Data Analytics: Listen to Your Data and Talk to Your People

October 04, 2018

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
~Albert Einstein

I like to read reports as part of my job. I can’t read all of them, but I make sure that there’s always one or two that are on my list on an ongoing basis. For example, lately I’ve been reading The State of Sustainable Business 2018 report from BSR and GlobeScan.

Most reports have a methodology section that I ignore, although I may quickly scan it to see if the respondents represent the type of audience that I want to learn more about (industries, company sizes, etc.). And sometimes the introduction or executive summary of the report will tell you how they reached their conclusions.

I like one particular hybrid approach. It may be described this way: “For this report, we surveyed 300 professionals and interviewed 15 of them”. In essence, the report findings are based on data from a survey and what people said. I’m sharing this because it also gives a good idea of the approach to follow in the era of Industry 4.0

There are many elements to Industry 4.0, including the “smart factory” where cyber-physical systems monitor factory processes, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, etc. One of the trends that will be greatly accelerated is big data analytics. With a massive volume of available data, organizations can use advanced analytics to gain better insights, including descriptive analytics (“What has happened?”), predictive analytics (“What could happen?”), and prescriptive analytics (“What should be done?”).

Advanced analytics present great opportunities for EHS and risk professionals to transform safety, environmental and operational performance, and enable operational excellence. But is there a danger of relying too much on data? Machines will remain machines. And humans will remain humans, with their cognitive biases, irrationalities, and emotional complexities.

Companies should not be suspicious of Industry 4.0 and distrustful of what data says. Far from it. Failure to embrace the new technologies and opportunities of Industry 4.0 means giving competitors an edge that could prove fatal. Rather, organizations should not forget the human aspect.

Use data from sensors and connected machines and devices to learn more about equipment performance issues. Leverage predictive modeling and data on adverse events to determine where the next incident is the most likely to occur. Apply artificial intelligence to receive context-aware suggestions of what the next steps should be following an incident.

But talk to people also. Talk to the professional with more than 30 years of experience who is about to retire, and who has a wealth of knowledge. He may give valuable information on how people feel, think, act, and behave, which is something that data may only partially tell you. Talk to the employee who was recently hired, and who graduated from college only a couple of years ago. She may give great insights about the expectations of your future employees and the new workplace trends that may be common in 1, 5, or 10 years. Don’t dismiss what people have to say by relying too much on data.

Ultimately it’s about complementing the findings from data analytics with what people have to say. Both are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they strengthen each other.

Finally, if you’re interested in Industry 4.0, digital transformation and advanced analytics, or you would like to learn more about how they will impact EHS and risk management, view the recording of our webinar with LNS Research:




Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader - Wolters Kluwer | Enablon