Industrial Data Summit 2018: The new supply chain

In his keynote at this year’s Industrial Data Summit, Chris Cameron – worldwide sales leader for Watson Supply Chain at IBM – described how blockchain, artificial intelligence and collaboration were redefining supply chains.

Industrial Data Summit Keynote - Chris Cameron, worldwide sales leader for Watson Supply Chain at IBM.
Industrial Data Summit Keynote – Chris Cameron, worldwide sales leader for Watson Supply Chain at IBM.

Following a morning of roundtable conversations and an expert panel discussion, Chris Cameron took to the stage to deliver his Industrial Data Summit 2018 keynote.

More than 85% of supply chain officers say it is already difficult to predict and proactively manage disruptions, Cameron noted; while almost the same amount report lack of visibility as their biggest challenge.

The challenge for these managers and their teams is to monitor and mitigate an ever-increasing array of assets and potential disruptions – including both common events, such as weather, delivery delays, forecast mismatches and quality defects, as well as major events such as political unrest, natural disasters, and the financial instability of suppliers.

“As a 100-year-old company, supply chain has been a big focus for IBM, particularly on the manufacturing side of the organisation,” he continued. “Your supply chain can cause some of the greatest business pains, but it can also be one of your primary competitive differentiators.”

The Manufacturer has a number of upcoming ‘summits’ which follow the same interactive format:

Almost all businesses – regardless of sector or industry – would like to achieve greater supply chain agility, transparency and visibility, but this relies on gaining insight. This real-time, accurate insight can only be gained by leveraging data and technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.

These technologies also augment existing B2B collaboration and help an organisation to adapt faster to ever-changing customer demands and fast moving global business environment.

Executives gathered to discuss how best to take advantage of and leverage the power of digital technology at Industrial Data Summit.
Executives gathered to discuss how best to take advantage of and leverage the power of digital technology at Industrial Data Summit.

“’Insight’ hides in-between and outside an organisation,” Cameron explained. “It requires your business to make better use of the data it already collects, and simultaneously increase the number of datasets it can leverage.”

Businesses need to ask themselves three key questions, according to Cameron:

  • How well connected is my entire value chain?
  • Do I have true, accurate end-to-end visibility?
  • How agile is my value chain at identifying risk and how flexible is it in adapting to change?

The answers to these questions will help define the current state of an organisation and highlight what needs to be done to move forward – typically in collaboration with a technology partner.

Cognitive supply chains

When it comes to technology, particularly digital technology, there is a lot of talk about the future. However, in many cases, the future has already arrived.

In 2010, IBM predicted that supply chains would become smarter through instrumentation (sensors, RFID tags, GPS), being interconnected (customers, suppliers, IT systems), and intelligence (automated, responsive, analytics). Less than a decade later, those predications have come true.

IBM has ‘ate its own cooking’, according to Cameron. The company has invested significant sums of money in recent years and went down many roads which dead-ended or went nowhere. However, that learning experience enriched its research and development, and led it to reimagine digital operations – not just its own, but that of its customers.

The road to successful cognitive – or learning – supply chain management may seem long and daunting to many businesses, but only if you try and do everything all at once. Focus on the big targets, the low-hanging fruit first, and build from there, suggests Cameron.

Like any other business strategy or initiative, your organisation’s ‘digital journey’ must be strategically planned and executed with a roadmap to value – all built around the core question, what is it you want to achieve?