By Vijay Pandiarajan, Director: Product Management, IBM Sterling
What is next in supply chain systems? There is plenty to be excited about…
First-generation supply chains were good at automating and optimising processes. But they were restricted to functional silos – and that is not enough for what we need in supply chains today.
Advances in supply chain technology are needed if procurement teams are to manage supply chains that are dynamic, responsive and interconnected with ecosystems and external processes. New tech needs the capacity to manage much, much more data (by several orders of magnitude). This, in turn, will make it possible for an individual procurement manager to make sense of entire supply chain ecosystems in real-time.
These demands are driving progress – which is why I am excited about the future of supply chain technology.
1. We are actually getting fairly good at applying artificial intelligence (AI) repeatedly in supply chains
In order to continue to maintain the labour ratios and levels of service to which we have become accustomed, we need AI within supply chains – this is non-negotiable.
The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite gives end-to-end visibility, real-time insights and recommended actions to turn disruptions into opportunities for customer engagement, growth and profit.
It is an open, integrated platform that easily connects to a company’s supplier ecosystem. And that connection and openness provides the data necessary to build self-correction into supply chains.
2. With blockchain, we finally have a chance to change the way we manage multi-party sharing of supply chain data
It is clear that using AI in supply chains will be essential. But it is important to start from the understanding that organisations are at different stages of maturity in this area. Nevertheless, companies can make dramatic improvements simply by deploying existing tech to digitise and implement an organisational commitment to information hygiene and managing data effectively. Being able to digitise, catalogue and normalise supply chain data means having real-time information in the right place to make decisions quickly.
One survival from the old-tech world of supply chains is using enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems built to manage data for each individual company. Each company’s ERP constituted its view of the world. Procurement teams spent their lives comparing notes with other ERPs to reconcile differences. Everything from invoices to purchase orders had to be reconciled and supply chain processes were put in place to facilitate this.
For the old-world supply chain to really change, we need to recognise that we cannot each have our own copy of what we believe to be true. We need to have an accepted, shared view of the truth. This idea of multi-party shared data is a promising one. And technology such as distributed databases, shared ledgers and blockchain help to build common views of the world.
3. We are seeing the emergence and co-ordination of specialty ecosystems and networks that can be integrated into a ‘network of networks’
Before hyper-interconnectivity and the opportunity to create ecosystems or a ‘network of networks’, we operated in a limited way. For example, connecting one value-added network (VAN) to another VAN in a logistics network with practical applications like document exchange for advance shipping notices and the like.
We are now seeing that an interconnected ‘network of networks’ really does add value. People are using technology and data to work together to solve domain-specific issues like fresh food provenance with Food Trust and ocean-shipping visibility with TradeLens.
These specialised ecosystems can be seamlessly integrated into existing business networks to provide a wealth of information about previously opaque supply chain areas – where things went dark at critical moments.
4. It is possible to have personalised ‘control towers’ that can track the essential elements of global ecosystems but are tuned into what we each want to measure and act on
Finally, we are able to see the world the way we want to – from each of our perspectives – bringing together actionable recommendations from real-time intelligence to act on supply chain implications.
From a simple example of inventory management that can have downstream supply implications for a logistics analyst, to the same information tracking financial implications and payment terms for a financial analyst, the varying views, insights and interrelated metrics stemming from core supply chain activity helps everyone across an organisation.
Also, knowing that no two supply chains are the same means the ability to quickly configure and personalise ‘control towers’ is twice as useful as simply having the static data.
So, just when the need for a strong supply chain has never been greater, technology is increasingly proving itself up to the challenge of meeting this need. And, what’s more, small changes can have big impacts.