Late last week I had a briefing update from the good folks at Plex about progress with Intelliplex, the company's flagship analytics platform aimed at manufacturing industries.
If you've been following Plex for any period of time you'll know a couple of things: they're not afraid of experimenting with the latest hot gadgets to find ways of incorporating them into the plant floor and they've been working out what it means to offer meaningful analytics to both the plant floor and the business.
Plex's willingness to experiment and often fail is commendable. That's the way of new gadgets and technology toys. But it is the analytics that truly catch the eye. Make no mistake that in a world where the notion of an Internet of Things draws a huge yawn among users, and a perplexed frown among analysts keen to flog consulting, Plex has spent the last few years gamely wrestling in a quest to build a platform that takes advantage of sensor proliferation in the manufacturing plant but without leaving customers overwhelmed. That's a tough ask so with development progress showing demonstrable results, it is good news that the Intelliplex platform of the future is coming into view.
I am not normally a fan of vendor built 'marchitecture' diagrams. They're often hideously complex and bamboozle all but the most nerdy in an audience. Plex produced the obligatory marchitecture diagram but before I had time to yawn, they made clear this is designed to help both business and technically minded folk understand how the piece parts fit together as a backdrop to solving clearly defined problems.
For example, on our call, the team talked about how a straight view into scrap rates often hides a multitude of causal factors that impact not only the standard cost of production but lead times, order cancellation and disruptions to cash flow. Think about that for a moment.
In that scenario, we're not only talking about a costing line item that only needs action on the plant floor. We're now considering the interactions generated by one issue among department heads that comes out of the knock on effects into customer care, supplier reputation and grading, plant maintenance scheduling, profit generation and forecasting.
More potently, Plex believes the abilities it now has turns what is normally an 'in line with expectations' variance into an actionable insight. That's powerful. But how do you get there?
Plex has always taken the view that business analysts should be able to pull information out of the Plex data store with relative ease. In the current iteration of Intelliplex, has assembled its library of usable objects in a near drag and drop fashion that only requires the analyst understands the difference between measures and dimensions. In that context, Intelliplex is a sophisticated and manufacturing oriented data visualization tool that allows business process owners to tell the story of what's happening both in real time and into a dashboard presentation that meets their needs.
The beauty of this is that the customer doesn't have to do any heavy data lifting, data cleansing or transformation because, regardless of source, it all lies in the same data repository and available in real time visa hundreds of prebuilt widgets. As the company says, its more about activation rather than implementation because Plex has done that work already and makes it available to all customers.
Where does this go? Karl Ederle, VP production management at Plex put his future goggles on and offered this:
There are increasingly more places where we can connect. You’ll see us deliver more true real time visibility like machine telemetry which will result in plant telemetry to help solve issues in the moment. We’re going to leverage public cloud services and create a data lake so that we can augment information from the supply chain and smart products. This will take is to analysis that support smart devices for instance. That in turn takes us towards a whole new class around design of new products. We're really scratching the surface today.
Excited? You should be. Getting analytics right is a very hard nut to crack. I've seen too many failures and false starts that even now, I caution against in-house development. Seeing Plex make progress that directly helps its target customers is gratifying and indicative of a direction that should add significant value for its customers.
In the meantime and despite its wish to provide easy collaboration among departments and out to the supply chain, there is still work to be done. Core systems have been given the Intelliplex treatment. Further down the road, Plex plans implementing this approach to both HR and supply chain.
I should have included some numbers for those who are interested in market proof points - check this slide:
Now how about this:
- Current size of data store: 500TB.
- Plex adds approx 2 billion rows of data every month.
- About half the data interchange is machine to machine.
- Supporting the ability to configure for the 'customer of one' at Caterpillar where there are approximately 50,000 options per machine.