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Published: April 14, 2021 – Author: Brent LaRoche

We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which is bringing workers together with technologies like Intelligent Automation (IA) and artificial intelligence (AI). 

Big data has a major role to play in all of this, as today’s leading organizations deal with massive quantities of data every day. For example, Facebook pulls in 4 petabytes of data (a million gigabytes!) daily, all of which is stored in a warehouse called the Hive, which holds around 300 petabytes of data. 

Every year, computing power rises exponentially and costs decrease. While data analytics tools used by Six Sigma Master Black Belts (MBBs) once took hours to process thousands of rows of data and different variables, today’s tools can do all of this in just minutes. Let’s take a look at what big data and IA mean for the future of MBBs.

How does big data change the role of Master Black Belts?

In the near future, sampling data won’t be enough. Organizational decisions will need to be made from analysis of entire data sets — and that’s why the MBBs of the future will be data scientists. They’ll need to know how to find the right data, navigate through it, and coax the story out of it. While MBBs have always sifted through data to find stories and actionable insights, this will require far more coding skills in the future than ever before. 

In the past, continuous improvement (CI) teams would request data from analytics teams, which MBBs would then statistically analyze to find areas for possible improvement. But in a world driven by big data, analytics teams will be spending more time building data visualizations, and won’t have as much time to send data to CI teams and MBBs. 

What new skills do Master Black Belts need for working with big data?

MBBs need to put on a data scientist hat and start acquiring the coding skills needed to pull data on their own: they can’t wait for analytics teams anymore. It’s not just about pulling data — MBBs also need to know which data they need, and where that information is available. 

This will require the adoption of an entirely new skill set for most MBBs, but it’ll be worth it. Paired with every MBB’s ability to create actionable insights from statistical analysis, these new skills will give CI teams and organizations an unmatched competitive advantage in the near future. 

Will automation make Master Black Belts irrelevant?

Process automation and IA aren’t about replacing human workers. They’re about taking over repetitive tasks so human workers have more time to focus on dynamic tasks that require critical thought. Because MBBs’ speciality is critical thought and problem-solving, automation will not make them irrelevant. It’s the opposite, actually: automation will make MBBs more relevant and more useful by giving them a new way to think about process improvement. 

MBBs are sort of like the bartenders of every organization — everyone comes to them to discuss their problems or get another perspective. With automation in their arsenal, MBBs just have access to another tool that can help solve those problems. As organizations move to a Quality 4.0 standard, MBBs can identify key areas to implement automation and ensure operational excellence. 

How will Master Black Belts uncover automation opportunities?

In addition to identifying opportunities for automation implementation, MBBs will help monitor automated processes. After all, automation has a tendency to become unstable for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the incoming data changes, the system changes, or the business environment changes. As a result, automation will need to be updated, and MBBs will maintain control charts to help track and implement these changes when needed.

Because automation is usually applied to parts of processes — and not entire processes — MBBs will be tasked with continuously identifying new opportunities for automation. By automating one process, it may become possible to automate another process that wasn’t previously considered. After all, the number of processes unsuited for automation is decreasing every day, and MBBs (as well as Black Belts and Green Belts) will be the experts at the center of unveiling the latest automation opportunities as their industries evolve.