Data Entry

Manufacturers can learn a lot from data, but having the right analytic tools to assist is crucial


These days, there truly are no barriers to achieving a data-driven work process. Even shops that rely on the age-old and seemingly timeless applications have dipped their toes into data analytics. Just making the effort should result in some level of productivity and profit improvements. But, gaining access to the right business intelligence (BI) application – one that unlocks valuable data insights while being easy to use – is increasingly critical in today’s competitive market.

Even though manufacturers have become highly reliant on technology to complete their work more efficiently, it’s not unusual to get too comfortable with the status quo. Manufacturers get pulled into the daily grind and many fail to consider data integration software and all of its benefits. Mark Jensen, product marketing director at Epicor, recognizes the huge opportunity these manufacturers may be missing. He understands that a strong data initiative coupled with BI tools can provide manufacturers with insight to advantages that would otherwise be impossible to ascertain.

To that end, Epicor has acquired a company called Grow Inc., a no-code, full-stack BI platform that empowers users to make data-driven decisions with easy-to-build, easy-to-use dashboards and interactive visualizations.

“Too many manufacturers are stuck in a complex mess of data silos,” Jensen says. “They’re integrating or merging data across applications and warehouses with outdated reporting tools. Grow provides tools for reducing data silos and managing and visualizing data from multiple sources.”

Over the years, Epicor has seen major potential in a variety of businesses, acquiring those that fill gaps in the company’s product lineup and help Epicor continue being mission-focused for customers to “make, move and sell,” Jensen says.

It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to feel lost in a complex system of data silos.

“Our product investments are unique in that we remain committed to being industry-specific and customer-centric,” he adds. “As a cloud-based, full-stack BI solution, Grow was a perfect fit for the industries Epicor delivers solutions to, like manufacturers and fabricators.”

Utilizing upgrades

With Grow under the wing of Epicor, the company boasts a solution to Epicor customers that combines data integration, data warehousing and visualization in one easy-to-use platform. Grow offers organizations a way to easily explore their data and put it to work, which means they can go beyond seeing what is actually happening to understand why things are happening.

Grow has more than 150 pre-built data connectors across some of the most commonly used platforms, databases and CRMs. Grow imports data seamlessly through APIs that continuously update and refresh data. This provides users metrics that are current and reliable, facilitating more fact-based business decisions.

The technological landscape changes fast, especially with the relatively recent explosion of cloud-based solutions. Therefore, manufacturers that have already embraced software solutions should still be invested in seeking out newer developments; there are definitely some new tools that will interest them. For example, Jensen points to the most recent iteration of BI applications that provide the full suite of data management, transformation and extraction tools that help with data sourcing, validating and quality assurance.

“These new BI tools are referred to as ‘full stack’ because they provide everything needed to manage, visualize and communicate information from a data warehouse,” he says. “These new tools also include the data warehouse, visualization tools and features for embedding dashboards and KPIs into other applications, like ERP.”

Access to data plus the right analytic tools provides manufacturers with the insight they need to stay competitive

Easy access

If there is one commonality manufacturers share, no matter their niche, it is the challenge related to hiring people with the depth of experience necessary to take on challenging tasks, like deftly operating equipment, programming or efficiently using various business software. That’s another reason Grow’s no/low-code solution is so important in today’s environment.

“Grow provides them with easy-to-use, easy-to-access BI solutions that don’t require the end user to have a degree in data science,” Jensen says. “This approach opens data discovery, communication and quicker insight to action for more people across the business.”

Easy to use doesn’t translate to a one-size-fits-all solution, either. Every business is different and relies on metrics and processes that speak directly to their requirements. Jensen notes that the metrics are not only customizable, but they can also be created from scratch to best match the needs of the business.

“These metrics on business growth, customer service, cost/profit margins can be displayed in dashboards or embedded within an ERP or CRM application for contextual information in the moment it is needed,” he says.

Accurate accommodations

For a real-world look at how Grow has impacted a customer, take as an example Accu, a U.K.-based engineering company that provides more than 500,000 precision engineering components to the world’s top manufacturers. Accu leverages technology to improve processes and drive growth. Simply put, the company is extremely data driven. To that end, Beckie Pisacane was brought in as Accu’s head of merchandising and intelligence and was tasked to create and lead a BI function. One of her first priorities was to select BI software.

“At first, I was grabbing data from SQL (structured query language) and putting it into Excel or Google Sheets and pivoting,” Pisacane says in an Epicor case study. “We evaluated providers such as Power BI and Google Data Studio. Grow stood out because visually the metrics are very understandable. It’s easy for managers who don’t have any analytics experience to build and consume reports. Other software requires an element of database knowledge, and programs such as Tableau and Python demand a coding language.”

What also impressed Pisacane about Grow was having the ability to pull in different connections from SQL, Google Analytics and Data Studio. She says the consolidation functionality of all their different data sources into a single “pane of truth” was a huge selling point. But what about actually learning how to use Grow and effectively implementing it? Pisacane says the learning curve was no issue.

The future of manufacturing belongs to the companies that take data collection and analysis seriously.

“The on-boarding was excellent, even with my no-code background,” she says. “Many people in BI struggle with communicating what we require to see. The Epicor Grow team understood our needs and vision, and they wrote an array of relevant reports and taught us how to use the software.”

Real-world uses

Accu has more than 100,000 engineers at the world’s top manufacturers relying on its half million precision-engineered components, so it’s understandable how managing data is critical, including in the warehouse. For example, a screen in the warehouse tracks data so employees can see key metrics in real time, but the screen also displays motivational data, like which pickers and stock checkers are performing at the highest level that day.

And while motivating workers in the warehouse is important, every aspect of the company can be represented in metrics, including data that is important to the marketing and strategy team. These teams look at data related to page views, click-through rates and conversion information and use it to guide their strategies.

Pisacane says they are also using Grow data to track response times to quotes, track outbound calls and using a “goal line” function in Grow to keep tabs on progress.

Managing data, including data in the warehouse, is made easier when metrics can be seen in real time.

“We monitor KPIs and provide a monthly update to leadership and the whole company to identify teams that are doing well, and then share best practices across the business,” she says. “If we have data and we use it correctly, we can identify opportunities and make smarter business decisions. With Grow, we have greater access to more data – that has been fuel for our growth.”



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