery service may receive a sudden change in a customer address, requiring on-the-ground operational staff to perform a quick change of their delivery schedules. There needs to be a digital data entry system to keep everyone readily and easily informed. Solutions such as GPS location, AI assistance and sensor-enabled tracking can also enable personnel to retrieve relevant information more effectively, enhancing existing operational processes.

It is important that such a system must be intuitive to all users to maintain the reliability and accuracy of data entries. Regardless of the degree of automation, operational personnel are still required to enter data, record transactions and document hours, activities and results. Users must be able to input, access and retrieve data with minimal hassle, resulting in maximal responsiveness and efficiency.

Reporting and data analytics tools

Line-of-business managers can leverage optimised data dashboards and analytics tools to quickly gain insights into the health of an organisation, and subsequently strategise how to improve operational processes by applying small, but significant, changes to daily business activities. An optimised interface that gathers information from all business divisions, and presents them in a “bird’s-eye view”, can transform the role of managers into super-users who are responsive, and continuously engaged, in all lines of operations.

Gone are the days where managers need to grapple with complex reporting tools or, worse still, submit a request for the IT team to produce a custom report. Today, the visibility that reporting and analytics tools provide will go a long way in helping all line-of-business managers be fully equipped to run their business units autonomously.

Quality control and resource planning tools

Quality checks are crucial at every stage of the manufacturing process. Slight misalignments and calibration errors in a product design can result in faulty products, contributing to a huge waste of resources, and production delays. Imagine if a manufacturer of smartphone protective cases made a slight mistake in product measurements – this could result in the production of hundreds or thousands of unusable (and wasted) phone cases.

To prevent quality issues, SMEs can leverage Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tools to log and create critical milestones for quality checks and signoffs. With these tracking tools, suppliers, materials and components are all recorded on the system before production starts. Customised applications can also be built to formulate milestones in design, and subsequently translate them into production. After that, solutions that define, track, and manage quality criteria can be deployed for each production stage.

Data and supply chain tools

In today’s information age, customers’ tastes and preferences change quickly. Businesses need to gather the latest information on consumer demands, and be responsive to these quick changes, by tweaking existing product designs and re-imagining new revenue streams. Some businesses are also already rethinking how to assemble products, using modular design or components, to offer customers highly personalised products.

Using data analytics and supply chain tools, SME retailers can immediately inform their manufacturing divisions to enact instantaneous product changes to meet customer needs in real-time. For example, a TV star may sport a fashionable tweed jacket on screen, and stir conversation on social media channels. Using big data, fashion retailers can immediately gather this information, capitalising on this opportunity to tell their manufacturing divisions to produce tweed-related items, subsequently placing products on the market, to meet customer demands and boost sales.

- Helen Masters, Vice President & Managing Director, South Asia - ANZ & ASEAN, Infor -