Tag Archive: blockchain

Blockchain, IoT, AI, Big Data. Will Anything Stick?

November 11th, 2019

Client Question
Should I really invest time and resources into technologies I don’t know will pay back?

For example, there is a lot of conversation about the value (or lack thereof) of blockchain, IoT, AI and more. This concern continues to arise and is on every executive’s mind. They do not want to be left in the dust “holding the bag” (old and slow) while their competitors race by. On the other hand, they do not want to dump all sorts of money into technology that might not prove effective in their industry. And, in some cases, what they could invest would be a drop in the bucket. It would be like trying to refill the Pacific Ocean with a pail. Remember that fabulous song by Harry Belafonte “There’s a Hole in the Bucket“?

My colleague Diane Garcia and I set out to find the latest answer to this question at the Association for Supply Chain Management International Conference. There were several panels and presentations on each of these topics, along with several exhibitors talking about the latest and greatest technology integrations.

The Answer
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of noise about these technologies. According to Gartner, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover $6.2 billion hours of work productivity. So, it is easy to see why AI is gaining investment with the large companies and with leaders of large organizations.

I love this quote from Harvard Business Review, “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.” That about sums it up! We need to at least be aware so that we can make good decisions when it comes to these technologies.

As it relates to AI, according to McKinsey Quarterly, across all functions, respondents report that the most significant benefits come from adopting AI in manufacturing! Coming in second is risk with supply chain management just behind in third place. So, if you are in manufacturing, you cannot afford not to at least consider the opportunities. Do you need to do this on your own? NO! We are seeing small companies come together to share resources and invest jointly to drive scale with results (and so they can compete with the large companies). There are also groups that facilitate this type of collaboration. At the most digitized companies, the adoption of AI capabilities is greater including machine learning, virtual agents, robotic process automation, computer vision and more.

According to Forrester, 90% plan greater investments in data and according to MIT Sloan, 85% view AI as a strategic priority. These two technologies cross over and seem to have the upper hand with the most immediately applicable technology.

With that said, there were even more sessions about blockchain and whether it was hype or hope. The bottom line on blockchain is that it is a real opportunity for certain industries such as the food industry (related to food safety).  It is still in early stages and will require a consortium of companies to come together to bring to reality.

According to a leader from FedEx, whether big or small, no one company will be successful on its own. Yet all the “big guys” are interested and participating. Stay tuned to see where it goes. Last but not least, IoT is integrated into many conversations about big data, AI, autonomous vehicles and more because it connects technologies. In manufacturing, IoT is connecting machines and data for predictive maintenance and the possibilities abound.

The bottom line: pay attention but resist exploring technology in isolation. Learn to collaborate.

Food For Thought
As much as these technologies should be on your radar, don’t get carried away and forget your fundamentals.

Do you have a scalable ERP system to support your business growth and profitability? If not, start there!

Do you have reporting and business intelligence systems so that you can slice and dice information to make instantaneous, informed decisions as key customer questions or business opportunities arise? If not, start there!

How about a simple CRM solution? Certainly in the Amazon Effect era, we must pay attention to customers.

Did you like this article?  Continue reading on this topic:

What is Ahead for Technology?
AI, Robots, IoT, Blockchain, Hike!
Systems Pragmatist



Blockchain Service Has Gone Mainstream

June 11th, 2019

 

Although according to most experts, blockchain hasn’t lived up to its promise yet especially in comparison with IoT, robotics and more, it has just gone mainstream. Of course, who else but Amazon has just made blockchain service platform generally available. Undoubtedly, that will disrupt many of the techies running around to be the first at blockchain! With that said, big names such as IBM have poured a lot of resources into blockchain, so it is likely to go somewhere. For example, IBM and Syniverse just completed a pilot program for roaming solutions using blockchain technology.  And, IBM has interesting projects going with Nestle, Volkswagen, and Albertsons (the world’s 2nd largest grocery chain).

Have you thought about how blockchain might impact your industry?

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
There has been a lot of hoopla about blockchain for several years although progress has been slower than many other technologies. Regardless of how popular, it is important to understand key technologies that might impact your industry or your supply chain partners. Certainly, in blockchain’s case, it is relevant to industries where a chain-of-custody might be needed such as food. That is why two of the companies mentioned above relate to food, Nestle and Albertsons. Yet it doesn’t matter if you relate to food or another blockchain-related industry, it is quite likely your industry or your supply chain will be impacted in some way. For example, you might use the same supplier or transportation system.

The bottom line is to stay abreast of what might impact your industry, company, customers, suppliers and related geographies. Thinking ahead will enable you to take advantage of opportunities and successfully navigate around barriers. You’ll find more information on these types of topics on our resilient supply chain series.

 



The Resilient Supply Chain: Should We Invest in Technology

December 7th, 2018

In today’s Amazon-impacted, Uberian environment, technology opportunities abound!  Beyond ERP and related subsystems, there is IoT, blockchain, robotics, autonomous vehicles, predictive analytics and much more.  Should we invest or not?

Clearly, if we invest in every one of these opportunities, we could “go broke”. How do we decide? And, will it help us create a resilient supply chain?

 

The answer:  It depends!
Our best clients follow a similar process and answer the following questions:

  1.  What is the state of the industry?  What disruptors are likely to impact the industry?  What trends are occurring? Where do we see it going?
  2.  How do we stand in the industry?  How are we positioned?  What is our unique value proposition?  What differentiates us from the competition?
  3.  What is our technology/ IT infrastructure?  Does our ERP system support our current needs?  Does it support our growth? Is our ERP partner aligned with technology partners that can help in expanding our future technology capabilities?  The bottom line – where are we starting?
  4.  What is our vision?  Understanding where we want to go is relevant.  What will it take to achieve our vision? Do we know what people, processes, systems/ technologies and culture change will be required to attain our vision?
  5.  Is the technology required to achieve the vision? (given our competitive differentiators and changes occurring in the industry)  Adding technology that doesn’t support our vision might be exciting but doesn’t support the future whereas not investing in technology required to support our vision is also problematic.
  6.  What are the priorities?  If there are several technologies required to support progress, which are required first in terms of sequence (if relevant), which have the greatest impact, and which are urgent to meet a customer need or avoid a negative consequence?

The Bottom Line:
Don’t invest because everyone is investing.  Invest because it supports scalable, profitable growth.

 



AI, Robots, IoT, Blockchain, Hike!

July 16th, 2018

AI (artificial intelligence), Robots, IoT (internet of things), Blockchain, hike! Doesn’t it sound like a foreign language?  It certainly does to my mother! Yet it is the language of the future.

business intelligence

Which of these technologies should we pay attention to?  Let’s look at some of the more popular ones:

  1.  AIDepending on your industry, AI will most certainly impact it.  Service industries such as accounting are definitely impacted. After all, if a program like Alexa can learn how to put together your taxes, it is bound to disrupt.  Machine learning and artificial intelligence can be powerful – preventative maintenance can be completely redefined in a proactive, predictive way.
  2. Robots – Isn’t everyone talking about robots?  Of course, this is partially because they are fun to talk about.  Is a robot good in all situations? NO! We’ve seen many manufacturers and distributors try robots and end up slowing the process down because they didn’t think about the full impacts.
  3.  IoT  We don’t even think about all the devices that are connected in our everyday lives.  Smoke alarms, security systems, phones, refrigerators, Amazon Alexa, our car, traffic signals, manufacturing machines, RFID tags and much more.  Connecting devices because we can yet for no valuable use just adds to the mountain of data to analyze. Instead, we should think about the strategic use of IoT for our business.
  4.  Blockchain Talk about another buzzword!  Isn’t a phone call, an email, EDI, lot traceability in ERP or a customer portal sufficient?  Many times – yes. Again, the value of blockchain should be evaluated before jumping on board with the latest and greatest trend; however, there will be uses.  When instantly visible, irrefutable and non-changeable (think avoidance of high potential fraud), traceable transactions are required, it might be just the medicine.
  5.  Autonomous vehiclesForklifts, cars, trucks, and more.  Again, let’s think ‘fit’ to our business.  In trucking, it is likely to make all sorts of sense.  Rates continue to rise. There is a shortage of drivers. Baby boomers are retiring. Environmental rules continue to increase. It does seem to fill a potential gap.

The underlying bottom line when it comes to technology remains – let’s not use technology for technology’s sake!
Instead, think smart. How does it fit with your business requirements? Will it provide a superior customer experience?  Purse those with a strong return on investment, ignore the rest and success will follow while your competition chases ‘shiny objects’.



Supply Chain Management Is Evolving: How Will It Affect Your Enterprise?

June 12th, 2018

Operational efficiencies, productivity improvements, and cost savings are the top-three strategic advantages of cloud-based supply chain management, according to an IDG survey of senior managers and directors around the world. To gain these advantages, enterprises need to have infrastructure that helps them cost-effectively harness their large data workloads and move to the cloud easily.

In fact, the biggest challenge for most companies is figuring out how to have their on-premises infrastructure engineered in such a way that it mirrors the capabilities of the cloud. This way, when companies are ready, they can take their supply-chain data and make a seamless, fast migration to the cloud. Whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer, or large corporation, companies looking to gain real-time, complete visibility in their supply chain require integrated infrastructure with scalable data storage, processing, and computing power to get the job done.

To better uncover these benefits and how innovation and infrastructure are changing the supply chain, I spoke with Oracle and shared insights around helping businesses maximize value.

You’ve said that the customer experience continues to play a role in the transformation of supply chain management. How is it impacting both B2C and B2B industries?

We’ve all become accustomed to getting whatever we need, whenever we need it, with frequent status updates and easy returns. We’ve raised the bar. And it leads to a host of challenges for vendors, mainly in the sense that they need a wide breadth of products available to meet customer demand at any time.

Even though the vast majority of my clients are not in the retail or B2C world, they’re all impacted by this elevated experience. I was recently talking with a couple of distribution executives who said that, several years ago, there was a small percentage of deliveries that were due on the same day, if any. Now, roughly 80 percent of the orders they receive are expected on the same day. They’ve had to start working on Sundays because customers—including business customers—are expecting these extremely rapid deliveries.

There are several other ecommerce themes that are changing supply chain management. One is 24/7 accessibility: the ability to place orders and look up your order status whenever and wherever you are. Another is rapid customization. One of my clients has become number one in his industry by making sure his company provides not just rapid deliveries, but also quickly customized orders. His company does things like paint on the fly, which doesn’t normally happen in manufacturing.

What is the technology that is making this supply chain management transformation possible?

Blockchain impacts supply chain management by allowing for immediate visibility and transparency of global financial transactions—like electronic data interchange (EDI) on steroids. When products require traceability, such as if you have a recall, you can use blockchain to immediately see where your products are in the supply chain and who paid for what. That traceability can certainly be achieved within ERP software already, but if you require the next layer of complexity and immediate transparency, then blockchain technology could be useful.

Big data is another aspect of technology that is changing the supply chain landscape because companies can better tailor the customer experience when they know more about what the customer wants. IoT comes down to data, because you’re trying to attach the data together between different devices. In manufacturing, IoT shows up in preventive maintenance and anticipating when a machine might break down before it happens. When you see how different elements are working together, you can target what needs to be fixed or maintained, without just following a schedule that may or may not be addressing a real problem. This can reduce waste and improve efficiency.

But data is just as challenging as it is helpful. Before we get to work every day, we receive lots of messages between emails, texts, videos, billboards, and messages from our cars—everything is connected these days. The biggest challenge that my clients face is that they’re overwhelmed with data, but they also want and need the data to provide a better customer experience and understand what their customers really need. And they also want to figure out how to do that in a scalable and profitable way.

The challenge is how to sift through all the data that’s collected and put it all together into something meaningful and provide information at your fingertips. My clients are very interested in solutions like dashboards, and it’s a key ingredient in selecting the software; however, getting it implemented correctly is difficult.

 

It sounds like the right infrastructure that can manage multiple data sources and provide actionable insights can improve the entire supply chain process. What about the role of the ERP system in supply chain management? 

We’ve improved supply chain performance significantly by focusing a lot of effort on the demand plan. Instead of using the older perspective of a monthly forecast and whether it’s accurate as is, we’re looking at how we can do this in a more agile, flexible way. The ERP system needs predictive analytics to be able to modify a demand forecast on the fly.

Also, by using vendor-managed inventory systems, we’ve been able to reduce lead times. We’re able to meet short lead time orders that we couldn’t previously meet, with the same or slightly lower inventory levels, at a 5 percent margin improvement. It wasn’t solely due to demand planning, but that was the first step.

Once you get beyond demand planning, the next element is going to be a more agile production schedule geared to the customer—one that’s going to offer suggestions, give you notices, and be exception-based, so that you don’t have to put as much manual effort into it. The demand plan flows down into the production schedule, and then capacity analysis is the next key topic.

What steps can enterprises do to modernize their supply chain management?

We’re in the era of the customer, so start with the demand side of the equation. There are ways, regardless of what your tool set is, to improve upon your demand now and your prediction of future demand. You may not have a system in place to do this yet, but regardless, you should be doing more to look at the demand within your supply chain.

One other quick tip is to look at what information you are getting out of your system and how you can better utilize that information. I find that no matter what client I’m working with, we can always do a better job of accessing information and taking the most relevant information to make better decisions. Even if your system isn’t yet modernized to the point of predictive analytics, you want to move in that direction. You can do this by just getting information from multiple sources and creating a simplified database.

What will supply chain management look like in five years or 10 years from now, and what technology can help take enterprises there?

We’re going to continue seeing the ecommerce effect: the importance of speed, responsiveness, and agility, and the rise of smaller, more frequent orders. All of my clients are interested in managing their vast supply chain networks with lower costs, but better service. They’re trying to find technology to support these goals and figure out how to automate using AI and data.

One ideal future is with 3D printing, because you can print what you need, where you need it, when you need it, and further extend your supply chain. Even then, distribution is going to have costs associated with it, and the last mile will continue to be one of the biggest challenges. Delivering all these smaller, more frequent orders to both consumers and businesses impacts transportation negatively and your distribution network significantly. You need your inventory strategically located closer to a customer, or to have flexible manufacturing capabilities that can respond quickly to demand. The system comes into the picture when you want to set up your network to have what you need, where you need it. How to improve delivery metrics will continue to be a key consideration in the future.

If we can reduce the cost to manufacture and distribute inventory by leveraging supply chain management tools, we can reduce prices and actually do something as radical as bringing more manufacturing back to the U.S.

Take a Deeper Dive…

Supply chain management professionals are eager for new ways to leverage data to drive business value. It is important to understand, however, that successfully using big data requires the right infrastructure designed to manage multiple data sources and provide the computing power to deliver actionable insights across the entire supply chain process. The key to gaining business value from supply chain data is by using big data infrastructure that can acquire, store, process, and analyze huge amounts of data workloads for supply chain insights.