More than just a cog in the machine: supporting key decision-making with valued data

25 January 2016

by Matthew Linehan Manager

There is a traditional metaphor which represents a business as a machine, with various independent components functioning together effectively to generate an output. On the one hand this metaphor may seem simplistic or perhaps even reductive. The mechanical image fails to highlight the value that people bring to an organisation. On the other hand the metaphor of a machine, properly maintained and employed effectively, can illustrate the value of using technology to empower people.

The metaphor lends itself well to the manufacturing sector, in which many processes are heavily oriented around machinery. The manufacturing process has products at its heart. Raw materials are input, processed and refined, and a product is created for sale. To deliver value, both for the customer and for itself, the business must manage its key drivers: costs and pricing, delivery and quality, to name a few. In vertically integrated organisations with large product portfolios, multiple sales channels and quite often disparate ERP solutions, managing these factors at a strategic level can prove challenging. The capacity of traditional technologies has limited how effectively these processes can be represented.

The challenge for management is maintaining a balanced view of the business. Reporting solely at a high-level risks missing key messages hidden in the detail. Trawling masses of data to identify the detail becomes a burden on time. To make effective decisions, we need to complement the strategic perspective with appropriate pockets of granular detail that cut through the data and identify the business narrative. So how do we achieve this balance?

Whether in sourcing raw materials, manufacturing, or distributing products, businesses collect vast quantities of ERP data through both human behaviours and automated processes. This data, a rich and valuable by-product, can be structured, organised and presented to highlight key messages. There is great scope for interaction here. Modern data crunching and visualisation technologies can make quick work of large, disparate data sources, forming a bridge between the detail and the bigger picture. Our minds can quickly identify even complex patterns when the data is presented in a compelling visual form. Standard static reporting can be transformed into a trusted, interactive narrative.

The business landscape changes rapidly; new opportunities are constantly emerging. And while the products, processes and techniques may evolve quickly, the key drivers that underpin these remain fundamentally similar. For all the value that the machine brings, the human element is still essential for making tactical decisions and providing strategic direction. In the light of this, new technologies and techniques can be seen as key enablers in supporting decision-making, and trusted data represents a valuable element of the framework for effecting business change.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology or data and analytics on your industry, then contact our Data & Analytics team.

by Matthew Linehan Manager