How the Middle East can Transform its Economies Using Industrial Data

Dwaine Plauche, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at AspenTech, delves into how the Middle East can revolutionise its economies through the utilisation of industrial data.

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There’s no exact date for when it happened, but sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the business world changed forever. For centuries, the business of business had been conducted in one way: on paper. The transition from paper-based transactions to a digital paradigm marked the onset of the Digital Revolution. Every transaction that was recorded on paper and every record kept was transformed into one thing – data.

The impact of that transformation was immediate, especially within the MENA region. By mining that data, companies were able to obtain new information that resulted in significant improvements in efficiency, higher customer acquisition rates and – ultimately – increasing profitability. From those early attempts at digitisation, to the current focus on digitising infrastructures within the region, businesses learned that significant labour and cost reductions could be achieved. Businesses within the region are expected to spend a total of $183.8 billion USD in 2024 on IT. Enhancing data management to increase revenue, will continue to be the region’s top investment priority.

By using CRM data as an example, we are able to determine which customers have been emailed previously, and which are more responsive to calls. This whittles down a list of a hundred prospects to 10, while still maintaining the same number of sales. Availability of data, combined with predictive analytics, has provided ample opportunity to gain valuable insights and improve maintenance efficiency.  You can track how customers use your website or get insight into how many people use a computer-based or SaaS-based ERP system.

Though data is arguably more valuable today than it’s ever been, it’s also not without challenges – the first of which is just how much of it there is. From relatively simple beginnings, industrial data exploded as more – and more complex – processes were digitalised. It is estimated that in just a few years, business and consumer data will reach 175 zettabytes.

Much of that vast trove of data, however, never sees the light of day. With no organised strategy for managing, storing and analysing data, companies inevitably miss out on potential insights which could help make their operations more efficient and profitable. Companies simply can’t bridge the data gap. Specialists know how to access the data, but not what it is used for, and managers know what information is useful, but do not know how to access it.

It’s not just missing out on potential insights that can impact a company’s bottom line. By 2025, the MENA region’s big data industry is expected to have a value of almost $30 billion USD. Those vast data caches, however, also represent a golden opportunity for asset-intensive companies – particularly as they work to deal with the IT/OT convergence.

While the traditional view has long been that IT and OT have little, if any, overlap – with IT focused on an enterprise’s data and computing needs, and equipment, and OT devoted to manufacturing systems and other industrial equipment. As industry has become increasingly digital those two spheres have moved toward each other, as new technologies, like the internet of things (IoT) and big data analytics, allow digital systems to monitor and manage physical assets.

The synergy between IT and OT, though difficult to orchestrate, promises undeniable benefits. They both naturally exist with different perspectives, but the potential benefits are undeniable. Gathering all their data in one place and creating a single source of truth can allow companies to glean insights not only into how their actual performance didn’t align with their plan, but why. Based on that understanding, they can then pinpoint where adjustments can be made to maximise both profitability and sustainability.

By looking at the data over time, we can predict what will really happen. So, for different needs, your plan should change accordingly. If we set up systems that to that automatically, we end up creating a self-optimising system. Reaching that point, however, is far from easy. While industrial organisations are collecting vast amounts of data, that data must be “cleaned” to fix incorrect, duplicate or incomplete data and then be aggregated into useful format.

Simply aggregating the data, however, isn’t enough. Proper analysis requires complex data analysis tools and the presence of skilled data analysts to pull insights from accumulated data.

By far the biggest challenge, comes down to a single word – context.

Contextualising data is the hardest thing to do. You can aggregate and create algorithms on the front end to make sure your data is clean and accurate, but context is hard because it’s not just about the ones and zeros. It’s about the metadata – where in the plant did this data come from? What other information is attached to this data? And once you’ve got all this data, the bigger challenge is making sense of it. How do you search through it all and find connections? Querying that data is tough, and doing so at scale is very tough.

For all their promise and potential benefits, the reality is that, while no company has been able to build such a fully integrated, end-to-end system for managing industrial data, they will almost certainly be a standard part of business going forward. The future of technology will become more conversational. Operators will be able to propose ideas and see probabilities for outcomes, and our systems will be able to respond aiding in better decision making and understanding of the risks associated with certain choices.

Handling data is a big job, but the potential benefits for businesses are huge. It is an investment that is worth the effort put into it; it will reshape how we run our companies and make decisions entirely. Despite the challenges that companies within the region face when it comes to utilising and storing data effectively, the Middle East has made it a mission to transform their economies using this data.

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