Digital Plant: Why Big Data Needs UCD and Mobile Solutions

In the digital age — where everything is connected — plant owners and operators are making more strides with data than ever before. From decreasing downtime to avoiding costly and sometimes cataclysmic equipment failure, big data is changing how the modern plant functions.

But how does big data translate into actionable results and where is the ROI for all the millions of dollars invested in big data initiatives?

In a recent survey, 83 percent of respondents claim their company’s big data investment is only moderate or significant. Only 33 percent say that they have seen value from those investments, while another 49 percent say it’s too soon to tell.

If you’re on the front lines of online monitoring and real time data analysis — you know exactly how important big data is. But what about other stakeholders? Do key decision-makers in your organization know when you’ve made a big catch? Furthermore, can plant personnel easily and effectively do their job based on the alerts they receive, and can you verify those alerts have been properly addressed?

In this post, we’ll take a look at challenges faced by the modern digital plant. We’ll also connect the dots between user-centered design (UCD) and mobile solutions — and how mobile can make your big data initiatives more effective.

What the Modern Digital Plant Looks Like

The most simplistic definition of a digital plant is a facility connected to data by technology. But this definition barely scratches the surface of today’s modern digital plant.

Here’s an example

In the utilities industry, a fleet of power generation facilities can be connected to advanced pattern recognition (APR) software via multiple industrial internet of things (IIOT) devices. This data generally alerts a decision support system (DSS) team to critical equipment component wear or necessary maintenance. Once the DSS team validates the data, alerts or instructions can then be sent out to plant personnel.


While today’s digital plant is sophisticated, many challenges still exist.

While some companies struggle with choosing the right analytics software to interpret their data, other companies struggle with conveying their data to stakeholders in the most appropriate and effective ways possible.

Marrying UCD and Mobile Solutions with Big Data

From the C-suite down to the plant level, UCD and mobile solutions can connect the valuable intelligence produced by big data and APR software in a way that not only produces actionable results, but also shows the value of your analytics program.

To marry UCD and mobile solutions with big data, three major areas need to considered:

    1. Business

What are the business challenges?

    1. User

What are the needs of my workforce?

    1. Technology

What is the best technology solution to solve the business challenge?

Below are some practical examples of how UCD and mobile solutions can have a big impact on both plant personnel and the C-suite.

Plant Level

At the plant level, ineffective methods for receiving alerts are major threats to the success of online monitoring and real time data analytics programs.

While mobile or digital solutions can help solve these problems — simply throwing technology at the issue won’t do the trick. So, what’s answer? The best place to start is with user experience (UX) research.

UX research, which helps define the UCD requirements for a mobile or digital solution, studies workers in the context of their environment. This helps reveal certain insights about the user and reveals hidden insights about inefficient task flows that may not be readily apparent. UX research answers questions like, does it make sense for plant personnel to use a phone, tablet or wearable to receive alerts? How can the user interface (UI) be improved so that the worker gets only the information he needs, when he needs it? How can tasks be reduced to streamline a given process?

Once alerts begin to flow to right stakeholders via the right device in the right context at the right time, they can be addressed more quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, with a mobile solution — plant personnel can easily document their activities once an issue has been addressed to keep in-house teams informed. The result? A more successful online monitoring and real time data analytics program.


One major challenge is demonstrating the value of online monitoring and analytics programs to key decision makers.

Overloading the C-suite with data minutiae is the wrong way to express the value of your online monitoring and data analytics program. With a custom mobile or digital solution, data can be funneled into an app that provides updates to C-suite on high-level information that’s important to them.

Creating a custom application specifically for the C-suite ensures that the accomplishments — the big catches in particular — don’t go unnoticed. Ultimately, this adds more value to your program and shows a serious ROI.

To learn more about mobile and digital solutions, read the whitepaper, “The ROI of UX.”

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