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Getting more from supply chain data

In the last several years, businesses have faced an increasing number of challenges when it comes to operating their supply chains. From recession and rising customer expectations to the likes of Amazon making their logistics into a competitive advantage. And now digitalisation has created disruption in the way businesses manage their supply chain.

All of these challenges are underpinned by one big, singular issue that makes meeting business goals difficult: Data.How to manage it, how to respond to it, and how to wield it to your advantage.

Why supply chains need better data

Supply chain operations are complex data-manufacturing and -consuming machines, but they don’t always have the visibility and flexibility needed to make that data work for them.

Overcoming the challenge of data is necessary to address a range of problems:

  • Compatibility issues across different providers
  • Lack of actionable internal data
  • Over-reliance on outdated systems
  • Lack of insight into wider industry trends
  • Fragility and reactiveness built into the organisation
  • Meeting customer expectations is difficult if not impossible

The usual approach supply chains take to solve these issues has been implementing large change management programmes. Designed to overhaul the entire logistics operation, these are disruptive, costly and extremely time intensive. Instead, working with data specialists and bringing AI on board can make the job much more manageable.

With your re-structured data and the right AI platform, you can use that data to make more informed decisions, explore new opportunities and make your supply chain more resilient.

How to tackle data problems

Everyone comes across data quality issues. It comes from there being so much of it available nowadays. Most conversations about data with supply chain leaders start with that feeling. And AI platforms like 7bridges do, naturally, have preferred formats to receive data in. It makes it a smoother process on the technical end. But that’s not always an option.

One area where 7bridges differs is that we can be hands-on in those cases. We’re here to steward the right data onto the platform. We don’t want to import bad data just as much as you don’t want to use it.

It’s important to not let this be the point at which you hit data overwhelm though. Instead, work with data specialists and bring it into an environment where you can look at it, interrogate it and figure out the best path forward for it.

Where AI makes a difference

AI isn’t just a technological fad, it doesn’t take a tonne of manpower to manage and it isn’t going anywhere. What is, on the hand, is useful.

AI platforms use machines to perform functions typically reserved for humans. Like checking every invoice that comes in with 7bridges rather than a team of humans. Humans who could, instead, be doing work that machines still aren’t any good at like thinking strategically.

7bridges is an AI platform that helps businesses innovate toward smarter supply chains. What our customers do with that is:

  • Combine their existing data with our real-time data network and resources and then
  • Use the AI that their skilful team of engineers created to test out theories, explore new options, catch mistakes early and make the best decisions possible.

You can think of the AI as a sidekick or an assistant almost. Let humans think big picture and AI can figure out the details of making it work.

OpenText teams with Dun & Bradstreet on supply chain analytics

OpenText is integrating the data stores of decisioning data and analytics specialist Dun & Bradstreet into its Trading Grid Global Partner Directory supplier sourcing and onboarding platform.

The integration will provide enterprises a single, centralised directory to identify reliable, financially stable trading partners and suppliers, allowing them to strengthen their supply chains to mitigate risk and prevent major disruptions in supply. Businesses will also be able to prioritise ethical, sustainable operations and good corporate governance across supply chains by sourcing trading partners emphasising these core values. 

“Working with trusted suppliers to meet the highest standards of supply chain performance and corporate social responsibility has become a strategic priority for businesses today,” said Mark J. Barrenechea, OpenText CEO & CTO. “However, identifying the right business partners has also become more complex. Integrating Dun & Bradstreet’s data and insights into OpenText Trading Grid provides our customers with more effective methods of discovering, authenticating and connecting with quality trading partners.”   

The Trading Grid Global Partner Directory provides access to information on hundreds of thousands of companies doing business on OpenText Trading Grid, a cross-industry community of supply chain trading partners. OpenText will integrate D-U-N-S Numbers and metadata into the Global Partner Directory to givebusinesses a more extensive source of quality corporate data to use in making more informed sourcing decisions. Participating companies will have access to Dun & Bradstreet’s Data Cloud, which contains information on more than 355 million total businesses worldwide.

The advanced data filters of the Global Partner Directory have been expanded to allow users to search for and monitor companies according to specific attributes such as financial responsibility, fulfilment of supply chainobligations, and compliance with global regulations, including those for diversity and corporate social responsibility. Geography filters help enterprises plan for political unrest and natural disasters in key markets. 

“Now more than ever, companies must do business with organisations they can trust as any supply chain disruptions or ethical lapses by suppliers can have significant and long-lasting impacts on revenue, costs, client experiences and brand reputation,” said Brian Alster, general manager, third party risk & compliance for Dun & Bradstreet. “Dun & Bradstreet has a time-honoured tradition of providing our clients with accessible and actionable data and insights to help them turn uncertainty into confidence, risk into opportunityand potential into prosperity. We look forward to integrating our rich commercial data and insights into OpenText’s Trading Grid to make it easier for companies to build and maintain quality and productive supply chains.” 

Once enterprises identify the right suppliers, Trading Grid facilitates rapid connections and collaboration with businesses on the network through self-service capabilities.  

How real-time information supports resilient supply chains

By Gill Devine, Vice President EMEA at Dataminr

In the first quarter of 2020, a spate of global and regional events have starkly exposed the fragility of the practices and processes that underpin supply chains. From the rapid, global spread of the COVID-19 disease to the resulting events and precautions taken since, today’s global organisations are facing an increasingly volatile world. This public health crisis has suddenly changed their operating landscape and materially affected their people, customers and bottom lines.

“When companies have advance knowledge of where the disruption will come from and which products will be impacted, they have lead time to execute avoidance and mitigation strategies immediately–like shaping demand by offering discounts on substitutes, buying up inventory, booking capacity at alternate sites, controlling inventory allocations, and so on,” supply chain experts Tom Linton and Bindiya Vakil wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how events can escalate quickly across any geography, at any time, requiring businesses to improve their level of global awareness. Supply chain practitioners at every level—from the boardroom to the warehouse floor—need reliable and comprehensive real-time information that is most relevant to their business needs, so they may assess a situation and mobilise effectively. Much of that information is now available in the public domain, and can provide precious additional time required to make sound decisions.

In fact, early signals in public information detected by artificial intelligence (AI) provided a critical early warning to a current crisis. In late December 2019, rumors of a new respiratory illness began quietly circulating in central China. Dataminr’s real-time risk and event detection platform automatically surfaced such early online chatter, delivering its first alert about the virus on December 30. The alert served as a warning to clients that people appeared to be sick with SARS-like symptoms in Wuhan.

Government authorities were eventually prompted to issue a statement confirming that 27 people were suffering from viral pneumonia. Seven days after the first Dataminr alert was issued, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the public. Three days later, on January 9, the World Health Organization issued a statement. The disease would become known as COVID-19, caused by a highly contagious new coronavirus. 

As we now realise, the virus would quickly spread beyond the borders of Hubei province, a major manufacturing and transportation hub,  and beyond the borders of China, wreaking havoc on regional and global supply chains. 

Early indicators of this burgeoning global health crisis enabled companies to put their business continuity plans in motion with precious days and even weeks of lead time. They could look for alternative providers of raw materials or parts, establish work-from-home or other workplace arrangements for employees wherever possible, and advise customers in advance about expected shortages. 

Since the first days of the outbreak, highly valuable real-time information has surfaced across thousands of data sources, in multiple languages and formats, from more than 100 countries. But it is impossible for one person or team, on their own, to process such disparate information sources and extract what is most relevant for their supply chain operations. 

In a global market, where operations and customers are everywhere, businesses need to use a variety of approaches, mechanisms and tools to build a comprehensive, real-time view of events across the globe as they unfold. The current pandemic has roiled supply chains in a matter of weeks. One strategy to help enterprises mitigate risk effectively is making use of real-time alerts. Staying abreast of global and local events and their potential implications as they occur is the key to a more resilient supply chain. 

Using AI to understand data at scale and speed, coupled with more traditional supply chain management approaches, can help organisations establish wider and deeper awareness of emerging markets and specific sectors that affect their supply chains. This can lead to more proactive and effective decision making to keep goods and services moving in the face of disruptions.

Specifically, real-time alerting allows a business to function at the highest level of efficiency and deliver on its commitments to customers, all whilst remaining ever-vigilant to supply chain threats. 

Tackling the changing nature of retail with a well-prepared supply chain

By Ian Stone, CEO, Vuealta 

Debenhams, House of Fraser, Arcadia – these are just a handful of once-reliable High Street retailers and brand groups who now find themselves battling for their place on Britain’s high streets.

With shops closing at a rate of 14 a day, traditional high-street players are now facing unprecedented levels of competition from online and digitally-focused disruptors. But has the High Street really been crippled? Ultimately the answer is no, it’s simply being reinvented.

In fact, it appears that 62% of shoppers still prefer to shop on the high street, but their expectations have changed dramatically, and retailers need to buck their ideas up if they’re to meet them. As such, there has recently been a resurgence of interest in physical stores from industry giants, but in an entirely new and integrated way. 

It’s now more important than ever that retailers entice customers back into stores with refreshed and exciting takes on what the physical store really is – crossing the realms of digital and physical so customers can get the best of both worlds. That’s why, while many brands are already mastering the art of personalisation online, they’re now also using these data-driven insights on consumer behaviour to bring the same levels of customer experience and relevancy to the physical store.

For example, Amazon has introduced various initiatives from its four-star experience to Amazon Go, which cater to very specific demographics and consumer needs. But the changing nature of retail is moving at an unprecedented rate, making it difficult to keep up. To do so, brands need to begin making the most of their data to carefully map their supplychains and streamline costs.

Keeping up with evolving consumer demands 

Running a physical store is expensive. The property price boom in the UK has only recently reached its peak and May saw retailers suffer their worst month in almost a quarter of a century. To try and overcome these challenges, retailers like Amazon are returning to the high-street with smaller footprints to streamline their expenditures and offer more personalised experiences for their customers. Aldi and Lidl, for example, continuously change their stock depending on seasons and current trends in order to maintain reduced costs and keep their bargain hunting customers loyal.

But today’s customers expect instant gratification and ventures like this are fragile. They rely on a robust supply chain that can cope with consistently changing consumer demand, meaning these new types of stores can no longer rely on traditional supply chain structures. They need expert stock management with the ability to respond and adapt to change at speed – especially when it comes to peak shopping seasons like Black Friday and Christmas. 

The need to be agile in the digital age 

It’s ironic, but the answer to coping with the demands of these new stores lies in the digital technologies that are creating the need for them. In today’s digital age, consumer behaviour can change as a result of one Instagram post, and supplychains need an agile solution that can react just as quickly as the market changes and plan for likely peaks in demand – whether that’s with the ability to deliver more strawberries to Aldi’s Wimbledon store in July or hairdryers to Argos when the latest reality TV star posts an ad on their story.  

While data may now be considered the world’s most valuable resource, it has always been possible to access a variety of external and internal data sources to provide hard evidence to back up insights and assessments when developing plans. The real challenge has been being able to bring all that together, across internal silos and in varying formats, to form a cohesive and clear direction. Now, however, supply chains and their respective retailers have the ability to quickly connect and verify different data sources. By breaking down the silos, they can then access a clear view of what’s needed in order to formulate solid, evidenced-based plans.

That connection then allows supply chain organisations to rapidly harness data from a variety of sources to quickly formulate and adapt plans. That could be rerouting shipments into a distribution centre where demand is higher, deploying trucks and drivers to new shops, or updating promotions and stock availability if deliveries are delayed or demand outstrips supply. And streamlining this process can lead to significant competitive advantages.

The supply chain is the backbone of retail

The speed at which markets change today may appear to render long-term planning redundant, but it does the opposite. The key to keeping up with consumer demand ultimately lies in a well forecasted plan.

When retailers and supply chains plan for all their ‘what ifs’, including unexpected peaks and troughs in consumer demand, they’ll be prepared to respond to any changes that may otherwise expose their fragility and bring them to their knees. And when customers’ needs aren’t met, they will be quick to shout about it online, ultimately harming the business’ reputation. But when these unexpected, and expected, challenges are handled appropriately and responded to in adequate time, retailers can truly reap the benefits of increased sales. 

Planning isn’t a static process, and by no means has a simple beginning and end. If you’re starting out from a disjointed and siloed process, organisations need to be prepared to go through some level of trial and error initially, which will take time and multiple iterations before they get it right. But the end result will truly pay-off as companies will be able to access and collate critical data sources enabling them to reduce the impact of uncertainty and build realistic, actionable responses to all their potential ‘what ifs’.

Retailers and supply chains that do decide to take the planning leap will therefore be in a much stronger position when it comes to keeping their customers loyal by seizing all opportunities that will inevitably appear.