How Manufacturers Can Use IoT Data to Drive Bottom-Line Results with Caroline Hilla from Cisco

In this episode, we talk with Caroline Hilla from Cisco’s Global Manufacturing team. Caroline offers practical and foundational tips for capturing, integrating — and effectively using — IoT data. 

“There’s a perception right now that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And while that may have worked for 15, 20 years now, what we’re really seeing is that you’re not really able to tap into the full potential of the data that you can be collecting from your different devices and machines using the internet of things until you’ve really been able to use it and actually unite those data islands… And when it comes to business productivity, I mean, this is huge. This is what allows you to operate as efficiently as possible. This is what allows you to reduce downtime. And ultimately, this allows you to get your products out the door faster and tap into new markets that your competitors have not been able to reach yet.”

Caroline Hilla, Cisco

Full Transcript:

Announcer: Hi and welcome to Data in Depth, a podcast where we delve into advanced analytics, business intelligence, and machine learning, and how they’re revolutionizing the manufacturing sector. Each episode, we share new ideas and best practices to help you put your business data to work. From the shop floor to the back office, from optimizing supply chains to customer experience, the factory of the future runs on data.

Andrew Rieser: Welcome and thanks for joining us for our last episode of season one for Data in Depth, the podcast exploring the world of big data and its role in the manufacturing industry. I’m your host, Andrew Rieser. Today we are joined by Caroline Hilla. Caroline is marketing coordinator on Cisco’s Global Industries team, responsible for the planning, strategy, and execution of customer driven content for manufacturing industry solutions. Welcome, Caroline.

Caroline Hilla: Thank you for having me, I’m really excited to be here.

Andrew: Yeah, I’m super excited for today’s topic as well. So today, we’re gonna look into diving deeper into how industries are adapting to this new world of always on data and really what that means, and the possibilities and the goals of collecting and leveraging this data. So think of all the machines on a shop floor and getting those eventually connected up into the internet and all that streams of data and what that means and how you can make sense of that. But before we get too excited and dive into our journey with data, I’d like to first hear a little bit about your journey, Caroline, and what got you into your role today.

Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. So I have a background in product marketing. And I started with Cisco back in 2017, so pretty recently, and I really have just always been passionate about helping customers solve their problems. And when we look at the industrial customers today, I mean, they have more information and more purchasing power, and higher expectations every single day, and this is really just all thanks to the digital transformation. And so with my role at Cisco, I eventually got into this role by looking at our solutions from an industry perspective and how we’re really solving business outcomes. And so really what I look at is the full portfolio of all of our solutions and services and how we can bring that together for our customers to help solve their specific challenges in the manufacturing industry. And so for manufacturers today to really survive, this means that they need to evolve, and the same is true for their networks, as well. So the networks have always been at the center of cutting edge production, but it’s even more vital today. And so in marketing, we really try to understand the customers, where they’re coming from, and see how we can help them really transform their infrastructure to support more data in the future.

Andrew: Awesome. So my past life, my understanding of Cisco has always been around networking appliances and devices. So maybe you can just kinda give a brief elevator pitch on Cisco and share a little bit more about the company as a whole.

Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. So from an elevator pitch perspective, you know, Cisco is always focused on helping our customers connect the unconnected. And so this kind of goes back to 1984 when we had Len Bosack and his wife, Sandy Lerner, they were both working for Stanford University. And basically, the way this started is they wanted to email each other from their respective offices, but they didn’t have the technology to really support that communication. And so they invented it. And so they had to invent this creation of different local area protocols, and as a result, the multi-protocol router was born. And from there, Cisco has also moved into software, and collaboration, and our security embedded into our infrastructure. So we really have a large solution portfolio, you know, from the network and data center to collaboration and security, Cisco has the IT solutions that are designed to meet the needs of the business. Specifically, in the manufacturing industry, you know, this means moving from manual, reactive, and legacy processes, to more automated and intelligent operations. And it also means embedding the security throughout the entire network and organization so that you can really protect your people, data, and reputation.

Andrew: Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. I think that when I view connectivity for manufacturing, I think about it in two ways. So I think about it in the way of connecting the unconnected, as you put it, which I think is a great description of that. So connecting previously dumb machines, if you will, and enabling them to be smart machines. And then also I think of it as devices out in the field as well, so the kind of internet of things concept of maybe the products of these manufacturers are making smart and connecting up into the cloud, into the internet. And so with all that, I think you briefly touched on it, but security becomes a big aspect that I think a lot of manufacturers have concerns around. So I think just getting manufacturers to adopt cloud and adopt some of these cloud based or SAS based applications kinda took a learning curve, and now I think, I’m sure, that you’re seeing this as well, getting additional devices that were previously unconnected, there’s probably that learning curve around security as well.

Caroline: Yeah, that’s a great point. And you know what’s really challenging for manufacturers today is majority of their facilities and equipment is kind of outdated, you know. There’s a perception right now that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And while that may have worked for 15, 20 years now, what we’re really seeing is that you’re not really able to tap into the full potential of the data that you can be collecting from your different devices and machines using the internet of things until you’ve really been able to use it and actually unite those data islands, so to say. And by doing that, you know, you can really strategically tap into the data and get full visibility into the performance and working conditions of your machinery and assets. And when it comes to the business productivity, I mean, this is huge, this is what really allows you to operate as efficient as possible, this is what allows you to reduce down time and ultimately, get your products out the door faster and really, you know, tap into new markets that your competitors have not been able to reach yet.

Andrew: Absolutely. So I think there’s a lot of different angles that we could probably take here, but to get started, let’s dive into two specific topics. So one just around improving connectivity and what does that mean for manufacturers. So connecting those previously unconnected devices, and then once that happens and you now have these streams of data coming in, how do you make sense of that? So how do you really get to the advanced analytics around what that means? So I’d love to get your perspective on both of those and if we can, let’s just start with improving connectivity. So what should manufacturers be thinking about?

Caroline: Yeah, yeah, great point. So improving connectivity is really all about, like I said, tapping into the data that you did not originally had. And one of the perceptions is that you should be collecting everything. And that’s really not the case. It becomes very overwhelming if you are trying to collect and manage all of the data that’s available. So you wanna be strategic into how you’re actually connecting that. And one of the flirts things you wanna think about is what does your environment look like right now? You know, are you running unmanaged switches in your environment, are you actually able to collect that data? And so what Cisco really provides is the layer on top of all of that so you can use what you already have, tap into the data, and be able to effectively manage it and simplify it on one connected dashboard. And, you know, what’s really critical, too, with this improved connectivity is the ability to finally bring IT and operations together, ’cause historically, IT and operations within industrial manufacturing, they could function fairly independently, but the world is really changing, and in order to keep up, manufacturers need to change this relationship. And the best way of doing that is by physically, literally, connecting them with the data. So if it’s a security incident, or a system failure, or unplanned down time, a lot of these encounters between IT and OT don’t necessarily breed trust and collaboration. And so at Cisco we’re really helping to unite them so that when you are able to connect all of this data in one way that’s scalable and efficient, it ends up in saving money, enhancing profitability, and improving the operational efficiency.

Andrew: Yeah, I think that’s a great way of thinking about it. Regardless of the types of initiatives, I think that there always becomes that kinda disconnect between IT and the front lines of business, whether that’s operations or sales, and instead of thinking about it this way, I like the way you put it, where data almost becomes kinda like the liaison or the broker between those because both sides need to understand what the value is that’s coming out of that. And when they’re working together I think it kind of eliminates those barriers and gets them focused on the right metrics and the right information that they should be caring about.

Caroline: Exactly, yep.

Andrew: Cool. So connectivity is obviously one part of the story, so getting these devices connected and creating that infrastructure to support that. So once you have all that in place, what are some next steps that these organizations should be thinking about? So you’ve kind of done the assessment, you understand kind of the lay of the land from their infrastructure, you’re recommending new products to converge all this stuff together, then what’s next, what’s the typical road map?

Caroline: Yeah, great question. And so like you said, this new influx of data, it’s really all about creating new opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution. So opportunity one we look at is really increasing the profitability, so you wanna analyze the data from your machinery that can really help you identify, you know, production and policy improvements. For instance, maintenance, repair, and operations can take a lot of time and resources, so if you implement condition monitoring with predictive analysis, you can avoid down time, reduce the need for human intervention, improve your maintenance scheduling, and also really diagnose issues with considerable accuracy. Another point I wanna make, too, is the area of identifying efficiencies. So real-time data analysis is really the key to helping you improve quality, yield, and overall equipment effectiveness. And a lot of manufacturers are integrating the data from their enterprise resource planning and their MES, manufacturers execution systems. And what this really does is this allows you to compare real-time inputs and historical data, which ultimately allows you to drive the better utilization, eliminate the poor visibility, and really identify events into production so that you can ensure the proper outputs and quality control early in production runs. And a third opportunity as well is really just improving the business operations. So with analytics in place, you can view, understand, and track the flow of materials as they travel around the plant floor. And a point I really wanna make on this is that it’s critical to understand how this improves your margins and drives a better customer experience. Like I said, customers today are really driving the industry of manufacturing where they want to have heavy influence into the production process. They want real-time updates, they want to be able to have the ability to track their assets in delivery as it’s moving through, and also be able to customize if needed. And so you really can’t provide that to your customers until you have that analysis in place from the data to really improve your production and make sure that your operations are seamless.

Andrew: I think those are a lot of really great points. In my mind, I kind of track it through, so connectivity’s the beginning of all this. Once you have your devices connected and integrated with things like your business system and manufacturing execution systems, then you have all this data and that’s where you start really grabbing key performance indicators around that. And then, a point that you touched on that maybe you can expand a little bit more on is now that you’ve got these pieces of the puzzle in place, now it’s really about that transparency that you described for the end customer, so that they kind of have a window into the operations. But then more importantly, I think that the last outcome that you can start driving towards is that predictive analytics. So now that you’re getting this real-time information, now you can start leveraging this data to be more proactive and anticipate where there might be failures or where there might be issues. And I think that brings it full circle to the nirvana or utopia of what these manufacturers are after.

Caroline: Exactly, and one thing, too, that this addresses is with the aging workforce and the large number of manufacturing professionals that are retiring out of the industry, this is really leaving the manufacturing industry in a tough situation to bring in new talent and also retain this tribal knowledge. I had a story from a customer I thought was really interesting, his name was Earl. And Earl literally would put his hand on a machine and he could tell you whether the machine was gonna break in a month, just by the feeling of the vibrations, the sounds it was making. You know, they walk into those facilities every day for 20 years, and so what’s really powerful is when you can actually grab the data from the sensors that can actually sense the vibration, the acoustic sensors, for example, to be able to still use that tribal knowledge and use those predictions to prevent failures and down times, which we know is extremely costly in this industry.

Andrew: I think that’s a great story and great analogy around where all this is going. So absolutely. As these folks are aging out of the work force, you’re not gonna find somebody that’s gonna come in and have that, essentially, those machines were his baby, right, he was taking care of them, he knew when things needed to be replaced or anticipated those kinda things just because of–

Caroline: Exactly, and you don’t know sometimes until it’s broken.

Andrew: Exactly. So yeah, so incorporating these things, whether it be sensors or just diagnostic tools, those kinda things, I think that leveraging that is still not gonna replace that tribal knowledge, but it definitely helps put you in the right spot so that you can think about some of these tough challenges that manufacturers are facing as it relates to talent and bringing in new folks.

Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. And a part of manufacturing, too, I wanna think about is the ability to grow. It’s critical to be able to grow, and like I said, expand your portfolio into new products and really tap into those new markets. And part of that is being able to construct new facilities that guarantee all of your devices aren’t only connected to the internet, but that they’re also connected to one another so that they can really create and share as much data as possible to bring you the insights you need. And that’s where having a really solid network architecture in place that’s connected to your enterprise really comes into play and makes that possible.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. And I think along those lines, that also opens up new channels for additional types of revenue streams or different ways about how they can think about those types of engagements with the end customer. So really tracking and monitoring things and paying for stuff such as up time or these predictive things that can be in place now so that these manufacturers are able to sell value and not necessarily just sell widgets.

Caroline: Exactly.

Andrew: Very cool. So usually as we kind of wrap these podcasts, we always like to ask for your point of view on what’s next, whether it be where Cisco’s looking to drive some of these trends in the manufacturing industry, or just as an industry as a whole. Love your insights around what you think the future holds.

Caroline: Yeah, absolutely. So the future for manufacturing is very exciting. I mean, we see a massive potential in intelligent production devices. Being able to harness that data. And I think what’s really critical is that, you know, when we can harness that data and automate processes and have machinery, you know, automate these repetitive tasks, it actually makes manufacturing more human. We allow our employees and workers to focus on improving the processes, bringing in innovative solutions, innovating the products, customizing what the customers are asking for, and I think that’s really critical is to understand the people strategy that’s involved in this as well. And part of handling this sudden influx of data is really having the connected facility that you need. And so what Cisco really provides is the solution that’s not just gonna work for now, but it works to scale your future as well. It’s what allows you to grow so that your employees can focus on innovating and improving the process versus just the day to day running the operations that can be automated using data analytics.

Andrew: So Caroline, I can imagine our listeners out there might be thinking, well, this is great, but I’m already overwhelmed with data as it is, and so with this influx of more data and all these different streams coming through, how do we not let that become overwhelming?

Caroline: Yeah, that’s a great question, and overwhelming is really the word that comes to mind when we think about the future of data and manufacturing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You know, it doesn’t have to be scary. If you really look at data and manufacturing, you can look at it really two ways. One is it’s scary, it’s overwhelming, you may not have the ability to collect it, and what’s the point of data if you can’t do anything with it? The other perspective is that you can have the tools and resources in place and a solid network architecture that can allow you to collect this and make use of it, and really look at data as more of an opportunity. And when you are able to really tap into those data insights and predict those failures before they can occur, I mean, this is really what’s the game changer for your business, because it allows you to not only run facilities that are efficient, but also grow and build new facilities that are not only connected to the internet, but, like I said, connected to each other and have that real-time access to data, So I think it’s just really critical to understand that, you know, you don’t have to look at this as a tsunami of data and uncertainty, because it really can be an opportunity to grow and expand, as long as you have the right tools and resources in place.

Andrew: Awesome. I think that is a great perspective and I think it’s really exciting all the stuff that you and Cisco are putting out there to help bring connectivity to these previously unconnected devices. I think it’s a great story and I think a lot of these manufacturers can really resonate with some of these challenges and solutions that we’ve talked through. So Caroline, I really appreciate the time today and your thoughts on where you feel connectivity and analytics play into the manufacturing space and I appreciate you joining us.

Caroline: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

Andrew: Great. So for those listing, if you’d like to learn more about Cisco and their industry focused solutions, I’d encourage you to visit, and if you’d like to connect with Caroline, we’ll be sure to provide relevant links to the online profiles in the show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate the episode and subscribe to Data in Depth, available on iTunes, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, and pretty much anywhere else you might consume your podcasts. Thanks again for joining us today.

Announcer: Data in Depth is produced by Mountain Point, a digital transformation consulting firm focusing on the manufacturing sector. You can find show notes, additional episodes, and more by visiting Thanks for listening and be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.