Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What is Intelligence, and why do we need it?

I believe that it is time to get back on topic in this blog, which is Intelligence in manufacturing and manufacturing systems in general. With that in mind I was looking thru my archives and came across something I once wrote as a positioning statement for an intelligence product – I guess it is not hard to figure out what company that was for? So here goes…

In one of my previous posts I tried to bring up the point that we need to consider metrics in the context of what they are needed for and how they are going to be used. I believe that is the best way to understand how to provide the right intelligence in a given scenario. But what is Intelligence? Well that is a very serious subject, but let’s take in the context of manufacturing and process improvement.

Intelligence implies the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience. As such Intelligence is information valued for its timeliness and relevance rather than its detail or accuracy in contrast with "data" which typically refers to precise or particular information, or "fact".

In the context of manufacturing, Intelligence is a fundamental ingredient influencing the system’s level of performance in reaching its objectives. A manufacturing business system (humans included) is a system that learns during its existence. In other words, it learns, for each situation, which response permits it to reach its objectives. It continually acts and by acting reaches its objectives more often than pure chance would indicate. We can observe the following about Intelligence in manufacturing:
Intelligent manufacturing is not a smarter way of producing things; it is a human centric approach where humans interact with the process be it automatic or manual, gathering the right information to take intelligence decisions based on actionable information. It is much more than visibility. Just having the information is of course helpful, but it needs to be taken one step farther. It needs to be provided in a way that people can intuitively capitalize on it using their knowledge and understanding to make effective decisions.
Henri Poincare once noted in a related topic that “Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.”
What is an effective decision then? It is a decision that has an outcome that drives increased performance and continuous improvement. Intelligence is therefore not solely about metrics, KPIs or the ability to drill down into the data. In order to increase performance we need to quantify what is important. Hence intelligence is about quantifying what is important, or quantifying the unquantifiable.

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