Why the IoT Is a Tool for Continuous Improvement

Consider how Amazon defines continuous improvement, and the role that Internet of Things technologies can play in that mission, to illuminate your firm's path into the IoT.
By John Rossman

The introduction of ubiquitous connected devices has changed the rules of the data game, creating the possibility for real-time feedback loops that power continuous-improvement programs.

Instead of living in a world of manual data collection, which creates limited, slow and stale data sets, the IoT creates an exponential stream of affordable real-time information. That flood of data empowers companies to focus on the continuous improvements to their internal systems, saving them time and money while increasing productivity and consistency.

How Amazon Took Operations from Good to Great
These days, Amazon's operations—the way it fulfills, ships, tracks and delivers your orders—are world-class. But it didn't start out that way. The company measured, refined and executed its way to greatness, embracing continuous improvement as a way of life.

In the early 2000s, the leaders of Amazon's fulfillment and operations capabilities decided to implement Six Sigma, a data-driven five-step approach for eliminating defects in a process: define, measure, analyze, implement and control (DMAIC). This is the root improvement cycle in Six Sigma and sets up the methodical, measured steps and mindset to squeeze out defects, costs and cycle times.

One challenge in completing a Six Sigma initiative is that so much of the effort—generally up to 25 percent—lies in collecting data. Depending on the project, manual data collection can be not only difficult but inaccurate. The information itself is often of questionable quality, skewed by bias, or cut short due to time and effort.

Because of these challenges, Six Sigma certifies professionals in a set of empirical and statistical quality-management methods to help them execute on the process successfully. These professionals are installed in an organization during a Six Sigma process to make sure everything is completed successfully. These kinds of individuals are also highly sought after and well compensated. Creating a team of Black Belts within your organization is one of the biggest cost drivers of Six Sigma initiatives.

That's where the IoT comes in.

Using connected devices to collect data frees up an organization's Black Belts to tackle more projects. It also leads to faster Six Sigma initiatives and a much richer, more reliable data set.

Connected devices can bring visibility to your company's operating conditions, giving you real-time insight into the flow, status and state of key items in your process. Not only does this enhance your understanding of needed improvements, but it builds a way to scale operations with active quality measurement built into the process.

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