Digital for Data’s Sake

Digital for Data’s Sake

Our new guest writer today is Sara Hanks, sharing her knowledge about going digital for data’s sake. In her own words, Sara introduces herself: My career launched 22 years ago as a mechanical engineer but shifted quickly into continuous improvement when I became a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Early on, I learned the value that could be extracted from data and the importance of digitally collecting that data. After several years in manufacturing, I transitioned to leading programs and teams to do Digital Transformation. Eventually, I was promoted to the Senior Director of Data Analytics, leading a team of data scientists, gaining firsthand experience with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Currently, I am the Director of Continuous Improvement at Wabtec Corporation, a supplier in the Rail and Mining Equipment industries.

I enjoy bringing joy into the workforce by solving a problem, creating user friendly digital products, or providing easy access to data. In 2020, I launched Leverage 4 Data to provide a platform to do all three – create a solution to digitize workflows with an intuitive user interface and accessible data.

Digital for Data’s Sake

Digital transformation has been a buzzword that has been talked about for years, yet many people struggle with what it means. Often, when asked about digital transformation, more jargon appears, and we are swimming in a sea of acronyms and terms like CRM, ERP, and Digital Twin. What exactly is a digital twin? I am not going to go into that here, but I will talk about digitization. I like to simplify the concept by talking in terms of the business processes. Digitization is taking an existing business process and transitioning it into the online digital world to drive value. Improving the customer experience or implementing technology to retain younger talent are some of the benefits to digitizing processes. However, my favorite outcome of digitizing a key process is the creation of data. 

Focusing efforts to extract value from the data can be daunting. Here are four examples of how data from a digitization can improve operations, costs and even culture.

Creating KPIs to Measure Performance

Recently, I had a dental procedure done. When I arrived and was checked in, I noticed that the receptionist looked at a paper logbook to verify my name. The same logbook was used to make my next appointment. I was shocked! They lacked a system to track a major part of their business, managing appointments. How could they know who failed to show up or how often people canceled? What about tracking how long the actual appointment took vs. the scheduled time to make sure procedures were planned well. It is difficult to improve what you don’t measure.

The easiest place to measure the effectiveness of a process is with a time-based metric and a quality metric.

  1. A time-based metric. Speed is everything – how fast are customer orders being fulfilled, how long does a service event take, what is the cycle time associated with procuring parts? When the process is managed in a digital platform, such as an eCommerce platform, or an ERP, there are time stamps for each event, providing the ability to measure the total time, as well as the time it takes for each step of the process. Creating KPIs for overall process can create a mechanism to add urgency and improve the time.
  2. A quality metric. Whenever a time-based metric is introduced, it is important to balance it with a quality metric. I remember when my team introduced a cycle time metric on customer issue management, unfortunately a quality metric was not added. The solutions to the customer issues were delivered quickly but occasionally resulted in rework, and sometimes costly rework. When the data is in a platform, it is possible to calculate the rework or first pass yield of a process. 

Improve Operations with Insights

I’ve seen plenty of operating rhythms that reviewed KPI scorecards. Bringing a scorecard with red on it to the leadership team, was sure to be met with scolding. What I found surprising was how little the leaders asked questions when the KPI was green. Wouldn’t that be insightful? I like to understand why the red exists, as well as the green metrics. This is where dashboards and visualizations can help. Visualizing the operational data in a dashboard is one of the simplest, yet impactful ways to use the data to improve operations. 

My teams have made some amazing analytics dashboards and visualizations. One dashboard built allowed the service teams to visualize the best performing shops against the worst. The user could drill into why product needed service to see which workorders impacted quality. Nobody used it, even though I thought they provided a ton of value. The biggest pitfall was not connecting them to the existing KPIs.

Now when I approach dashboard development, I start with the KPIs. Perhaps they are KPIs created to measure time and quality, or they are something else that is already adopted. With a cross functional team, we brainstorm all the possible data points that could impact that metric. A visualization is built to provide an exploratory experience to drill into the data in a consumable way. I recommend bringing the visualization into the operating rhythms and use the dashboard to answer questions in the meeting. A scolding leader is likely to become intrigued. 

Reduce Stress

Another use of data from a digital system is never talked about but is probably relatable. We’ve all been there. It’s 4:30 on Friday afternoon and you receive a call from a customer or your boss. They are upset about something, and you need to find answers. The panic sets in and you start to put together the story to provide an answer. This usually involves digging through papers, email and perhaps phone calls to colleagues to find information. Data retrieval is difficult. I remember one issue took 19 hours of rummaging through paperwork over a 3-week span to identify which parts were impacted by a quality issue. When the process exists in a digital system, and the critical data is captured, answering the mail becomes much easier. The stress in these situations is reduced, making it much easier to enjoy the weekend. While the ROI is not clear, spending time fighting fires is certainly non-value add. Extinguishing them quickly is a win.

Increase Revenue from the Data

Finally, the operational data collected in your digitized processes is to identify revenue opportunities. For example, the historic services data can be used to predict future service events. Offers could be targeted to those customers to provide those services. The historic service data could be used to cross sell during a maintenance event as well. For equipment that is serviced on a regular basis, are there probable breakdowns between planned events? Additional preventive services or upgrades could be offered at a discount during the maintenance as an alternative to fixing a failure. Could the customer buying patterns identified by the dealers be useful to the OEMs, providing leverage for the dealer? 

Netflix transformed the movie renting experience by making it more convenient, i.e., going digital, but their revenue gains were from using the data to provide binge worthy shows and keep people on their platform. Imagine the possibilities for equipment dealerships.

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