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Effective Utilization of Technology for Competitive Advantage

Geraldine Schlueter, CIO, Bob Evans
Geraldine Schlueter, CIO, Bob Evans

Geraldine Schlueter, CIO, Bob Evans

Big Data and Decision Making

Manufacturing is the perfect candidate for Big Data analysis. Most manufacturing businesses have lots of shop-floor data. The challenge is what to do with it all—how to collect it, and crunch it, in order to gain insights into the manufacturing process. Looking at historical process data, and identifying patterns and relationships with steps and inputs, results in better forecasts. Identifying patterns drives better efficiency and productivity within the plant. Combining this data with other data already accumulated within the enterprise is valuable; for example, supplier data can help anticipate lead times by providing an understanding of availability of materials and other factors that influence supply.

Before Big Data, assembling this amount of data required monumental effort from a large number of people. The tools that come with Big Data—tools to aggregate, store, process and analyze data—make this task a lot easier. Now an organization can combine volumes of data from different organizations, and even different companies, to give a single view, and to get a more complete picture to enable better decision-making.

  One of the biggest challenges, in the Retail side, over the last decade has been the standardization of data from manufacturers. 

Data Security on Mobile Devices

People are using their mobile devices for much more than receiving/making a phone call or reading email. They expect to be able to use their personal devices to complete their work, wherever they are, whether it be reviewing information immediately (information at their fingertips day or night), or entering data concerning a process workflow on the spot.

Mobility requires changes to IT departments. The skill sets needed to create mobile apps in front of the applications business users are using every day is a change from the traditional developer.  Questions like where is the data stored, and does it need to be pushed into an existing system now must be considered. Also, it’s not just text, now we’re talking about expanded data such as images, or e-signatures that result in file attachments that need to be stored somewhere.

This also causes complexity to security, monitoring, and managing these devices.  With the proliferation of Bring-Your-Own-Device in the workplace, securing corporate data on mobile devices has resulted in a whole new industry of Mobile Device Management systems. The most basic needs are authentication and single sign-on, and then being able to wipe an app if a device is lost.

Further Standardization of Data Synchronization

What I’ve seen from my experience on the retail side is that one of the biggest challenges over the last decade has been the standardization of data from manufacturers. The retailer has to be able to present information to their customer in a similar fashion, so they need data from each of their manufacturers in the same format. The eCommerce channel requires richer content (enriched content describing the product, plus good quality images) than the traditional brick-and-mortar business. With the advent of multi-channel retailing, retailers are asking for real-time inventory levels, as well as forecasts. And with drop-ship relationships (order taken by retailer, product shipped by manufacturer to customer) the customer’s expectation of perfect order delivery and available inventory, falls squarely on the manufacturer.

From the manufacturer standpoint, data synchronization has helped, but there is still tailoring that needs to be done to meet the requirements of each retailer.  RFID is another technology that some retailers are requiring from their suppliers, will it be required of Food Manufacturers in the future, and what will that cost? Today, retailers need to drive costs out of their supply chain, and the hurdle will be continually raised for the manufacturer to contribute to the retailer’s success. 

So my wish-list for 2014 would focus on further standardizations of data synchronization, improving the flow of data, and hence improving data quality, to ultimately make the consumer happy.

CIO as a Business Person

Rather than being the lowest-cost utility provider of services, IT needs to be a strategic partner that can provide a competitive advantage. The CIO needs to consider themselves a business person first, and a technologist second. What needs to be forefront in their mind is what is important to the business. IT needs to be flexible to keep up with changing business requirements, and of course they need to continually drive cost out of operations. But, the focus should always be on responding to the business needs. How can we use technology to provide the business with the tools they need to be successful? How can we use technology to give the business a competitive advantage? How can we use technology to engage with the customer?

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