“Data can tell stories – if you understand its language.”

How can data be made discussable and how can new insights be gained from it? Dr. Meike Köhler (33) gets to the bottom of this. She has been leading the Production Team since the beginning of 2022, in which she has already been contributing her data science expertise for four years. In this interview, she talks about the developments she has observed among her clients during this time and the level that data-driven business can reach in the future.

Meike, you originally studied psychology at university, so how did it come about that you now analyze data and not the human psyche?

I have always been fascinated by what motivates people and “what makes them tick”. That’s why I decided to study psychology back then – and quickly discovered the importance of data while doing so. Human intuition is a good basis for decision-making in many instances. However, it will always remain subjective and therefore difficult to comprehend. Consider this example from everyday life: anyone standing in line for the checkout has the subjective feeling that the queue at the neighboring checkout is moving more quickly, even though both have exactly the same processing time. When data are added, a “gut feeling” can suddenly be substantiated with measurable values, and thereby confirmed or put into perspective. Data gives orientation and help people sharpen their intuition and gain new insights. It was through my psychology studies that I progressed to applied statistics and biostatistics, in which I also completed a PhD. During this period, I consistently gained crucial experience, from market research to diabetes research: data can tell exciting and useful stories if you understand its language and make it discussable. This results in numerous opportunities to support people in their day to day lives and in business. It therefore became clear to me that I wanted to go into consulting.

How did you find your feet in the world of consulting?

After completing my doctorate, I looked at a lot of consulting firms. With its special mix of exciting, innovative projects and a very supportive corporate culture, it clicked for me right away at Comma Soft! Here I can pursue a wide variety of lines of research and help clients from a wide range of industries gain important insights from their data. I also appreciate how Comma Soft enables me to develop as an employee and as a person. I receive support that is tailored to my individual needs, work-life balance is a top priority, and the entire atmosphere is thoroughly respectful. What excites me most is that at Comma Soft we don’t just create a concept and then turn our backs on the companies. Instead, we implement our ideas together with the clients and continue to support them beyond that point. This allows me to see the impact my work has on how a company develops and implements sustainable digitization. Being part of this journey regularly leaves me feeling impressed.

Sustainable digitization in production creates added value for society as a whole.

Dr. Meike Köhler

What does sustainable digitization mean? What does it look like in practice?

In the Production Team, we are, as the name suggests, mainly active in the production industry. Our customers include both large medium-sized companies and corporate groups, to which we provide support with their path towards digitization. On the one hand, sustainability includes an integrated data strategy and solutions that are designed to be future proof. In other words, solutions that not only work today, but will continue to add value in the years to come and meet ever-changing requirements. On the other hand, we address specific sustainability issues: how can we avoid overproduction, whether as a result of rejects or faulty planning? How can emission levels be reduced? How can the entire production process, including all upstream and downstream processes, be made more environmentally friendly? This means that we not only have an economic impact, but also create added value for society as a whole. Our work with our customers is also geared toward sustainability. In recent years, for example, I have not only been working as a project manager, data analyst and in modeling and preparing data, but also as a coach for our clients’ employees. I empower them to create and develop sustainable solutions for themselves in the future. This is very important, particularly in light of the shortage of skilled workers.

What other challenges do you and your team assist companies with?

Companies have seen a lot of changes in the last few years: in sectors such as insurance or even highly digitalized role models from industry, companies are seeing that clever use of data in conjunction with artificial intelligence can make a big difference. However, as far as one’s own company is concerned, there is often only a vague idea of using data “somehow”. There is a lack of goals, use cases and, last but not least, an overarching data strategy. This is where we at Comma Soft come in and work with our clients to analyze what is possible, what makes sense, and how to succeed in implementing it. With all the abundance of possible use cases and technologies, we help them focus on the most relevant ones and then implement these step by step. It is important to take a holistic approach: a company cannot “only” introduce AI. It is common to find outdated processes that are in need of optimization so that analyzed and processed data can have an impact. This is a change that should not be underestimated and requires courage. That’s why part of my job is to encourage clients and find solutions on how to deal constructively with any concerns they may have. We take a step-by-step approach and focus on pragmatic quick wins, especially at the beginning of a project. This provides certainty that risks remain controllable and strengthens confidence in new processes, technologies and trends.

Without high-quality data, even the best AI can't deliver good insights.

Dr. Meike Köhler

Which developments and trends should manufacturing companies keep an eye on if they want to become sustainably data-driven?

Various processes such as order handling, production planning, supply chain management and variant management harbor enormous potential for many companies. Artificial intelligence can be used to streamline processes, achieve precise planning and save countless resources. In order to be of real benefit, however, these solutions must be integrated into the employees’ digital working environment. For example, a chat message can inform me that a new customer order has arrived and give me a suggestion on how to incorporate it into my production planning. The operationalization of AI-based solutions for integration into business processes is currently a “hot” topic. The catchword MLOps covers tools and methods that are extremely important for implementing AI solutions into operations, such as for ensuring secure and stable functioning. We compensate for bottlenecks caused by clients lacking the necessary skills with our specialists from Comma Soft.

Developing and implementing the data strategy is also crucial: what data do I have currently? What additional data sources, from machine and sensor data to customer information, do I want to use in the future? Which competencies do I currently have in the company, and which are still missing? Without high-quality data, even the best AI cannot deliver good insights or support processes. Determining which data are relevant for which use case and how to process them in the best possible way is crucial. In data engineering, just as with MLOps, companies still need support in many places, ranging from strategies and concepts to implementation by skilled staff. In the future, there will be a lot more activity in production, especially when it comes to IoT and networked factories. The various technologies are still developing rapidly at the moment. I am curious to see where the journey will take us.

Where will your own journey at Comma Soft take you next?

At the moment I’m getting more and more into my new role as Head of Production. I am excited to be able to take on even more responsibility and further develop our team. I also have to work on client projects in a completely different way from before. For me, providing end-to-end support to clients as they become data-driven companies is becoming even more important than it has been in the past. At the moment, however, I have another important project on the agenda: I’m going to take a few months’ parental leave and then restructure how I mix my professional and private life. During my time at Comma Soft, I have already seen how some of my colleagues have been able to combine both aspects of their lives, and my team and the management are already supporting me in this. I am very happy to have this support and am eagerly looking forward to the exciting time that is now ahead of me.