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Advanced analytics is a technology solution with a human soul

Leads the firm's digital and analytics work in metals in the Asia–Pacific region, coleads technology-enabled transformations of process industries in India, and advises clients in the basic-materials, automotive, and consumer sectors on strategy and operations excellence

The modern machinery used in industrial manufacturing produces torrents of data. Multiplied across the value chain, these torrents quickly form an ocean. And hidden at the bottom of that ocean are pearls of wisdom capable of driving huge performance shifts or even turning whole industries on their head.

Industrial manufacturers have traditionally just skimmed the surface, measuring output and other obvious functional metrics. Few have attempted to explore the depths because the tools have not been available. But this is changing. Industry 4.0 is making powerful and intuitive advanced analytics solutions available at affordable prices so manufacturers big and small can seize the opportunities on offer in the digital age.

In our last post, we said that it is critical to invest in building human capabilities when undertaking a digital transformation. This is particularly true when it comes to building the advanced analytics capabilities that will drive it. But how does an analog manufacturer make this switch?

A good place to start is to set up a learning center for advanced analytics. This “academy” builds the functional and leadership capabilities organizations need to ensure their digital transformation creates real business value. When tailored to an organization’s unique situation and transformation goals, an academy can provide crucial support throughout the transformation process—helping companies assess their current situation, refine their vision for their digital future, and develop and implement the roadmap that will take them there.

Crucially, an academy helps organizations understand and develop practical use cases, each relating to a specific situation where data can be used to redesign a process and increase business impact. As companies ask harder and harder questions of the data at their disposal, use-case development become more sophisticated as well. For instance, one of India’s largest building-materials manufacturers launched an 18-month digital transformation program by having its academy identify and develop more than 100 use cases that would take it towards its desired future.

The academy then helped the manufacturer rate these uses cases according to a range of criteria, after which it piloted around 60 according to a systematic methodology that the academy fine-tuned. The most successful use cases—those where a transformative pearl was found—were integrated into daily operations, creating immediate impact: for example, successfully predicting 70 percent of quality incidents before they occur, and increasing process stability by at least 50 percent. The techniques being applied are now helping drive the continuous improvement at the heart of Industry 4.0.

Human capabilities are essential throughout the transformed organization, with multifunctional teams of experts assembled to design, pilot, and integrate new digital processes. Specialists with deep technical skills—data scientists, data architects, UX/UI designers, and the like—are a pressing need, one that may require sourcing from outside the organization should the reskilling of internal candidates prove impractical.

Yet these advanced roles represent only part of the equation. Equally important are people with strong business capabilities who can liaise between the experts and the other functions, so that all changes are driven by and meet real business requirements. These “translators” are especially likely to be drawn from current staff, with support from the academy as necessary.

For the changes to last, they’ll need support at every level of the company, from the board and management on down to the factory floor. Leadership- and capability-building programs provided by the academy, together with targeted interventions, help ensure critical capabilities are built at all levels of an organization. Adult-learning principles are especially important, emphasizing experiential, hands-on learning targeted to each participant’s level and role.

At the Indian plant, the digital transformation program meant training more than 200 practitioners throughout the organization: a massive, complicated undertaking. But it’s not something the company could afford to get wrong, because it led to an essential mind-set change that now helps create new value in virtually every aspect of the manufacturing process.

The Indian company’s experience illustrates a broader truth. Manufacturers getting the most from advanced analytics recognize early on that while technology may reveal new oceans of opportunity, it is people who decide whether to dive in. And without the right capabilities, they may never find the pearls that can turn an analog now into the digital future.

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