Much has been made about the use of analytics tools by marketers, sales reps and IT professionals: managed well, these business intelligence (BI) solutions offer insight about consumer buying habits and corporate response, along with the ability to make predictive leaps based on current data. But as noted by a recent Forbes article, manufacturing floors are often left out of the equation, despite the massive amount of information they generate each day. How do companies tap in?

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Gaps in the Floor

Forbes author Jon Sobel visited a large auto plant looking to minimize the number of defects in a critical component. Despite sensors scanning 50,000 data points for each part produced, too many non-compliant parts escape detection and make their way into consumer vehicles. Worst case? The company could be found negligent for allowing these parts through.

Last year, the plant manager hired interns from a local university to comb through spreadsheets in search of actionable insights. He discovered that while the amount of data generated on the floor had increased by two orders of magnitude in just five years, it would take “three orders of magnitude improvement in our ability to understand it.”

It’s not surprising — manufacturing plants focus on speed of assembly and quality of finished products, not generating new correlations from heterogeneous sets of data. Part of the problem stems from absolute need; while marketers and sales teams were forced to change tactics with the rise of social media and unified communications, physical parts manufacture hasn’t gone through the same kind of revolution. Now, the push is on to develop systems that connect manufacturing devices to one another and the cloud, then analyze the information they produce in real-time.

The First Bridge

But even this won’t solve the problem, at least not outright. Consider the case of Landis+Gyr, a global provider of integrated energy management products. They have 73 offices spread across 32 countries, staffed by 5500 employees and handle everything without any centralized IT. Their manufacturing floors produce some of the highest-quality residential and commercial industry meters available, making them the perfect candidate for the kind of analytics revolution described above.

Building that bridge, however, wasn’t possible until the company found a way to understand the full scope of its IT resource use from the only perspective that matters: end users. According to Marcel Rüegg, head of IT for Landis+Gyr, “we were looking for a solution that would allow us to have a comprehensive, continuous view of all IT services delivered to end-users, without investing in costly and time-consuming custom development to collect and transform data into meaningful information.” Now, the company can view its IT infrastructure end-to-end and generate custom reports on demand.

It’s on this kind of foundation that a manufacturing/analytics bridge could be built. Once IT admins understand how network resources are consumed by end users and can proactively identify potential pain points, it’s possible to drill down and bring production floors up to speed with analytics in other departments.

There’s data on the line, and plenty of it. Making best use means network-first thinking, and starts with tapping end-user insight.