The chemical and energy sectors generate enormous data on a daily basis, and managing this data in context is essential to make better and faster real-time decisions. Marty Moran, manufacturing execution systems product manager, AspenTech, explains why mobile application usage in manufacturing is on the increase and how easy access to vital plant information can be the platform to profitability
Access to real-time production performance provides commercial advantage to the process industries, so, as the pressure increases to achieve higher efficiency in operational productivity, many companies are adopting mobile business intelligence (BI). Traditional BI solutions focused on ‘managed reporting’. These were efficient at providing updated KPIs and standard organisational metrics, but were not effective in responding to unanticipated and time-critical needs. Recent innovations in mobile technology, however, have allowed traditional BI to be disseminated to a broader audience within an organisation, resulting in operational productivity benefits in the process industries.
The main trend in business technology adoption is the move towards greater mobility. The workforce has witnessed a dramatic shift in travel and migration to adapt to commercial demands. The widespread use of smartphones and other portable computer devices has taken enterprise computing to new heights and opened up opportunities for increasing productivity. Consequently, the workforce at all levels is equipped to keep business at the forefront of technology while working remotely from the plant or on the move. A Gartner survey published in 2012 on Critical Capabilities for Mobile BI indicated that of 1,364 organisations that use BI tools: 8% are actively using mobility for BI; an additional 13% are running pilot initiatives; and a further 33% have plans to deploy mobile BI within 12 months.
In essence, mobile BI helps employees perform with greater flexibility as it improves access to manufacturing data at all levels to drive quicker decisions. Event notifications coupled with mobile analysis tools enable faster adjustments to minimise the impact of production issues. This is vital in the process industries because there are many operations-based personnel that are not desk-bound who can benefit from access to real-time data, trends and alerts – anytime, anywhere. Mobile BI helps streamline business processes, and drive manufacturing benefits:
• Enables faster, better informed decisions to improve profitability.
• Increases troubleshooting efficiency – diverse visualisation techniques improve employee effectiveness, and data access reduces analysis time and minimises time to identify root causes and take corrective action.
• Minimises training and installation costs due to an intuitive and easy-to-use interface.
Visualisation and customisation are also crucial functionalities with mobile BI. Users can start realising benefits quickly with little training and software utilises flexible and a customisable hierarchical user interface with role-based access privileges. The mobile software allows users to drill down to solve plant problems and configure e-mail and text alerts for notification of significant process excursions before finding the source of plant issues. The operations supervisor, for example, may see different information than the process engineer, mainly to allow each person to solve specific issues.
With regards to security, unique log-ins offer the ability to restrict data to unique individuals, thus, preventing other users from accessing confidential data or preventing system access if the mobile device is lost or stolen.
One measure of success with a BI initiative is the ability to find the right information at the right time, and not too late, which can be costly. Mobile BI helps to unshackle people from the desktop and increases the odds to respond effectively to a new situation that may suddenly arise.
Managers who have access to mobile BI frequently report that operational disturbances are promptly mitigated, avoiding production or equipment interruptions thanks to early warning messages delivered via a mobile device.
One example of mobile BI?is Aspen InfoPlus.21 Mobile from Aspentech which delivers data in a way that allows companies to improve business processes from the operational level to the executive management level. The software is a smartphone application that provides users across the enterprise with the ability to access and analyse real-time and historical plant data from an Aspen InfoPlus.21 database. Data can be viewed in value fields, trended, reported by exception or accessed in KPIs so that users can format the information according to their job function. Crucially, companies have real-time access for visualisation and analysis of performance data.
Manufacturing execution systems (MES), including mobile BI, integrate multiple business processes within a site and across the enterprise. This allows manufacturers to enhance their current and future capabilities in order to align their overall manufacturing operational strategy.
The chemical and energy industries operate across multiple time zones and are subject to many challenges ranging from price fluctuations to operating conditions. Mobile software technology enables faster decision-making and troubleshooting and displays critical, up-to-date information. The functionality of the software improves employee efficiencies by simplifying routine engineering analysis tasks, such as examining and comparing process data, reducing root cause analysis time and easily finding KPI data to respond to changing process conditions.
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