Becoming a data-driven company

3 mins read

With data now dominating our lives, being able to maximise its potential will give organisations a competitive edge.

It’s an undeniable fact that technology now dictates most aspects of our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s shopping for Black Friday deals online, absent-mindedly scrolling through social media or operating an effective manufacturing site, most aspects of our lives are becoming digital and underpinning it all is data.

What companies do with this data can, and increasingly will, make the difference between being market-average and market-leading. Becoming a company that doesn’t just collect data, but harnesses it to improve its performance should therefore be a business-critical imperative.

Steve Crosson Smith, Client Director at leading data consultancy, SDG Group, says that becoming ‘data-driven’ can bring a whole range of benefits to any manufacturer – benefits that extend far beyond the shopfloor.

“When it comes to operations, many manufacturers have good visibility on a task-by-task basis but often not a holistic, company-wide perspective,” he explains. “Where data can help here is in creating an end-to-end view showing the true dynamics of the business. It can help with the challenges that all companies face – sales, profitability, cashflow, materials, return on capital expenditure, running costs and so on – and remove the siloed view that results in each department working independently. Leveraging the data means you don’t just spot an issue, for example, but can get down to the root cause and work out why that issue has occurred.”

Most manufacturers will have a significant amount of data available, even if they don’t realise it. Modern manufacturing equipment, access control systems and mobile devices around the factory will all be generating data, in addition to what is created in both your own and your partners’ business systems; most of which goes to waste. Combining data and then properly utilising the signals within it will improve a company’s agility and performance leading, potentially, to improved profitability and cashflow.

However, warns Crosson Smith, don’t expect to become data-driven overnight. “The worst thing that even a very successful company can do is to try to implement something like advanced analytics without putting the basics in place,” he says, explaining that SDG Group sees a four-step process that starts – as with any major change programme – with understanding where the company is on its data journey, and what the ultimate aims are.

From there, he continues, look at where you’re already generating data and what insight it could feasibly give you. Ideally, all that data then needs to be centralised and combined to produce a company-wide overview of performance. While doing this, it’s vital to make sure that the insights derived from the data are presented in a way that everyone can understand.

“It’s not enough to produce the insight, it’s got to be readable and meaningful to everyone,” says Crosson Smith. “Too many companies try to do this with Excel, which for a lot of people isn’t intuitive; when we introduce them to interactive dashboards, suddenly it all makes a lot more sense. Then, and only then, would you want to look at things like advanced analytics, which suddenly opens up a whole new world of insight and, potentially, automation.”

This can seem quite overwhelming at first. Many will be aware that they need to do more with their data, but are put off by the scale of the job at hand. This is totally understandable, agrees Crosson Smith, a lot of the jargon and the sheer potential of what can be achieved can seem daunting. “However, the trick is to break it down into bite-sized chunks,” he advises. “Many assume you need to go from nothing to everything in one go, when the truth is you can do small things to get the ball rolling and prove value. For many of the companies we work with, small steps can make a big difference.”

Another factor worth taking into account is the emergence of cloud technologies, which can make capabilities once only available to companies with very deep pockets, accessible to those that don’t. “There has been an incredible shift in the budget required to really leverage the value of the data in the last 8-10 years”, says Crosson Smith. “By harnessing modern cloud data architectures, capabilities which once required enormous annual budgets can now be delivered at a fraction of the cost, without the huge overhead of maintaining them”.

Often, though, the largest challenge remains a lack of skills. For many manufacturers, understanding the need to hire (and then finding) the people able to bring together data and derive real value from it is difficult. This is where organisations like SDG Group can help, with their teams of expert covering everything from data strategy through architecture to delivering end-to-end solutions that deliver insight and analytics to help drive the business forward. “Wherever a company is on the data-driven journey, we can help them to reach the next stage”.

One thing is for certain: as the world inexorably becomes more digital and fast-paced, manufacturers that do not maximise the value of their data will soon find themselves at a disadvantage to those that do.

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Watch Manufacturing Management’s Ask the Expert video with SDG Group’s Steve Crosson Smith at