The usefulness of Data Analytics depends on the quality of input data
Published on : Friday 01-07-2022
PV Sivaram, Evangelist for Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation.
The pandemic is nearly behind us, but the effects on industry will last longer. What are three digitalisation strategies that companies are working on based on lessons of the last two years?
The pandemic is one disruption that has hit us. But definitely not the only one. There have been in the recent past also weather related disruptions and more significantly disruptions which have their origin in geo-political events. All of these introduce a high degree of uncertainty in the business environment. The way to cope with such uncertainty is to become more agile, be more productive and importantly, be more innovative. Perhaps agility and innovation are more appropriate in the scenario of unpredictability.
So companies should embrace digitalisation to tackle these issues. Direct access to market data and production data can help to be more agile. So this should be the first strategy and this applies to industry at any scale. Working with data rather than with guesswork and estimates can improve the speed of response which is critical to success.
The next strategy is to attempt to make the relevant data available to all stakeholders. Keeping data as a prerogative of top management will defeat the purpose. Key to being agile is to democratise decision making, and to make this effective sharing of data is important.
One more strategy which we can suggest is close integration with the entire value chain. Naturally efficient production depends on close cooperation and in-sync working of the different members in the supply network. So a close integration is needed. This too, is achieved by sharing authentic data.
For so many Indian companies who are not fully into Industrial Revolution 3.0, is there any urgency to move towards digitalisation?
The essence of Industry 3.0 is digitisation which is another name for automation. Whereas digitalisation is the strategy by which data is used as the thread to hold the enterprise together. Purpose of automation is to make the manufacturing more efficient, improve quality and throughput, and reduce costs and so on. Purpose of digitalisation is to orchestrate the production units. Digitalisation does not demand any degree of automation of the production units, because data can be also obtained from machines which are not automated.
However, we need to realise that both automation and digitalisation are not just about technology, they are also about people. People need to understand why these processes are being introduced, feel friendly towards them, and know what benefits they can expect. This thought process is easier to foster about automation, and hence better to start with some degree of automation and then move forward.
For many companies, the challenge is in moving from pilots to deployment at scale. What is the way forward?
Technology projects have a kind of glitz and glamour about them. They appear quite attractive to the technical team. They are a useful item to boost the organisational ego, because they seem to be the ingredient of a forward looking and modern enterprise. Hence many companies rush into these projects to acquire the latest gadgets and implement them in a pilot study. The pilots are even successful at demonstrating the proof of concept. But then they stagnate.
There are more things needed to take a pilot into full scale. The technology gadgets can of course be now bought in larger volumes and deployed. But for the project to get into scale across the enterprise, a well thought out strategy is needed. This usually means a different operational procedure. This needs to have a buy-in from all stakeholders. Here the well-known factor of inertia kicks in. People will be comfortable with existing systems and procedures and reluctant to switch to new ways of operation and collaboration.
So the way forward is to use the pilot project to remove the apprehensions in the team and make the project owned by the team rather than the management. One good way would be to train a core group called Digital Champions who will spearhead the movement.
There is so much work going on in the area of Data Analytics. What about the effort to get real time data directly from machines?
There is indeed a commendable amount of work going on in the field of Data Analytics. But the main point is the usefulness of Data Analytics depends on the quality of input data. If the input data is of doubtful quality, the result of Analytics is unreliable.
The main factor which compromises data quality is the source of data. If data is not direct from the point of origin, then there are chances of corruption. If there is any human element in the chain of data collection, we can have issues of delay, inaccuracy, bias, etc.
So to avoid these inaccuracies, we need to implement sensor based collection of data. One obstacle in this strategy is that it is not easy to connect all controllers and sensors to a central data collection agent. There are so many makes and models of devices, and most of them use proprietary communication protocols. This situation is akin to the famous Tower of Babel. Another term here is “islands of Automation”, and data is available in silos.
The need is to develop devices which can master the myriad protocols and languages. We can whimsically call such a device as BabelFish – from the famous Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy.
Many niche and custom solutions are being attempted for connecting legacy machines, what about long term serviceability?
Continuing from earlier, many installations attempt to address the problem using local resources and products tailor-made for their distinct purposes. These solutions do work. But, what happens when a new product enters the factory and needs to be connected as well? What about periodic updates? These are problems lying in wait. So it is better to go for solutions and products, which have a large installation base and there is an agency to look after concerns of product life cycle.
PV Sivaram, Evangelist for Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation, is mentor and member of steering committee at C4i4. He retired as the Non-Executive Chairman of B&R Industrial Automation and earlier the Managing Director. He is a past President of the Automation Industries Association (AIA). After his graduation in Electronics Engineering from IIT-Madras in 1976, Sivaram began his career at BARC. He shifted to Siemens Ltd and has considerable experience in Distributed Systems, SCADA, DCS, and microcontroller applications.
Sivaram believes strongly that digitalisation and adoption of the technology and practices of Industry4.0 is essential for MSME of India. He works to bring these concepts clearer to the people for whom it is important. He believes SAMARTH UDYOG is nearer to the needs of India, and we must strike our own path to Digital Transformation. Foremost task ahead is to prepare people for living in a digital world. He is convinced that the new technologies need to be explored and driven into shop floor applications by young people. We need a set of people to work as Digital Champions in every organisation.