Posts Tagged ‘social supply chain’

The mobile revolution hits the supply chain

Published January 25th, 2012 by John Westerveld 2 Comments

Do you have a smart phone?  A tablet or iPad?  No? Then you are rapidly becoming amongst the minority. The mobile revolution is here.  Walk down the aisle of a plane or through an airport and you’ll see as many tablets as laptops. Mobile devices started by offering people the ability to read e-mail, chat, and browse the web. Now there are dedicated apps that allow people to do anything from read a book, to find a restaurant, shop on Amazon or negotiate a mortgage.

What we haven’t seen is apps that are directed at manufacturing and the supply chain…yet. I saw an article in Industry Week several days ago talking about mobile technology being used in manufacturing.  Two apps are discussed in the article; one is an app that allows sales representatives to view pictures and specifications of complex products.  The other is a plant floor app that can be used for material flow analysis.   These are interesting and in some cases necessary, but there is another area where mobile apps can be really exciting.

Let’s play a little scenario out in our minds; imagine the typical in-person sales meeting.  You are visiting with a prospective client trying to get orders placed for one of your high-profit products. Your customer is interested but they have an immediate need which requires delivery inside of lead time.  To add to the stress, they will place the order if you can confirm it today; otherwise they will place the order with a competitor.  So how do you respond in this situation?  The optimist (or perhaps the cynic) might say that you take the order and pray that you can deliver.  The pessimist might say that you don’t take the order and hope that you can do business next time (because you haven’t antagonized the customer by not delivering on a promise).  Either way, you are put in a difficult situation because you don’t have the information you need at hand.

Now let’s imagine the same scenario but this time you are carrying a tablet connected to your supply chain software. Using the tablet, you create a scenario (a safe environment where you can do “what-if” analysis without impacting actual production) and simply add your customer’s order. The analytics in the supply chain software evaluate the new order in the context of the existing customer orders, and the current supply, and capacity information and then determines an available date. It turns out that the available date (when the order can be shipped) is acceptable to the customer and you can accept the order with confidence. You are happy, the customer is happy, and your supply chain is happy because you haven’t promised something that may not be delivered.  This is where the true power of mobile computing shines for manufacturing and the supply chain.

Manufacturing apps are here.  Those that embrace these new capabilities will have a distinct advantage over those are stuck in the old paradigms. But the journey is only beginning; how do you see mobile applications changing your job? Comment back and let us know!

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Posted in Best practices, Supply chain collaboration

Forget social, it’s imbedded apps that matter

Published January 13th, 2012 by Trevor Miles @milesahead 0 Comments

I’ve been going through all the predictions for 2012 by different analysts and bloggers, and while there have been some interesting takes, the one that stands out for me is the one by Vinnie Merchandani titled “The Real Mega-trend in IT. Hint: it’s not social, cloud, Big Data” in which Vinnie writes about “smart’ products.

Vinnie mentions the fact that Daimler AG has over 1,000 developers in R&D, and a few hundred IT people supporting their internal enterprise systems such as SAP.  Of course they still have lots of people designing cars, but it is the amount of software that is in a car that is amazing. We are all aware of the more obvious innovations such as OnStar, which is developing into a platform like any other such as iPad or Android, with the recent announcement at CES of a developer community.

But it is the stuff ‘under the hood’ that is truly revolutionary, especially for the supply chain.  We are only getting there, but stuff is happening, especially in the industrial world. We are getting ‘smart’ machines that can self-diagnose, determine the corrective action, start a case, determine inventory availability, and schedule a technician to make a physical change when the material is available.  But now that so much software is imbedded in systems, this may require a software patch to be developed and downloaded when available.

Of course this is an extension of concepts first described 10-15 years ago when RFID first became available, even as long ago as when bar codes were becoming standard.  But these technologies could only really expand the use of inventory data.  I don’t mean to belittle the value of inventory data.  Far from it since ultimately it is the availability of inventory on a store shelf or in a warehouse that triggers the need for replenishment to satisfy demand.  But ‘smart’ machines go so much further.  In addition, naturally there will be analytic apps that absorb the information coming from many ‘smart’ machines in order to detect trends, for example that a certain mechanical part is failing more frequently or after a certain length of use.

Naturally the ‘smart’ machine scenario I paint above is most applicable to the service supply chain, but with the increased technology content in nearly everything that is man-made, the ability for a company to change how their product behaves by simply downloading new software is an incredible change for both the users and manufacturers/designers of the equipment.  I am old enough to remember washing machines and dishwashers that had electro-mechanical controllers for different cycles, and the mechanical systems themselves were often designed specifically for the cycles offered in that model. Now the mechanics are nearly identical, with different cycles being driven by software downloaded onto identical controllers.  I can see the day when we will upgrade our appliances by simply downloading new software, assuming the mechanics hold up and the aesthetics are still acceptable.  But why not have a ‘smart’ skin with selectable color and/or pattern that the user can change at any time?

But, while I agree with Vinnie that this is a major trend, at the same time, as illustrated by OnStar recruiting an independent apps development community, ‘smart’ machines should really be viewed as simply another user experience, such as tablets. In fact, I don’t see any reason why a tablet couldn’t be imbedded in a car’s dash, or a dishwasher’s front panel. So in the end I think many of the other trends are still very relevant, especially big data and cloud. But this is ‘structured’ data. The ‘smart’ machines will be programmed to issue clear and consistent instructions.

So where does social fit into the mix?  Andrew McAfee wrote an interesting blog in 2010 titled “Did Garry Kasparov Stumble Into a New Business Process Model?” in which he explores the trends of machine intelligence. Machines are very good at doing repetitive things quickly, including ‘smart’ machines. As McAfee notes,

Kasparov notes that computers play chess not by simulating human reasoning, but instead by comparing all possible moves and their consequences — the resulting board positions, subsequently available countermoves, possible counter-countermoves, etc. — until time runs out and a decision is necessary. And time will always run out; there are 10^40 possible legal board positions and 10^120 possible games, so even today’s fastest computers can’t be exhaustive. But they can be thorough, precise, and consistent. They evaluate lots of options, compare them rigorously, and never ever overlook or forget anything that they’ve been programmed to take into account

In other words machines, even ‘smart’ machines struggle to deal with nuance and ambiguity, though of course the recent experiment run by IBM in which they pitted Watson against top Jeopardy winners shows that even in this realm computers are beginning to gain ground. However, as stated by Greg Lindsay in his blog titled “How I Beat IBM’s Watson at Jeopardy (3 Times!)”, Watson is beatable by competing in areas in which humans excel, namely ambiguity and nuance.

Binary relationships–countries and their capitals, for instance–would be easy for him to figure out, and he would beat me to the buzz every time. So I had to steer him into categories full of what I called “semantic difficulty”–where the clues’ wordplay would trip him up. I would have to out think him.

So I am confident that in supply chains we will forever need human judgment and what computers will bring is primarily speed.  It will be in the exchange of unstructured data and the exploration of nuance and ambiguity that social will play its biggest role within the supply chain. After all, most decisions made between two supply chain partners are about compromise in which there isn’t one right answer, even though that is a view many supply chain vendors have promoted over the years through the use of optimization.

In conclusion, I agree with Vinnie that ‘smart’ machines and imbedded apps are big news and a major trend in IT and user experience. But from a supply chain perspective my sense is that ‘smart’ machines will mostly be an additional contributor to big data, which in itself is big news in the supply chain.  But it will be the manner in which we exploit social concepts in the supply chain that will be a real breakthrough because so much of supply chain management is about risk mitigation across a range of possibilities in a very ambiguous world.

Posted in Best practices, Milesahead

The social supply chain: demand side and supply side considerations.

Published April 1st, 2011 by Lori Smith 0 Comments

As you may remember, Kinaxis participated in a webcast last month called: “Thought Leader Power Hour: The potential of the social supply chain.” The webcast featured:

  • Lora Cecere, partner, Altimeter Group
  • Bob Ferrari, managing director, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC
  • Trevor Miles, director of thought leadership, Kinaxis

We just wanted to let you know that we’ve recently posted the on-demand recording and PPT slide deck from the webcast up on Check it out!

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Posted in General News