Supply Chain Planning & Optimisation Projections for 2018 – Back to the Future

By Henry Canitz, Director of Product Marketing and Business DevelopmentPicture1

I get a kick reading “prediction” articles both prior to the year start and then again after the year is complete. When it comes to predicting the very dynamic supply chain management industry, those after year reviews can be quite amusing. For even more fun look back 10 or more years to see where we all thought the industry would be. Therefore, it is with a bit of trepidation that I toss my hat in the arena and make my 2018 supply chain planning and optimization predictions.

From all indications, 2018 should be a very interesting year for supply chains and supply chain practitioners. I think there are a few advanced capabilities that will grow in importance but I also believe there is a growing awareness that to benefit from advanced planning and optimization capabilities a company needs to build a firm foundation. Companies need a robust integrated and highly functional supply chain platform that is operated by highly trained supply chain professionals. In a way, we need to go back to fundamentals to move forward to the future.

The Rise of Cloud Deployment and Heightened Security

The large number of major data breaches in 2017 has been the focus of many C-level meetings. In an interesting reversal, SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions are now viewed by most as the least risky deployment option and this will increase in the year ahead. 2018 will bring a renewed emphasis on security for supply chain facilities due to the growing awareness that data breaches can originate through almost any type of connected system and the fact that more facilities are being opened in unstable geographies.

The Shift to Continuous Planning

The pace of the supply chain is increasingly driven by ever-growing customer expectations (Amazon Effect) making end of the day, week, or month periodic planning processes, while still important, no longer sufficient for today’s operations. The concept of continuous planning where planners address opportunities and disruptions as they happen will continue to gain ground in 2018. These efforts could be part of a Sales and Operations Execution (S&OE) process or tightly tied to building more robust digital planning and optimization capabilities. To facilitate continuous planning process companies will start to move towards cross-functional teams working in a control-room type environment to address global disruptions and opportunities using advanced planning and optimization capabilities.

Digitisation

You can’t open a recent supply chain periodical today without seeing something about artificial intelligence (AI). Advanced analytics, machine learning, algorithmic planning, and AI will all continue to capture a significant slice of attention in 2018. In the year ahead, this will require supply chains to shift how they operate. With digitization of the supply chain, the role of the planner will become one of solving problems using advanced analytics to make business decisions not just supply chain decisions.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to drive supply chain execution innovation as companies find new opportunities in the wealth of data available. For many, the current state includes difficulties interfacing IoT data in a high quality, repeatable fashion. Most companies just aren’t at the point where consuming this firehose of data is feasible.

Supply Chain Data Quality and Ownership

Supply Chain Master Data Management (MDM) is quickly becoming a critical foundational requirement and I expect to see more interest in this area in 2018. Much of the data used for supply chain planning and execution comes from outside of a company’s ERP systems. Ask yourself, where is supply chain data maintained at your company today? The answer might surprise you. Effective supply chain planning and optimization requires high quality and consistent data and the ability to easily and quickly maintain and update that data. Inconsistent and poor quality data will degrade confidence in recommendations. One of my mentors once told me that, “One awe S#?* wipes out 1000 Attaboys (or Girls)”. One piece of bad data that tarnishes a recommendation will be difficult to overcome. To take full advantage of IoT data, supply chain organizations will need to invest in their Supply Chain Master Data Management capabilities and platforms.

Talent GapPicture12

You continually hear from hiring managers that there is a “War for Talent” driving increased salaries, benefits, and turnover rates for supply chain professionals. This will not change anytime soon. Actually, with a shrinking baby-boomer workforce the war for talent is only going to heat up in 2018 (read more here: The Talent Gap and here: Imagine 2030: Supply Chain Talent). Companies will need to find additional ways to attract and retain talent like rotational programs, clear-cut career paths, advanced degree support, and support for professional training. Another way is to provide advanced supply chain platforms that allow team members to work on more value-added activities. Yes, the ability to hire and retain talent could be another way to justify an investment in new supply chain planning and optimization capabilities.

Taking S&OP to the Next Level

I have personally seen the significant benefits of a well-run S&OP process and I know other practitioners have as well. I may be going out on a limb here but I think 2018 will be the year of renewed efforts around putting advanced S&OP capabilities in place including the ability to;

  • Optimize the end-to-end supply chain based on constraints and business objectives (minimize cost, maximize profits, meet customer service levels, etc.)
  • Analyze the impacts of product-lifecycle decisions, especially new product introductions
  • Align and synchronise strategic, tactical and operational planning
  • Collaboratively plan with partners and customers

A year from now I am sure we will all get a good laugh by revisiting this piece, but I am hopeful that a least of few of my predictions will hold true. Here’s to a happy and successful 2018.

About the author 

Hank Canitz PictureHenry Canitz is The Product Marketing & Business Development Director at Logility. To read more of Henry’s insights visit www.logility.com/blog.

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Machine Learning in Supply Chain Planning

Machine Learning in Supply Chain Planning - square

Machine Learning in Supply Chain Planning

Are we ready? And if so what’s involved?

The evolution to using artificial intelligence and machines that learn in supply chain planning is inevitable. In fact, there are early examples of the potential of AI to improve both supply chain planner efficiencies and provide better or optimized supply chain decisions. The question is, are we, as a profession, ready to embrace Machine Learning? If so, what does that mean and how do we get there?

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning computer programs teach themselves to grow and change when exposed to new data.

The latest Gartner Hype Cycle, published in July 2016, shows Machine Learning approaching the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Gartner predicts that mainstream adoption of Machine Learning is at least five years away, potentially ten. Still typing “Machine Learning AND Supply Chain Planning” into Google delivers more 16,000 results in less than half a second. This is a topic that supply chain planning people are thinking, talking, and writing about. In reality, the supply chain planning mindshare spent on Machine Learning is miniscule compared to that spent on reducing costs, improving customer service, and driving new revenue. Type “Cost Savings AND Supply Chain Planning” into Google and you get 2.5 million results.  One could argue that Machine Learning could contribute to meeting cost, revenue and customer service goals, but clearly there’s more focus today on basic supply chain planning capabilities like Demand Planning, Inventory Optimization, Sales & Operations Planning, and Supply Planning and Optimization.

One way to get started with Machine Learning is to look at your Demand Planning capabilities. For example, a “Best-Fit” forecasting algorithm automatically switches to the most appropriate forecasting method based on the latest demand information, ensuring you create the best forecast for every product at every stage of its life cycle. The algorithm evaluates forecast error each forecasting cycle and recommends or automatically selects the forecasting method that will produce the best forecast. “Best-Fit” forecasting is a basic form of Machine Learning.

Another example of today’s Machine Learning capabilities is found in software solutions that use algorithms to continually analyze the state of your supply chain and recommend or automatically execute plans to meet customer requirements. Optimization driven by algorithmic planning is an early form of machine learning that relies on a set of provided information (supply chain facilities and capacities, transportation lanes and capacities, customer service requirements, profit requirements, etc.) to automatically make optimal decisions.

One powerful example is the use of Multi-Echelon Inventory Optimization (MEIO) to automatically adjust inventory positions. The current inventory-to-sales ratio in the United States sits at 1.41, higher than any time since 2009 (right after the 2008 downturn). One cause of this glut of inventory is the emergence of omni-channel retailing. The “Amazon effect” of free and fast shipping, easy returns, and everyday low prices has changed customer expectations and the way products get into the hands of the consumer. It’s a struggle to keep up with the mind-bending rate of change that prevents companies from having the right inventory positioned at the right location to service customers. Companies that respond by increasing buffer inventory based on outdated information fail to attack the underlying issue of stock-outs, a fundamental shift in fulfillment. MEIO automatically seeks the optimal balance of inventory at the right locations, and provides optimal inventory parameters and positions by stocking location to establish optimal buffer locations and quantities. Embracing MEIO can reduce total inventories by upwards of 30% while maintaining or improving customer fill rates. MEIO is an example of basic Machine Learning that is available today.

Attaining the full benefits of Machine Learning will be an evolutionary process. We must learn to crawl, then walk, then run. The introduction of Machine Learning into most supply chain organizations will take years, but that shouldn’t stop supply chain professionals from planning for the future or taking advantage of some of the Machine Learning solutions available today. Implementing algorithmic planning and optimization technologies today builds the kind of expertise and experience that will ease the adoption of advanced Machine Learning solutions in the future.

Are you considering Machine Learning solutions?  If so, what steps are you taking to get there?

 

About the author 

Hank Canitz PictureHenry Canitz is The Product Marketing & Business Development Director at Logility. To read more of Henry’s insights visit www.logility.com/blog.

Is Your Supply Chain Planning System in the Cloud?

Supply Chain in the Cloud - 310 x 175My job requires a fair bit of air travel so I literally spend a good deal of my time with my head in the clouds. At 6’5” most airline seats are less than comfortable and provide very little leg, arm and shoulder room, so I often find the most practical activity during a flight is critical thinking. Yes, I might look like I am taking a nap but really I am deeply contemplating things like the current state of deploying Supply Chain Planning Technology in the cloud.

With the explosive growth in supply chain complexity and data volumes, a growing number of manufacturers, retailers and distributors of all sizes are all looking for more agile, easily implemented paths to better supply chain performance. Some have found it possible to enact powerful supply chain optimisations almost immediately, while saving substantial amounts of working capital and ensuring timely support for growth and collaboration over the long term.

They have chosen to deploy supply chain planning solutions in the Cloud.

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort.

Today, the range of implementation options for supply chain planning solutions stretches far beyond traditional on-premises hardware and software. Some competitive-minded organizations question the advisability of lengthy and complex infrastructure projects. These supply chain teams harness the full potential of the internet by taking advantage of deployment models with names like Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and managed services.

Cloud-based deployment alternatives remove IT obstacles and accelerate the launching of supply chain initiatives. However, are the advantages of cloud deployments for supply chain solutions real and worthwhile? I think so, and I have provided a few of the biggest benefit areas for having your supply chain planning software in the cloud.

Benefit #1: Affordability and Savings

  • Lower upfront costs – Initial capital equipment expenses are reduced and total cost of ownership shifts to a highly predictable annual expense line item.
  • Optimal licensing, hosting and services options – The wide variety of options provide a solution delivery profile that fits just about any organisation’s software procurement model and budget process.
  • Ability to reallocate valuable IT resources – Cloud-based deployments free up enterprise IT resources to focus on strategic initiatives and meet mission-critical demands rather than installing software updates and performing system administration.
  • Scalability to handle supply chain growth – It’s a significant competitive advantage to be able to activate capabilities as requirements grow and flex over time.

Benefit #2: Tangible Business Benefits

  • Accelerated ROI – Cloud deployments often deliver better cash flow and create a positive bottom-line impact much quicker than traditional models.
  • Greater agility to react to change – Because “the infrastructure is on the internet,” there is no hardware to implement and no software to install. Users can access the system from any location through web-connected laptops, tablets and smart phones.

Benefit #3: Reliability and Security

  • Less risk of unscheduled downtime – Resiliency and high availability are characteristics of a well-designed cloud-based deployment.
  • Robust security – The fear that storing business data on a cloud server could make it vulnerable to unauthorised access has been assuaged by the great security track record of hosting providers in securing and ensuring data privacy.
  • Expert administrative services – No one knows the ins and outs of system administration better than the solution provider organisation itself. The provider’s technical personnel are an essential resource for installing software updates, hot fixes, service packs and version updates in an optimum computer environment.

According to Gartner, cloud computing has reached a sufficient level of maturity to be in its “productive phase.” In fact, cloud-based solutions have proven enormously successful in a broad range of commercial applications, revolutionising the affordability and “adoptability” of solutions for a much wider range of companies. It is time for Supply Chain Planning solutions to join in this success?

As you consider the benefits of a cloud-based supply chain planning solution, conduct a self-evaluation by asking these questions:

  1. Does your current supply chain planning technology infrastructure fall short of the task of providing the supply chain planning capabilities you need?
  2. Is it difficult in your organisation to drive new capital investments for updated equipment and systems?
  3. Is your IT staff overwhelmed with user support issues and other system administration tasks?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it’s time to find out how a cloud-based solution can accelerate one of the most rewarding business improvement initiatives your organisation can undertake: Optimising your Supply Chain.

Related Content:

 

About the author

Hank Canitz PictureHenry Canitz is The Product Marketing & Business Development Director at Logility. To read more of Henry’s insights visit www.logility.com/blog.

Removing the Two Barriers to Optimising Inventory

Removing the Two Barriers to Optimizing Inventory

Removing the Two Barriers to Optimising Inventory
Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Henry Canitz – Product Marketing & Business Development Director, Logility

Supply chain leaders often find themselves in a difficult situation when it comes to the conflicting goals of improving customer service and minimising inventory. The omni-channel world we live in has driven customer service to new heights. Companies that don’t prioritise providing what the customer wants when they want it will soon find themselves losing market-share. On the other hand, product lifecycles continue to accelerate and the penalty for carrying too much of the wrong items leads to high levels of obsolescence. This isn’t a new dilemma, the balancing act between inventory and service has been going on since the earliest days of commerce. However, the penalties for bad service and/or high inventory are growing more severe and the space “between a rock and a hard place” is continuing to shrink.

Because of variability in demand and supply, increasing customer service levels can lead to higher levels of safety stock. Improving cash flow by indiscriminately reducing working capital dollars can result in slashing the wrong inventory, resulting in lower customer service levels.

While some supply chain teams have conducted inventory optimisation (IO) initiatives to raise service levels while lowering inventory cost, others worry that they won’t be successful in the effort.

There are two common barriers that can prevent an organisation from reaping the benefits of inventory optimisation efforts:

  • IO success can be undermined by reliance on:
    • Limited tools (such as modules built into, or bolted onto, existing ERP systems)
    • Inadequate solutions (e.g. error-prone, hard-to maintain spreadsheets)
    • Black-box systems (where calculations are difficult or impossible to validate)
  • An internal perception that understanding and implementing proven mathematical tools and business processes in order to streamline the creation of optimal inventory policies and targets is too difficult for the team to take on.

Overcoming these barriers is easier than you think and the benefits are too good to ignore. Companies that embrace Multi-echelon Inventory Optimisation (MEIO) achieve, on average, a 28% increase in inventory turns.

A simple three-step approach can remove barriers to achieving a successful MEIO initiative.

  1. Understand your current state and lay the foundation for a solid business case. Assess your organisation’s capabilities from the perspectives of:
    • Inventory performance
    • Business process and inventory management expertise
    • Technology and organisational readiness.
  2. Create a future state inventory optimisation capability—process, technology, organisation—that provides your supply chain team with a roadmap to success.
  3. Continue to drive fundamental strategic changes that create greater resiliency and agility throughout the supply chain and establish a cycle of continuous improvement.

Can you overcome the two common barriers to implementing inventory optimisation capabilities and get out of being Between a Rock and a Hard Place? Of course. We work with companies around the world who are driving significant value from their MEIO process.

Learn More:

 

About the author

Hank Canitz Picture

Henry Canitz is The Product Marketing & Business Development Director at Logility. To read more of Henry’s insights visit www.logility.com/blog.

Embracing digital disruption

tech image

Digitalization is changing the game for every industry—and every industry knows it. In one report dealing with the financial industry, 100% of business leaders surveyed said that they expect their sectors to be impacted by digital disruption in the future.

While almost 90% of manufacturers said they’d consider implementing digitally disruptive technology, only 28% think it will generate increased revenue, and only 13% see digitization as a path to a new revenue model. Manufacturers—and industries in general—are worried about the risks of digitally disrupting their current processes and technologies, especially if they’re already profitable.

System-wide change would cause trepidation in any organization, but it’s necessary to address those fears to be able to transition into the new age of hyper-connectivity. Right now, industries and companies need to figure out how they will embrace new technology, put aside their doubts, and make digital disruption work for them—before it’s working for one of their competitors.

Hear Infor President Duncan Angove discuss digital disruption and bridging the gap between what an analog company can deliver and what today’s digital customer expects.

 

About our Guest Blogger

Helen Masters
Vice President & Managing Director, Infor South Asia — ANZ & ASEAN

Helen Masters_VP ANZ & ASEAN_2_highres

Helen Masters is Vice President, South Asia – Infor ANZ & ASEAN where she is responsible for the development and promotion of global corporate products and seamless customer experience to augment market presence in the Pacific and ASEAN regions. These comprise Australia & New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

In her role, Helen maintains new product lines with a focus on customer and partnership management and strategy-setting to grow business in Infor’s key micro-verticals in the South Asia region.

Prior to Infor, Helen was Vice President, Commercial and Emerging Markets, SAP; and Head, Emerging and Transformational Alliances Group, Cisco Systems where she was responsible for the launch of data business solutions.

Helen is a graduate of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and is also certified in Computer Programming.

Are you prepared for digital transformation?

Unless you have blocked out every media message, it’s likely you’ve been exposed to the sweeping changes that digital innovation and technology are bringing to the business world. In fact, a few pundits have noted that the expectation for digital innovation and technology may surpass the business impact of the Internet.

The question is not a handwringing “what to do?” but rather “how can our organization take advantage?” Then, as quickly as possible, leap ahead of competition, grab market space and market share, garner a higher portion of wallet from customers, and make progress toward your goals.

In our experience, organizations typically grapple with three main goals:

1.   Connecting to their customers in a meaningful way—For example, an Australian customer we worked with saw the impact of moving from a manual paper-based sales order system to a digital-based system that is fast and accurate. And, it saw a typical 2-week contract renewal cycle reduced to just 1 hour. The Infor Digital Engineering team provided a way to evaluate existing processes, and propose the optimal mix of software solutions to help make this change happen.

2.   Improving employee engagement—With today’s multi-generational workforce and the ease of technologies like smartphones, iPads, apps, streaming, and such, many workers expect the work systems they use to operate much the same as those in their personal life. Working with several retail customers on work scheduling, we found it was typically incumbent on employees to go to the store to get their schedule. By examining the process, Infor digital engineers were able to understand the current operations, and integrate a digital system whereby employees are notified via text, email, or even their wearable technology about their work schedule.

3.   Creating greater operating efficiencies—That’s expected if you improve the connection to your customers and employees. But there is more opportunity here in the realm of data analytics. When it comes to digital innovation, this area is very important. Analytics used to mean a view of what was done yesterday, last week, or last month. But now, we can look forward with predictive and prescriptive analytic capabilities. There is solid research available discussing the impact of digital on growth. This slide from Dell Technologies shows 34% of businesses are evaluating what to do, and only 15% of companies are doing nothing. Don’t let that be you.

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About our Guest Blogger

Helen Masters
Vice President & Managing Director, Infor South Asia — ANZ & ASEAN

Helen Masters_VP ANZ & ASEAN_2_highres

Helen Masters is Vice President, South Asia – Infor ANZ & ASEAN where she is responsible for the development and promotion of global corporate products and seamless customer experience to augment market presence in the Pacific and ASEAN regions. These comprise Australia & New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

In her role, Helen maintains new product lines with a focus on customer and partnership management and strategy-setting to grow business in Infor’s key micro-verticals in the South Asia region.

Prior to Infor, Helen was Vice President, Commercial and Emerging Markets, SAP; and Head, Emerging and Transformational Alliances Group, Cisco Systems where she was responsible for the launch of data business solutions.

Helen is a graduate of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and is also certified in Computer Programming.

ERP Trends – Democracy in the Cloud

digital-student

 

The next great wave of technology is upon us, a global tsunami, heralding change in every facet of our lives. For manufacturers, the decade ahead will be transformative. As ERP deploys the power of Big Data and Predictive Analytics, harnesses the flow of information from the Internet of Things, incorporates Machine Learning, and immerses workers in an  increasingly intuitive UX, businesses will find themselves in possession of almost unimaginable agility, flexibility and control. Continue reading

Digital supply chain transformation: real and viable or just tech hype?

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The words “digital transformation” may appear to your colleagues as just the next tech hype. After all, weren’t we all just talking about cloud?

But just like cloud, digital transformation is real and viable — and here to stay.

Sure, but what is digital transformation exactly? There are as many definitions as there are pundits and luminaries. Infor President Duncan Angove talks about it this way: Digital transformation is about closing the gap between what your DIGITAL customers expect and what your ANALOG organisation can actually deliver. The aim of digital transformation is to go beyond merely automating a process or reducing costs, and to differentiate a company in significant ways from its competitors.

“Software and technology is disrupting every industry we look at,” Angove says. Whether it’s Uber in transportation or Airbnb in hostelry, every industry is being disrupted by the application of technology.

“Infor is at an interesting intersection, because we are a software cloud technology company that understands industries. So companies are coming to us, asking how we can help them navigate this digital disruption and take advantage of it.”

Here are just a few examples:

DSW – developing a strategy for a fresh customer experience

Nordstrom – creating a converged commerce experience for customers

Travis Perkins – delivering a variety of strategic, technical, and financial benefits

Fuller’s – deploying cloud software as the basis of a radical business process transformation to drive growth

Echoing these customers, Infor recently hosted groups of executives from the US and Europe to discuss digital transformation. Representing manufacturing, financial services, consumer packaged goods (CPG), retail, and media and entertainment all said their organisations have digital initiatives under way.

Within digital, three common themes emerged: executive leadership is essential; employee skills have to keep pace; and the data deluge must be harnessed into actionable insights. Here is a summary of one of the events.

So, where should your company start? Get inspired here.

 

About our Guest Blogger

Helen Masters
Vice President & Managing Director, Infor South Asia — ANZ & ASEAN

Helen Masters_VP ANZ & ASEAN_2_highres

Helen Masters is Vice President, South Asia – Infor ANZ & ASEAN where she is responsible for the development and promotion of global corporate products and seamless customer experience to augment market presence in the Pacific and ASEAN regions. These comprise Australia & New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

In her role, Helen maintains new product lines with a focus on customer and partnership management and strategy-setting to grow business in Infor’s key micro-verticals in the South Asia region.

Prior to Infor, Helen was Vice President, Commercial and Emerging Markets, SAP; and Head, Emerging and Transformational Alliances Group, Cisco Systems where she was responsible for the launch of data business solutions.

Helen is a graduate of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and is also certified in Computer Programming.

Digital transformation that drives progress

digital transformation brain

Henry Miller once said “Whatever there be of progress in life comes not through adaptation but through daring.” To a large extent, that holds true in the business world today.

Many companies struggle with processes that can’t keep up with the pace of change, outdated business models, and an inability to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving global market. While adapting to these types of changes may be enough to keep the lights on, rarely does it lead to differentiation. What these companies need is to transform their business in a disruptive way that drives progress. We believe that digital transformation can lead to the kind of progress that can make a difference for a business, its customers, its industry, and the world at large.

But what exactly is “digital transformation”? Chances are you’ve been hearing the phrase bandied about; but you may not know what exactly it means—or why you should care. CIO.com defines digital transformation as “the acceleration of business activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact in a strategic and prioritised way.” But more than just acceleration, digital transformation is about the need for businesses to outpace digital disruption and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving business environment.

At its core, digital transformation is all about disruption. Whether that disruption is beneficial or devastating depends entirely upon where you find yourself on the wave—at the crest or at the bottom. To embrace digital transformation, you need to make it part of your corporate DNA. You need to start figuring out:

* How to uncover the pockets of innovation in your company—and turn them into opportunities for organisational and go-to-market transformation

* How you can put the structure in place to support digital transformation—and make it sustainable

* How to create a clear digital vision with a strategy for digital transformation

* How to harness data science to drive transformation

* How to position your employees and your organisation to successfully execute a digital transformation strategy

Find help here on how to get started on your own digital transformation.

 

About our Guest Blogger

Helen Masters
Vice President & Managing Director, Infor South Asia — ANZ & ASEAN

Helen Masters_VP ANZ & ASEAN_2_highres

Helen Masters is Vice President, South Asia – Infor ANZ & ASEAN where she is responsible for the development and promotion of global corporate products and seamless customer experience to augment market presence in the Pacific and ASEAN regions. These comprise Australia & New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

In her role, Helen maintains new product lines with a focus on customer and partnership management and strategy-setting to grow business in Infor’s key micro-verticals in the South Asia region.

Prior to Infor, Helen was Vice President, Commercial and Emerging Markets, SAP; and Head, Emerging and Transformational Alliances Group, Cisco Systems where she was responsible for the launch of data business solutions.

Helen is a graduate of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia and is also certified in Computer Programming.

Tomorrow’s Supply Chains

shaun_tomorrows_supply_chainsIt’s an exciting time to work in the field of supply chain. There’s a sense of change in the air – an awareness of the future unfolding. There are thought leaders who think we’re headed for a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, an era of sustainable, socially conscious enterprises, underpinned by the intelligent interconnection of software and machines. For decision makers along the supply chain, it’s time for research – and for vision.  In many instances, the adoption (or non-adoption) of today’s technologies will determine who thrives and who dies along the supply chains of tomorrow.

Let’s take a look at some of these converging technologies, and consider their application along the supply chain.

The Cloud

For small- to medium-sized businesses, access to the new competitive toolkit is taking place on the Cloud. Even beyond price considerations (which are significant) unlocking the power of nascent technologies makes the adoption of Cloud services a logical step in the evolution of most organizations. There are still good reasons to choose on premise or hybrid solutions, but extending the reach of an ERP to include data external to the company (such as weather, demographics, machine and sensor data), makes better sense on the Cloud.

There are more advantages to the Cloud than are dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy, but to my mind, the Cloud’s ability to facilitate highly collaborative ecosystems is exceptionally powerful. Both responsiveness and efficiency are enhanced by the flow of real-time data, which can help to minimize operational misalignment at the interface of supply chain stages.

Big Data and Advanced Analytics

By 2021 there will be more than 35 zettabytes of online data. For those who haven’t a clue what a zettabyte is (myself included) that’s 35,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information. That’s an impressive amount of data, and most of it is unstructured, meaning that before the advent of Big Data it was largely inaccessible to computers. These days, with Big Data analytics programs, all that unstructured data can be collected, organized, and analyzed. This facilitates unprecedented accuracy and clarity of data, opening the door to better planning and decision-making.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

When I think of AI, my mind wanders to Star Trek’s Data, rapidly processing technical information from the Enterprise’s computer, and instantly recommending a course of action. While we’re not quite ready to staff our distribution centres with androids, the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence will have enormous benefits along the supply chain. AI-driven ‘chatbots’ are already improving the User Experience for customers of shipping companies, making it  easier to find store locations, determine shipping rates and track packages.

AI can draw insight from enormous data sets. That promises more accurate forecasting and lower market mediation costs (fewer stock-outs and mark-downs) – a major profit eater for innovative product manufacturers. Unprecedented control over data will allow for fine tuning, helping to tighten up end-to-end visibility, time-to-market, and overall agility. AI can also serve as a bridge between supply chains, facilitating a seamless flow of transactions. Of course, the most visible manifestation of AI, along with chatbots, will be fleets of autonomous delivery vehicles.

Robots & Cobots

Industrial robots are nothing new, but their presence along the supply chain is growing. When material handling is better handed off to a machine, especially in dangerous situations, or when precision is required, benefits in efficiency, responsiveness and safety naturally accrue.

What I find particularly interesting is the movement towards ‘cobots’, smaller, less expensive, more flexible robots that work side-by-side with humans. Cobots are becoming popular for pick and place, palletizing, and packaging. They will doubtless lead to significant reductions in turnaround times, and create increasingly responsive supply chains.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things, sometimes referred to as the driver of Industry 4.0, ties together people, processes, data, and things, via a burgeoning universe of devices and sensors. Unlike older, ‘passive’ generations of sensors, IoT sensors are active. A connected pallet for example, can relay information on its whereabouts and condition. A connected machine can allow remote technicians to run diagnostics and initiate repair options, resulting in increased uptime and improved customer service. Importing data from IoT devices to an analytics platform will allow, for example, unprecedented stock control and precise inventory monitoring.

When it comes to transportation, IoT systems are already in use, optimizing fleet efficiencies through route planning, directing drivers to avoid traffic jams, maintaining temperatures for perishable goods,  and helping carriers reduce ‘deadheads’ (the time trucks run without cargo). In addition, IoT technologies such as RFID provide the ability to track products throughout the global supply chain.

Some of the most powerful uses of the IoT are in the area of customer behavior. In-store sensors can track traffic and shopping patterns to yield clear insights into consumer behaviour, improving brand engagement and increasing sales. This depth of intelligence into supply and demand will benefit everyone along the supply chain.

There are, of course, more technologies to talk about than can fit in a single blog. In my next offering, aimed to coincide with the release of SYSPRO Harmony, I’ll talk about Social Media, and the exciting new possibilities that are opening up for problem solving and collaboration along the supply chain.

About our Guest Blogger
Shaun Butler

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Shaun Butler is the Regional CEO of SYSPRO Asia Pacific, having joined SYSPRO in 2003. Whilst Shaun is based in Singapore he spends a reasonable amount of time travelling throughout the rest of the region

Having spent more than 20 years in and around various ERP companies Shaun has found it refreshing to work in the SYSPRO environment, with long term employees who are committed and passionate about a single product.

Shaun’s role is broad and varied but in short he is responsible for the growth and strategic direction of SYSPRO across Asia and the Pacific. He is extremely proud of the company and the team SYSPRO has built, supported by the many customers who place their trust in SYSPRO’s solution and capability.