With 1 view of all of your information, you no longer have to search through multiple systems to get the insights you need. You can see how the company is running in 1 centralized location. Really, this the dream for all manufacturers, and in this blog, we’ll discuss how to make that dream a reality.

Questions like, How do I connect all of my data together?”  and “Do my current software platforms give me this capability?” will be addressed in the next couple of paragraphs. In short, the answer is a business intelligence solution like Power BI or Tableau.

Having 1 centralized data hub that tells you all of the high-level information you need to run your company is ultimately the goal.

But most of the time, having that goal can be hard to achieve. We’re not saying it isn’t possible. On the contrary, it is, but most people don’t have the ability to view a single dashboard and understand how the company is running. It would be nice, though, right?

The lack of centralized data isn’t uncommon. In manufacturing, specifically, it’s something most struggle with. We’re here to tell you that is can be accomplished, and in this blog, we’re going to lay out the framework for making this dream a reality.

Piecing Together the Puzzle to Understand the Full Picture

Almost everyone in manufacturing has some kind of ERP-like system whether that’s full-blown SAP or Oracle or something simple like QuickBooks and a bunch of spreadsheets in Excel.

Being able to get a complete view of the metrics that run your business is really hard, but when you find the right pieces, the completed puzzle will come together easier.

For example, when you implement SensrTrx, it’s giving you really good visibility into what’s happening out on the floor, but it doesn’t know about inventory. It doesn’t know about labor, sales, or purchasing. We don’t claim to specialize in back-office functions, but we do know production really, really well. So, you’ll need an accounting system and ERP to fill in the gaps. 

But, when you have these 3 applications running your company, you have to look at them individually, compile the data, and manually combine the insights you’ve learned from each to get a full picture of what’s happening, at any given time. You need to be able to integrate all of this software together to take the guesswork out of the company’s performance metrics.

Using Power BI or Tableau to Create 1 View of Data 

We often find that a manufacturer has an ERP, an accounting system that accounts for labor hours in the plant, and a system like SensrTrx that helps you manage what’s happening on the floor, but they aren’t connected. They all live separately from one another, not communicating.

So, you have these 3 different data feeds that you need to combine together to get that holistic view, but not a lot of people do it because, frankly, it’s kind of hard.

You have to have a little bit of technical expertise or be willing to take the time to export and import data into Excel to get this done. It can be complicated.

This is where Power BI or Tableau will be incredibly useful and help to achieve the goal of creating 1 single view of how the company is operating.

The benefit of using something like Power BI or Tableau is that most of the modern databases like SensrTrx and ERP systems have connectors built-in. You can pull that data into Power BI or Tableau, with very little technical knowledge or resources.

It’s incredibly easy to get data out of SensrTrx and pull it in a single view for example. Then, you can have a single dashboard so anyone in the company, CEO, CTO, VP of Ops, Plant Manager, really anyone, can see a holistic view of what’s happening in the plant.

At the end of the day, platforms like Power BI and Tableau are really data aggregation systems that provide the ability to look at all of the data together. The key to being successful with a business intelligence tool like these is to have systems that have the ability to talk with one another and provide you with that view. That’s the differentiator.

You’re Limited in Detail If You Don’t Have 1 Complete View

Sometimes all of these systems can talk to each other, and it makes connecting the systems to Power BI or Tableau that much easier. But, more often than not, they don’t talk to one another and if they do, it has nothing to do with reporting. In both of these cases, well, you’re back to square one of having data in way too many places.

For example, the integrations between SensrTrx and an ERP are going to send part, schedule, and production total information between the two systems, but it doesn’t give you the more detailed metrics that you’re probably going to care about. Yes, you could find those details in each individual system but then you’re just creating double work for yourself.

Things like performance and throughput or how much total downtime occurred are going to matter when evaluating data. This is the slightly more granular detail that you’re going to want to know from a reporting perspective that having 1 view is going to make it much simpler, rather than looking individually at SensrTrx and the ERP.

Also, consider that the reporting tools in most ERPs are very inflexible. So, even if you didn’t mind looking at all of your systems separately, you probably don’t want to. ERPs don’t allow you to build what you could build in Power BI or Tableau. The same thing is true for payroll information in accounting software. The exports from those systems are typically designed to import journal entries into your accounting system so that you have accurate books, and typically, these don’t include enough detail to figure out how many labor hours are applied.

You’re limited in the detail you can see if you’re not looking at the complete view. 

That’s why connectors are created for establishing 1 all-encompassing dashboard in Power BI or Tableau. These tools were specifically designed to aggregate data from a bunch of different systems and present it in a single view that’s easy to use.

You Still Need Manufacturing Analytics

This isn’t us saying that Power BI or Tableau should replace SensrTrx or any other software. These tools can’t replace the manufacturing analytics or productivity system or ERP because they don’t understand any of the contexts, and you can’t build that in it. You still need that underlying enterprise system or system of record to be able to get good contextual information so you can really understand it.

Where data aggregation software like Power BI or Tableau fit is the top of the pyramid. Their purpose is to tie all of this data from these different systems together.

How Do I Connect Manufacturing Software Together?

“How do you begin to connect all of these systems together to create that single view?” It’s a great question, and it actually comes back to our IIoT guide, explaining the various steps needed to implement IIoT in the plant.

First, you have to determine what metrics matter to the people that are going to use the dashboard. What do they want to know?

Then ask yourself, where can these metrics be found and how will they be collected?

That’s basically where you start. They’re very simple questions, but when you have an outline of what you want to see and where you want to go, it will make connecting all of the systems together much easier, similar to IIoT.

Then, you pull the data together. If you’re exporting Excel out of your different systems and importing it into the Power BI or Tableau dashboard, you probably don’t need IT help. But, if you want live connections into the different systems so data automatically updates, you probably do need to enlist the help of your IT team.

Couldn’t I Just Use Excel?

Technically, you could compile all of this data into Excel. We won’t deny that. However, you’ll likely be greatly limited in opportunity. Excel doesn’t have the same kinds of tools to visualize data, just like many manual reporting solutions don’t have the capabilities to properly visualize data.

You need the right tool for the right job.

Sure, you could use a screwdriver and nail, and it works, but it’s not the right (or easiest) way to do it. That’s something to consider when compiling all of your systems’ data into 1 view, too.

The other thing is that Excel usually just lives in a file somewhere, and it’s not accessible to everyone. Power BI and Tableau can be easily pulled up on the web, or on your phone. It’s very accessible. The other bonus is that you can easily control access to has rights to edit the Power BI dashboards, and the same is true for Tableau.

You can also live update the Power BI or Tableau dashboards. As the underlying data changes, the dashboard changes, too, automatically.

Those are the biggest reasons why a business intelligence tool is better than Excel. Sure, some people will nitpick and say you can do a lot of this with Excel, but again, it comes down to the screwdriver, hammer, and nail analogy.

Power BI and Tableau are the hammers.

Power BI and Tableau Should Only Be Used at the Corporate Level, Not the Plant Foor

But, let’s clear one thing up in our general appreciation for business intelligence tools like Power BI and Tableau. The place for these types of systems is at the corporate level with corporate-wide reporting.

We recommend resisting the temptation to deploy Power BI or Tableau at the plant level, and here’s why. These types of systems are great for someone who sits at a desk, not for someone who is running around the plant. It’s not purpose-built for what you, at the plant level, need to do.

You can’t enter data into the Power BI or Tableau dashboard. It’s a read-only tool. While it is accessible on a phone and an iPad, it’s not purpose-built for what production is trying to do. Think back to the tool analogy. You need the right tool for the right job.

The job that you hire Power or Tableau for is aggregating data across multiple systems and providing a top-down view of what’s happening in the company. It is not for reimagining things that already exist in other purpose-built applications like SensrTrx or an ERP.

So, all of the Power BI vs. SensrTrx or Tableau vs. SensrTrx cons we wrote about in 2 other blogs, still apply.

This is our “pros” article. With that in mind, if you don’t have 1 view of your organization, across departments and across verticals, we highly recommend you add that to your list of to-dos. You’ll thank us later.