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The Digital Revolution

david dornfeldThe last article started the buildup to using data (from wherever) to drive innovation, clarity and transparency, business model/economics, institutionalization, and benchmarking for industry in general and, ideally, for green manufacturing as well. This data should include information on what any specific process or system is doing, what it is consuming or emitting, what the impact per unit process output is, what is the efficiency of conversion of resources into product, what it the efficiency of the cycle, how does one system or process compare to another doing the same thing, and how does the overall performance match up with competitors in the same market, company, division, or factory, and so on.

The upshot of the discussion is that it should be possible to close gaps between what is needed to understand the items above and what is available. Further, the idea is to leverage the capabilities of big data and the digital views of an enterprise to help close this gap.

First, it is helpful to try to understand what big data and digital enterprises actually mean and then how they relate to our conversation here. A web search for the term “digital enterprise” turns up a lot of product pitches and some useful definitions. For example, TechTarget has an article which offers the following definition: “A digital enterprise is an organization that uses technology as a competitive advantage in its internal and external operations.”  The “technology” is referring to information technology. This is rather broad.

Let’s take a look backwards to see what can be learned. In November 1994 Fortune magazine published an article by Gene Belinsky titled “The Digital Factory.” This turned up the other day when I was rummaging through some old files in my office. The article predicts a range of impacts that the digital factory will have from customization of products “literally in quantities of one while churning them out at mass production speeds” to allowing supply chain integration, micro factories and breathing new life into the “beleaguered U.S.  machine-tool industry.” Referring to it as “soft manufacturing” it even proposed that the most astounding effect could be on employment where it “could stabilize or even increase the number of production-worker jobs in the U.S.” The article gives a number of excellent examples where this is being employed circa 1994 and the improvements realized and highlighting that “software is becoming more important than hardware – more important than machine tools – in American factories. And smart humans are back, replacing dumb robots.” It even predicted the importance of 3-D printing for prototyping.

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