Customers at a restaurant will notice a misplaced decimal point when their bill is 10 times what it should be, and it’s an easy mistake to fix. But when a manufacturing company is grabbing huge amounts of data every day — from quality control to health and safety reports — there’s no room for error.
Businesses, many of which still rely on paper forms to collect that data, are racing to have the most sophisticated automated data collection systems possible. Automated data collection offers speed and accuracy well beyond any manual system, eliminating errors and organizing reams of data along the way. It’s also the first phase of any digital transformation strategy.
But before you run hurriedly in the opposite direction, digital transformation isn’t something to fear. To ignore the opportunities and insights it brings can hold your business back competitively. The truth is, adopting a digital-first mentality is an iterative process. Simple transformative steps, like tapping into mobile technology, the power of the cloud, and automated workflows can pay dividends in terms of greater efficiencies, time savings, and reduced costs.
Inefficiencies at Every Stage of Data Collection
Consider the following: there’s not a single step at any manufacturing plant that is unnecessary. Parts must be welded, machined, and assembled with precision. There’s no time to waste on steps that add inefficiency or redundant features. But while you’re focused on making your products more efficiently, the way you manage the business might not be as efficient as it can be.
Tracking maintenance schedules, safety inspections and quality control checks with paperwork includes many unnecessary steps. Employees must lug binders full of blank forms around. Completed forms are filed away in a cabinet and often never found again. Or they’re keyed into a computer system, which takes time and introduces errors.
Even when paper forms are scanned or retyped, there’s the lack of a “big picture”. The information in those forms could be used strategically: to learn which machines always break down (and should be replaced instead of repaired), to train employees on ongoing compliance issues or to make process improvements.
But what if the information wasn’t locked into paper or typed into an inefficient system?
Applying Familiar Technology to Data Management Woes
Leveraging the power of mobile technology and the cloud, today’s innovative technology applications offer advanced solutions for capturing, sharing, and analyzing real-time data across manufacturing workflows. For example, easy-to-use cloud-based mobile platforms let you move your most commonly used paper forms to smartphone-based apps, creating a standardized, error-free process for collecting and sharing important information across the business.
Consider health and safety compliance as a use case. OSHA regulations are always in flux. To aid in compliance and inspections, checklists are an essential tool. By moving from paper and clipboards to mobile checklist forms, you can eliminate the need to store paper records or re-key forms into a computer. Data, such as images, signatures, time stamps, dates, location, and other elements that paper forms don’t support, is captured in the field and entered directly into a mobile form ensuring greater accuracy (no more worrying about illegible handwriting or mis-keying), and it’s richer. Fields can be required — so inspectors and quality control agents can’t skip a section (either by accident or on purpose) — and photos can be added to aid in equipment inspection.
Mobile checklists can also be customized with all the data you need (and none you don’t) and updated in minutes, then deployed immediately across the plant.
Furthermore, digitized, shareable checklists also ease and streamline compliance with new 2018 OSHA reporting regulations which require manufacturers submit workplace illness and injury reports digitally. Digital submissions with apps can relieve the anxiety of compliance and reassure business owners that they are covered on that front.
Automate for Insights
The benefits of using digital apps for data capture go well beyond compliance. Using the power of the cloud these tools drive deeper collaboration and information sharing across the business.
As soon as a form is submitted from a smartphone or tablet, it’s automatically uploaded to the cloud and made accessible to the back office or at any other plant around the world. From there it can be sliced, diced, and arranged on dashboards so that users can spot issues immediately and act on them as quickly as possible. That data can be seamlessly plugged into other business systems, like QuickBooks or Salesforce, or your legacy CRM. And, if an OSHA inspector shows up, they can be accessed directly, eliminating the need to go hunting for inspections in filing cabinets.
But that’s not the end. Soon, digital data collection tools will marry artificial intelligence and machine learning to help users realize more value from their data, such as fine tuning quality control, and improving asset tracking and production schedule performance.
Approach Digital Transformation Iteratively
Those companies that invest in a mobile-first data management strategy will surely have a competitive edge. Using familiar mobile technology to handle data more efficiently and increase automation, manufacturing workforces are empowered to eliminate outdated or time-consuming processes that can hold a business back and incur unnecessary cost. For smaller businesses, such technology is available out-of-the-box, while larger enterprises can easily integrate it with existing back office systems, in both cases modernizing the business without implementation headaches.
A mobile-first approach to digital transformation also reduces costly mistakes, makes for a safer and healthier production line, simplifies compliance, and unleashes data across dispersed organizations. By unlocking operational frontline data, critical business information can be standardized and shared between colleagues in real-time and analyzed quickly to make better informed decisions.
Then comes the wow moment. With the reassurance that you can easily digitize one piece of the workflow and see concrete results, you can start extending these tools to other business use cases such as time sheets, quality audits, daily production reports, work schedule templates, and more.
This is what digital transformation looks like for many companies. It’s not a colossal overhaul of legacy systems, but an iterative experience, which rethinks and fixes what isn’t working for you today.
James Robins is Chief Marketing Officer of digital transformation platform GoCanvas.