SkyPoint CSG has served many manufacturing clients over the years, but since early 2017 we have expanded our work with production data systems, applying Power BI and cloud databases in interesting new ways. For example, we have been developing an increasing array of application archetypes that support Lean continuous improvement, which typically requires broader deployment of analytics beyond just the management ranks.
CSG’s Manufacturing Operations Data Solutions group reflects our commitment to listen intently to the unique needs of a domain that is swimming in data, and to develop a portfolio of methods that slices and presents that data as information that manufacturers care about, to:
- Eliminate waste
- Increase labor efficiency
- Improve product quality
- Reduce lead times
- Increase inventory turns
- Understand product costs
- Improve customer satisfaction
Forward-leaning manufacturing organizations have long recognized the benefits of using data to engage staff from top management through to the ranks of individual contributors. Developing a common definition of goals and success, and sharing performance metrics broadly, can unleash potential for both incremental and revolutionary improvements. CSG is well positioned to help.
Analytics for the Masses
For a monthly per-user subscription fee of $9.99, Microsoft’s Power BI offers a highly integrated analytics toolset that would have cost at least ten times that not very long ago. A companion product of the MS Office productivity suite, Power BI includes a powerful, yet highly usable desktop version for development, and the PowerBI.com cloud service, which is used for publishing and sharing reports.
Power BI connectors provide access to dozens of online and offline data sources, and if a source is not directly accessible, there is almost always a way to pull data into the cloud and get at it from there.
The net effect is any size organization can realistically think in terms of establishing a high-end analytics and reporting platform to serve as the standard for all departments. And just as in-house specialists were able to learn and leverage Excel over the last couple of decades, they can and will learn the more structured data analysis techniques offered by Power BI.
As a general rule, CSG Pro works to turn the visions of our clients into reality, by applying our experience with technology, and data systems in particular, to solve business problems. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we bring our expertise in Power BI, Azure, SQL Server and other key data tools to these efforts.
In the environment described above, a sort of “democratizing” of technology is underway. Professional caliber data analysis is far more accessible to a wider set of users, including those whose primary expertise is in process rather than technology. As this shift occurs, CSG Pro’s traditional software development role has expanded to include equipping our clients to solve their own problems. This takes the form of providing:
- Technology Strategy
- Systems Analysis & Architecture
- Rapid prototyping
- Data Consolidation & Organizing
- Training & Mentoring
- Technical Support
Self-service data analysis can now progress beyond the realm of unstructured, ad hoc spreadsheets into the tabular database format associated with Power BI. But graduating from manually created one-off reports to reusable analytic solutions requires orderly data, and not everyone is going to have the time or inclination to learn advanced data modeling, or to write queries to pull data from legacy systems into the cloud. Here, CSG helps by creating data marts and warehouses that provide automatically updated business semantic layers with intuitive structures that allow drag and drop creation of visualizations and reports by everyday Power BI users.
To take full advantage of our integrated data platform approach, CSG is often leading our clients to employ the same Agile processes we use. This typically starts with strategic analysis and a proof of concept prototype that provides immediate value in an area of pressing need.
As users become familiar with the new capabilities, we start a right-sized process of iterating over time to steadily enhance and expand solutions, with our clients learning at their own pace. Over time we usually see people become inspired by new opportunities to set their businesses apart in the marketplace. And we develop a better grasp of their businesses, able to innovate on their behalf as a true member of the overall team.
With CSG operating as a long term, goal-aligned partner, our role as technology expert evolves as needed to keep things moving forward in the success lane.
As we work with our clients, we often find familiar problems that we’ve seen many times before. Manufacturing companies as a group share a set of common concerns and challenges, and we are always looking to improve our ability to be effective in helping them. Towards that end, we have developed various reusable techniques that directly address manufacturing scenarios, using Power BI and the toolbox of cloud technologies we have been discussing above. Following are some examples.
Large Screen KPI Displays
Using triggered ETL (extract, transform and load) methods, we pull data from legacy ERP/MRP systems and other sources to present key performance indicators (KPIs) on large screens in the manufacturing plant, to engage everyone in improving overall performance, and celebrating success.
Statistical Process Control (SPC) requires charts that provide fast response to work-in-process, to keep key quality and productivity parameters in bounds. We can provide real time streamed data or near real time updates using Direct Query synchronization.
We present historical measurements and trends, personalized and targeted to specific points in the manufacturing flow, to set expectations for turnaround and quality at the individual worker level.
Many manufacturers depend on individuals correctly entering data that reflects their progress. In addition to creating solutions that are better at validating data during entry, we employ Power BI analytics to catch common data mistakes, even if they span multiple entries.
An alternative to expensive on premise, specialized dashboard systems is to employ Power BI’s ability to make Visio charts and imagery data-driven, and use embedding to combine charts and interactive features in the same user experience.
We Speak Manufacturing!
In summary, if you are a manufacturer, CSG’s Manufacturing Operations group can bring a lot of value that we have accumulated over years of experience building solutions in your domain. If you share your thorniest data problems, we’ll address them with a passion and the chops to deliver.