Death by Data

data overload

October 1, 2019


4 minutes

Innovation is no easy task, yet we all know that companies must evolve to stay ahead of the competition.

Seeking to transform the customer experience, improve operational efficiency, create a new service offering and ultimately improve revenues, business leaders are turning to data to unlock the doors to growth. Just don’t mistake access to information for innovation. The Internet of Things (IoT) can doom your business if your information is not “actionable.”

It’s easy to infer that better information will lead to better outcomes, right? We’ve seen industry upon industry, business after business invest in infrastructure to support the inter-networking of devices, vehicles, buildings, smart objects and anything core to one’s business function that can be embedded with electronics, sensors, software or actuators, i.e. the Internet of Things.

Data Has Little Value On Its Own

The reality is this infrastructure is simply an enabler. In and of itself, the generated data has little to no value. It has a cost, but the value is realized in what you do with the information that’s created – how it contributes to operational insights, workers’ situational awareness, and better decision-making. If you don’t figure this part out, how to make the information actionable, you will be stuck with a lot of investment but no return. Unfortunately, many companies do fail to realize a return on their data generating investments.

I’ve seen this type of failure firsthand many times in my career. I’m reminded of a commercial vehicle manufacturer who developed a telematics solution. The program provided large amounts of data back to customers about how the vehicles were performing. While the information had great potential value, the company simply provided the data. Guess what? The program failed. Customers were overwhelmed by the data and unable to apply it in a meaningful way to their operations.

Luckily, the story does not end there. A decade later, the manufacturer developed a successful solution that transforms the flood of vehicle performance data into actionable information. For example, it predicts likely vehicle breakdowns so customers can schedule service during off-hours and minimize vehicle downtime. Multiplied across an entire fleet, these improved operational efficiencies are generating significant returns on their customers’ investments.

Data Into Situational Intelligence

This solution was my first introduction to the notion of “situational intelligence.” Situational intelligence is essentially an evolution of situational awareness. Machine power allows huge amounts of data from numerous sources to get crunched and analyzed in near real-time to figure out optimal responses to complex situations or business problems. It also implies the use of algorithms and machine learning to eventually be predictive.

But the idea of making better business decisions from actionable information becomes truly powerful when decision-makers at all levels of an organization are empowered, particularly those out in the field doing the work, touching customers.

I remember reading former IBM Chairman and CEO Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.’s book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (Published in 2002), about IBM’s turnaround in the late-90s. He talked about the need for hierarchy within an organization, while at the same time being able to bring people together for problem-solving regardless of where they were positioned within the organization. This lesson, in particular, stuck with me. By inviting action at all levels and empowering employees with the right information at the right time, Gerstner set the stage for game-changing solutions to emerge.

Data at the Edge

Fast-forward to today. Mobile devices and computers are ubiquitously providing powerful application platforms in every worker’s hand. The concept of “edge computing” is taking off – basically, it’s the idea of computing and storage moving from the cloud out to the edge for more efficient software application delivery. These developments mean data can be collected, analyzed and transformed into actionable information at the “edge,” in an employee’s hand in the context of the workflow step they are performing. Workers can also share information, collaborate and communicate with teammates in real-time in support of workflow. We now have the means to effectively convert the volumes of infrastructure generated and other data into valuable business intelligence that empowers workers at all levels, particularly at the frontline. The ability of a mobile-driven, situational awareness solution to provide opportunities to realize operational efficiencies, new ways to deliver products and services and even new offerings is incredibly compelling, especially for companies with geographically dispersed people and resources.

Imagine a utility company working to restore power after severe weather strikes. Traditionally, a power company will identify outages through grid sensors at their main control locations or simply from residents who call them. They create a work order and assign a team. Then the team goes out to the power box, identifies issues in the area and works to restore power.

Many utilities rely on “foreign crews” or crews borrowed from neighboring utilities to help mitigate large-scale damage and more quickly restore service. However, these crews often don’t know the workflow or the geography of the areas they are called to assist.

They are typically handed a stack of paperwork assignments and dispatched to the field without an effective way to communicate with the power company. Process breakdowns are common as foreign crews struggle to receive updates to their assignments and report the status of repairs back to the utility company so they can inform their customers. How many times have you had a power outage, and the way you find out when your power will be restored is when your lights come back on? A fragmented workflow is often the cause.

Data for Real-Time Decisions

Think of the efficiency that could be created if work orders, locations, routes, crew capabilities, and other valuable positional information were made easily accessible on mobile phones and tablets. It would enable foreign crews to easily integrate with local crews, make meaningful, real-time decisions in the field and open communication channels for timely status updates to all involved.

This is the power of having the right information in the right hands, right now. How does it happen? We call it situational awareness. Situational Awareness software provides the capability to integrate and aggregate everything you already have—data from the IoT, vehicles, legacy systems, mobile devices and people enabling meaningful, real-time decision making.

By integrating relevant operational information in a hand-held device or a common operational picture, you can gain visibility to your business and enable any employee to make informed decisions. Through informed action, innovation is born. Your business moves faster. Your customers are more satisfied. Plus, you may just unlock new services that were previously inconceivable, and we all know how this can affect your bottom line. Cue the dancing elephants.

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