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5 practical tips to boost operational efficiency

In today's fast-paced business environment, only the most agile companies succeed. That's why streamlining operations and reducing waste is so important.

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies give a voice to each component of the operation, providing managers with the tools they need to truly understand what’s going on.

The Smart Play the Right Way

Optimising operational efficiency is easier said than done. It takes methodical planning, tremendous effort, and some creative thinking to invest in the right places in the right ways to create real business value. Here are five tips to help you sustainably boost operational efficiency and put your organisation in position to succeed:

1. Establish measurable goals and continually track progress

Improving operational efficiency is a broad catchall that includes opportunities in every facet of the production process. In order to create an intelligible strategy, you'll need to distill your goals into measurable criteria and then track your progress as you continue. For example, if a manufacturer is focusing on efficiency in the production process, measurable goals might include increased machine output as a function of time (widget per hour), a higher output to input rate and reduced maintenance downtime.

When your organisation has clear benchmarks, it's easy to tell when something is amiss. In the case of the manufacturer, if output is down and a specific machine is experiencing elevated downtime, the entire production process is being held up by maintenance issues. The solution? Utilising wireless sensors and accompanying software to inform on exactly when and where such faults are likely to occur so you can devise an efficient and effective maintenance regimen tailored to your operation.

2. Prioritise on-demand access to information

Knowledge is power. The operational gatekeepers of your organisation must have on-demand and on-condition access to information – both streaming and historical – along with the visualisation software needed to rapidly make sense of it. The more highly contextualisd and actionable information that your managers have access to, the more informed their analysis and problem solving can be.

Measuring and tracking progress is possible only when decision-makers have access to contextualised information. With IoT technologies, all relevant stakeholders have anytime, anywhere access to the data that matters. If we revisit our manufacturer, data that is collected by IoT in real time can be applied to achieve business-driven goals.

Let's step away from the manufacturer and enter the retail environment. Energy is one of the largest expenditures for merchandise retailers. With contextualised information flowing into a central hub, retailers can better understand where their most significant energy usage occurs and formulate a strategy to reduce waste and shift loads where possible.

For example, retailers can leverage IoT (via smart sensors) to enable real-time energy waste alerts, generate ideal energy usage profiles for each and every device in commission, manage loads in the most grid-friendly economically advantageous manner, and benchmark key anomaly thresholds to keep an eye on spikes and dips.

Armed with this information, retailers gain an enterprise-level view of where energy expenditure is draining resources. That's when true optimisation of business processes begins.

3. Maintain both a granular and panoptic perspective

Maintaining a simultaneously granular and panoptic perspective is essential to operational efficiency. This means drilling down into the component parts of your operation without losing sight of their interactions and the bigger picture of the operation as a whole.

For the manufacturer, that means running your business with attention to detail while also constantly being mindful of how all those details interconnect and interact. It’s as easy to get lost in the numbers on a spreadsheet as it is to ignore them entirely. You must not submit to either tendency. Your goal must be to be intimately familiar with all your operating data on as granular a level as possible without losing sight of its broader context. This means recognising that the different equipment on an assembly line is no more or less significant in its own right than it is as a cog within the larger operational machine.

For the retailer, this means not just recognising individual energy saving opportunities, but leveraging the data by placing it in its larger context. This enables the successful formulation of broad-based strategies. Automated notifications can help retailers perform predictive maintenance on their systems – much like the manufacturer – preventing the slow, steady loss of valuable dollars through hidden operational inefficiencies.

4. Optimise today's operations while preparing for the future

Analysing your organisation with the goal of streamlining current operations is commendable, but it's only as useful as your willingness to build on the efforts. What is good for operational efficiency today is just the baseline for tomorrow. Your organisation should be leveraging the immense data you're collecting to achieve more and more actionable insights into your operations.

Let's return to our manufacturer, who now understands that a faulty piece of equipment has reduced overall productivity and elevated energy and maintenance costs across the board. His decision to upgrade the machine was a wise action to optimise current operations, but monitoring how that new asset fits into the larger manufacturing ecosystem – and taking future actions based on that information – is essential.

For example, output is up, but so is energy consumption; the logical conclusion is that this machine draws more power than the old one, but it also does more work. Employing an energy management plan based on IoT insights can help address this new concern, and decision makers can plan accordingly.

With every change to your business operations, even the much-needed ones that undoubtedly improve efficiency, new context and insights will arise. Preparing to address these and maintaining an adaptable strategy helps organisations optimise not just today, but for the future as well.

5. Automate eligible business operations

Finally, automation plays a huge role in operational efficiency. By now, most organisations understand the how to use their Building Automation Systems (BAS). Automation has a much larger role to play, though.

One important example is automated notifications. If something seems strange or out of place, the automated systems will let stakeholders know. In many cases, these are circuit-level phenomenon that human operators would not have even recognised until it impacted productivity.

In keeping with our example of the manufacturer, an automated system can notify human users of energy spikes in certain parts of the system, directing their attention to potential problems before they even occur.

A more extreme example is an automated plant shutdown in the event of an emergency. Let's say those spikes in energy reached a volatile level that could actually result in the destruction of critical assets within the system – an automated environment could detect the critical failure and cease operations before the damage was done.

A contextualised report could help human operators address the problem before restarting operations – certainly this would ding productivity, but it would avoid the hefty investment required by repairs to critical infrastructure after a catastrophic event. Our manufacturer can rest easy knowing that circuit level IoT solutions are collecting the information necessary to protect and invest in the plant.

Your perspective directive

Each of these tips is not attainable at this depth or breath without IoT sensors and machine learning. With just a bit of investment in smart energy and asset monitoring systems, the insight your organisation needs to boost operational efficiency is right at your fingertips.

The IoT revolution is here but still rolling out, so jumping on board while it's still a competitive advantage, rather than a game of catch-up, is an absolute must for the modern competitive business.

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