When we think of a factory, we imagine smokestacks and machinery. But some of the most innovative production today isn’t happening in a factory warehouse: It’s happening digitally.
The “digital factory” is rapidly replacing the traditional definition of manufacturing. It used to be that all goods were produced on the factory floor, but much production is digital now. And if the new factory is digital, the new raw material is unstructured data.
Many innovative products and services are being created digitally, from cutting-edge biotech products to beautifully rendered animated films. Any industry has the chance to drive innovation by transforming raw data into gold — if they have the digital tools to do it. Unstructured data is growing exponentially, and it’s become increasingly challenging for organizations to manage. Adding to the urgency, the shift to “anywhere operations” across work, healthcare and education has accelerated digitization efforts, making enterprises even more data-intensive.
In parts one and two of this series, I explained how an organization can build a file data architecture that supports a digital factory. Now, I’ll share three ways leading enterprises have put this into action, successfully turning raw data into a finished product.
Start with the realization that legacy manufacturers have the opportunity to transform physical production into digital production.
Legacy companies that relied on brick-and-mortar operations are rapidly transforming their physical products into digital products. By looking beyond physical manufacturing, legacy industries have the potential to pivot to digital offerings using data.
For instance, car manufacturers like Tesla and Hyundai MOBIS leverage data to innovate their products. Cars seem like merely a physical product, but their value is quickly becoming digital: Connected cars with autonomous functionality are becoming the norm, and manufacturers rely on real-time data to design safer cars. Helping vehicles react to their environment requires analyzing hundreds of terabytes of video data.
Another example is the financial services industry. Fintech and insurtech companies previously had a leg up on traditional financial institutions because fintechs weren’t reliant on brick-and-mortar branches. As we’re seeing with Rocket Mortgage and Capsilon, the leading fintech enterprises are able to process billions of data points at once so they can offer instant services (like preapproving a mortgage loan with just a few clicks). (Full disclosure: Capsilon is a Qumulo customer.) However, forward-thinking legacy financial institutions like Bank of America are using data and digital customer experience development to be more competitive with fintech challengers.
If a company wants to become a digital factory, it needs to have an effective file data system in place. Legacy companies hoping to make better use of data can look to industries that embraced file data early on.
Implement unstructured data technology to support modern innovation.
Digital factories generate a massive amount of file data, from videos to documents — and it all has to be seamlessly updated across platforms. Certain industries, including biotech and entertainment, have been early adopters of massive file data management, enabling them to pave the way for data-driven innovation at a breathtaking pace.
The healthcare and research computing sectors have been undergoing a digital transformation for decades. Research hospitals like Dayton Children’s Hospital use sophisticated PACS imaging technology to speed up diagnoses. (Full disclosure: Dayton Children’s Hospital is a Qumulo customer.) The modern lab is now more digital than it is physical. For instance, DNA sequencing is a process that used to take months to manually record, but labs today can use digital data to accelerate the process. Thanks to modern unstructured data management, some researchers had their Covid-19 vaccine design within two days of receiving the Covid-19 genome sequence.
The media and entertainment industry has also been transitioning from physical production to digital production for a long time, which positioned studios like NBC and Netflix to take the lead on astonishing innovations like streaming. Animation companies no longer draw on pencil and paper, but create with file data on computers, with high-speed GPU rendering. Entire film companies have shifted the production process from the studio to the cloud, especially after the pandemic accelerated the transition to remote collaboration. All of this progress is enabled by file data.
Early adopters of file data technology are well-positioned for modern innovation — and other industries still have the opportunity to catch up.
Create a successful digital factory by turning raw unstructured data into value.
The savviest producers have the ability to transform their raw data into a valuable product or service. As we’ve seen from the previous examples, every company is becoming a data company. Your primary product doesn’t have to be data, but you can turn data into a product nonetheless — or use it to enhance your existing products.
To see how this works, look at the retail industry. Retailers are manufacturers in the traditional sense, but they’ve managed to leverage the raw data they have to also become digital manufacturers, updating their services for customers through personalized shopping recommendations and improved supply chains.
Even power plants — which are increasingly in the spotlight after a series of energy crises like the extreme weather in Texas in 2020 — have the opportunity to become digital power plants. Utility companies can transform usage data into real-time insights to more efficiently manage energy consumption and respond to changing demands on the power grid.
Companies that get a handle on file data management will be better prepared for the avalanche of data that comes with running a successful modern business, whether it be financial services, media, retail or healthcare. Never before has it been so critical to create products and services digitally, but thanks to data, we have all the materials we need.
Ben Gitenstein is a Forbes Councils Member. This story was originally published in a Forbes Technology Council post in September 2021.
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