“Every bit of data is telling you something,” says Baker, who currently serves as senior manufacturing intelligence specialist for integrator and consulting firm LSI Logical Systems. “Data can come from instruments, humans, paper, nerves—many places,” she says. “Projects start with data and the people who give it to you—people’s interpretation of that data is important as well. That’s where I start.”
In the realm of data science, she sees the practice becoming easier in the not-too-distant future, so that the tools and insights they can glean are available to a broader range of people and industries. “If the market stays hungry for data, digital experts will continue to build tools that efficiently capture and simplify data analysis,” she says.
“There will be a logical meshing and compression of all the intelligent moving parts. Like in any other new technology, eventually there are fewer hoops, fewer components, and it becomes a new normal,” she says. “Pattern recognition will be an easy-to-do, every day activity.”
Jay Gnuse came of age with the personal computer, turning a college gig tutoring staff at local construction company Chief Industries on the use of the popular Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet into a career that grew with the IT needs of the Grand Island, Nebraska-based company.
Founded in 1954, Chief Industries today boasts seven global divisions whose businesses range from
building agricultural processing equipment and storage facilities to operating ethanol plants. The number of computers Gnuse manages also has grown in the intervening years—from those first two IBM PCs to more than 850 today.
Throughout his time at Chief—as IS manager then IT director—Gnuse always sought to build cost-effective digital systems that reliably supported the growing company’s business objectives. Under his IT leadership, Chief Industries recently served as beta testers of enterprise software from its ERP provider, but he’s most proud of the strong, creative and fiscally responsible team he’s built. “We do a good job of satisfying user needs while keeping costs down,” Gnuse says.
But that’s starting to change as the company “looks to digital” not only to support current business processes but to enable further growth and efficiency gains. For example, much of his team’s recent efforts have been directed to modernizing and securing the company’s digital infrastructure in preparation for the future, an effort for which Cisco Systems recently awarded them a Technology Innovation Award for “improving business through digital transformation.”
“The shop floor is looking to automate, to make operations more efficient,” Gnuse adds. Imagine, if you will, thousands of construction components destined for multiple sites that have to be loaded onto trucks and timed to arrive at the right site at the right time—over projects that last weeks or months. “Logistics and parts tracking, likely using RFID, is what we’ll be working on soon.”
CLOUD OR BUST
From the start of his career at automotive Tier 1 supplier Dana Inc., Allen Blackmore was thrust into the world of manufacturing software and data analytics, where he soon earned a reputation for being able to stand up applications that could begin delivering value quickly. “Not all systems have to be huge,” Blackmore says. “You often have the opportunity to make an impact in a short time.” That reputation served Blackmore well, when the CIO of First Solar was looking to build a team to support the rapid scale-up of production at the photovoltaic systems supplier in the mid-2000s.
In his time at Dana and in his 12 ensuing years at First Solar, Blackmore has never seen himself as part of the IT cubicle culture. Rather, he sees his role as working closely with other parts of the business to educate them on what digital technology can do—and helping them to make it happen. “I love what I do,” Blackmore says. “I consider myself successful when I help others understand what’s possible, when I see that light bulb go off.”
Recently he’s worked to move all of the company’s manufacturing data into the cloud to facilitate advanced analytics on manufacturing processes. The next step is getting the rest of company’s data onto that same platform—sales, finance, everything. “As First Solar matures, the next evolution for us is a data lake where we can bring in unstructured data. The cloud allows a new scale of analytics that is impossible with on-premise solutions,” Blackmore says.