How times change; back in 1909 Henry Ford famously declared that “a customer can have a car painted any colour he wants as long as it’s black” 

Ford was of course referring to the Model T, and the success he achieved in perfecting the assembly line. Those achievements at the beginning of the last century are still felt today, with the assembly line now the norm, just with robots alongside humans in the 21st Century. 

The reality is that the Model T was available in other colours, but the message and intent was clear, he wished to disrupt the way people moved from one place to another by designing and manufacturing an affordable car.  He achieved it by thinking outside of the box and perfected the assembly line.  Ford at the time were producing 2 million cars per year, something no one and no industry had ever seen at that point in time. 

Henry Ford’s core principles of quality parts, workflow, division of labour and efficiency still resonate today.  Ford like all other successful global manufacturers are building on that tradition, by accelerating efforts to standardise production, make factories more flexible and crucially by introducing advanced technologies to efficiently build the best vehicles possible. 

The purpose of this blog is not to big up Ford, it’s to point out how times are changing.  According to the Financial Times, 2017 saw the Manufacturing sector invest 4%, a four year high for the sector.  Of that 4%, ICT was one of the main areas of investment for the industry, just behind Intellectual Property. A sure sign that the sector has well and truly woken up to the immense potential modern technology can bring to an extremely competitive market.  100 years ago, it was about the assembly line, today its about the potential of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the insight raw data “the oil of the 21st Century” can bring!  

Ralph Haupter, President of Microsoft Asia and colleague of Brad Smith at Microsoft recently declared that the advent of broadly-available Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers businesses the prospect of increased productivity and accelerated innovation, whilst also enabling society to help solve some of its toughest – and most persistent – challenges: disease, famine, climate control and natural disasters. 

Over in Asia, he spoke about the good news that AI is already delivering tangible economic benefits for many organisations across Asia Pacific. For example, leading global container shipping company OOCL reports that applying AI to their business is already saving them $10m annually, whilst Apollo Hospitals in India are using AI to help predict heart disease amongst its patients.  Something we know the NHS are exploring at the moment. 

Looking at Asia as a region, they are feeling the consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Titled “Unlocking the Economic Impact of Digital Transformation in Asia Pacific”, a recent study surveyed 1,560 business and IT leaders from 15 Asia Pacific economies. It showed that 85% of jobs in Asia Pacific will be transformed in the next three years.  

Diving deeper into the results, the respondents said that over 50% of jobs will be redeployed to a new position and/or retrained and upskilled for digital transformation. What’s interesting is that the Study shows that 26% of jobs will be newly created roles from digital transformation, which will offset the 27% of jobs that will be outsourced or automated. In other words, the overall workforce effect will be broadly neutral. 

Bringing it closer to home, I enjoyed a recent talk from our co-founder Alun Rogers talking about how data has helped us internally and how that can be applied to all sectors including Manufacturing.  Alun discussed four key points: 

  • Diagnosis – this is where you have a suspicion you have a problem, but you are speculating, relying on a hunch and your gut, but you’re not making an informed decision because your data is all over the place 
  • Explaining – this is where you’ve started to pull together the data, you’re now starting to use tools like Power BI to get senior management on board and then the people who its effecting.  So, for example, we had a hunch that our activity levels as a Sales force were not necessarily as high or as targeted as we would like, the data thanks to BI brought that to light and meant within a matter of a couple of weeks we were able to address a problem we thought we had but hadn’t necessarily been able to prove it. 
  • Refining and developing new processes – we then started to develop and refine the instrumentation we build in house, which was to put it mildly quite blunt.  This has now turned into a sophisticated mechanism which now genuinely allows us to diagnose and understand our issues internally within a few clicks.  Helping us make meaningful and impactful decisions. 
  • Monitoring – this is the stage where things have started to settle down, data is at your fingertips and you can make informed decisions and continuously look to improve. 

If I think about the Manufacturing sector, tools like Power BI can and are genuinely helping organisations digitally transform and complimenting the brilliance of the assembly line.  Manufacturers can monitor the efficiency of its equipment, can track hot spots for sales and invest in the factories and the shop floors which produce results, and can address the areas which are falling short. 

The power of Digital Transformation is phenomenal. One year on from implementing and embedding Power BI across our business, risual enjoyed a 64% increase in Sales in April 2018 in comparison to the year before. 

What can the unlocking of data do to your organisation? 

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