Big Data and IIoT have captured the automation industry’s imagination. A key take-away from all that’s been written is that plant data holds the key to making many production processes safer, more efficient, and more profitable. While there’s growing evidence that Big Data and IIoT are delivering meaningful value, some scientists have begun to wonder if there is a limit to the amount of information that is actually helpful. They’ve posed the question: At what point does information become detrimental to the people who rely on it?
Contemporary research suggests that the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to data and information as it does to Economics. Indeed, there is a clear point at which information overload becomes a problem and leads to ineffective decision making. According to the research decision fatigue results in poor choices as individuals disregard information in an attempt to conserve their mental energy. That can be disastrous in an industrial manufacturing environment, and it reinforces the need for fewer, more meaningful metrics.
Information overload has been the subject of research since the late 1990s. A fundamental finding indicates that decisions made under time constraints tend to suffer in terms of quality as the amount of information increases. The quality of decisions increases with the amount of information until a breaking point is crossed. It’s at that juncture where an individual’s time is no longer sufficient for the thoughtful consideration of all available information.
As the world becomes more sophisticated individuals are forced to make more decisions. While simple decisions are often driven by intuition, research shows that more complex decisions performed by the brain involve more careful consideration. Additionally, the brain seeks to utilize more of the available information when addressing complex decisions. Combined these simple and complex decisions approach a breaking point beyond which is decision fatigue.
An increase in decision making results in greater depletion of mental energy and, subsequently, in greater impulsiveness. Further, research shows that as an individual’s mental energy is depleted the brain tends to pursue shortcuts and limits its use of available information. One of the brain’s optional shortcuts is to do nothing, avoiding a decision altogether.
Plant-wide control loop monitoring solutions provide an effective means for addressing information overload and maintaining optimal production performance. Indeed, select offerings like PlantESP are designed to utilize fewer KPIs and allow users to avoid the issues of both information overload and decision fatigue. In this manner these tools fulfill the promise of Big Data and IIoT without overwhelming the staff tasked with their use.