Turn Your Data Into a Self Service Buffet

In a data driven world, it’s critical that the people who need the data to make timely, strategic business decisions actually have access to it. Flow Software’s Graeme Welton explains how to get this right.

In a data driven world, it’s critical that the people who need the data to make timely, strategic business decisions actually have access to it. Flow Software’s Graeme Welton explains how to get this right.

“Yeah, just ticket that and we’ll add it to the queue and get the data to you shortly.”

How many times have you heard this when requesting data and immediately been filled with dread, given up and made another plan. You’d know that you would probably only get the data way past the time when it would have still been relevant. And no doubt the information would not be exactly what you needed thanks to the request getting lost in translation between business-speak and IT-speak. And even when you do, eventually, get the information you were looking for, you probably have follow up questions now that you’ve seen the data. And so you submit another ticket and the data rodeo starts all over again.

And weeks, if not months, go by before you get the information you need in the format you want it. And that decision you needed to make, or task you needed to do — well better late than never, right?

Unfortunately, in today’s data-driven world this is not good enough to stay effective, efficient and competitive. Delayed decision-making, or decisions not informed by the data, can cost you money thanks to lost opportunities, lack of efficiency and the ripple effect that miscalculations can produce through entire inter-connected systems. Not to mention the frustration and anxiety decision makers and other employees will experience as they try to navigate by trial and error, when they know the data exists, but they just can’t get to it.

This can have very costly implications that ripple out through a business. In one case, a single meter was over-reading the throughput of a product. This resulted in incorrect conclusions and decisions on things from stock levels, to cleaning frequency and revenue forecasts. Plus, stock was being lost at some point along the process, but no one was aware of this.

The reason for this less than ideal state of affairs in many established businesses, is that if you were to draw a Venn diagram showing the intersection between “the people in your organisation who need the data” and “the people in your organisation that can actually access the data”, the overlap is typically a very tiny sliver. To survive in a digitalized, data-driven economy, companies need to make this overlap as large as possible. And, by doing so, bring the data and its slicing and dicing as close as possible to the people who need it to make the ongoing, essential strategic decisions. These decisions, if made in time, are going to ensure the competitiveness of your business. Startup new entrants don’t have this problem, as, if they’re smart, they’ve built themselves from the ground up to be data operations.

Data-driven decision (DDD) making is on the increase. A 2016 study on 50,000 US manufacturing companies showed that DDD had tripled between 2005 and 2010, from 11% to 30%. And this is unlikely to decline as, thanks to technology mega trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) the data we collect every day grows exponentially. Fortunately, technology is also helping us increase that sweet spot in the Venn diagram, and allowing more people in the organization access to the data.

Industrial decision support systems have come of age. Thanks to advances in user interface and user experience design, non-IT professionals can easily access the data themselves, in the format that they need it, when and where they want it. Natural and intuitive UI and UX is key to getting this right: we’re used to self-service banking, booking flights and hotels, and shopping online because it’s easy and frictionless, and we correctly demand the same experience from our enterprise tools.

Shifting perspective for a moment, this self-service trend is good news for the IT department as well. Putting self-service tools into the hands of business and operations, prevents IT from being a Report Factory. This relieves the team from fairly low-level data crunching work, and frees them up to work on big, strategic, move-the-dial IT initiatives.

Ultimately decentralizing access and analysis of data leads to better decisions made faster and with fewer mistakes. The people at the coalface who actually use the data are now involved in processing it, allowing them to engage more actively with the data, spot trends and anomalies, accomplish outcomes faster and be more committed and confident about specific decisions and action plans.


More about Flow.

Flow Software produces decision support software for the manufacturing, mining and utilities industries.

Flow is a flexible Information Platform for industrial reporting and operational analysis. Collect, transform, calculate and present KPI information from multiple data sources. You can only manage what you measure. The Flow Information Platform simplifies the creation and sharing of operational and strategic decision support information across your organization. With Flow you'll connect to data on-premise or in the cloud, selectively synchronize measures and KPIs, perform calculations and rollups, and then share this information in reports and dashboard via web browsers, email, SMS or the Flow Mobile app.


graemeGraeme Welton is the Director of Flow Software.  As a mechanical engineer and system integrator for 25 years, Graeme and his team have worked with some of the world's largest food, beverage, mining, and manufacturing companies to help streamline data access and insights.


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