The IoT of your supply chain – the rise of the machines

I wrote a post a few months ago about IoT (internet of things) and how it was “big data” with a new suit. I also read a tweet that gave me pause for thought by Simon Jacobson that raised the question about IoT use cases -

how soon till we see use cases beyond remote monitoring and maintenance? asset reliability important but more uses needed

It is an interesting comment. IoT right now, much like Big Data, is all about the ability to collect data from more and more “things” in our universe. The ability to collect the data is becoming increasingly powerful. Whereas in the past you would rely on your plant supervisor to visually monitor the performance of a printing press, now you have hundreds or thousands of sensors that can communicate in real time with monitoring software to ensure the health of that machine. Companies like Caterpillar are putting sensors on a greater number of their products, allowing consumers and Caterpillar, to monitor their earth movers, trucks and other machinery.  For a more current example of how IoT is everywhere, all one has to do is look at the tragedy of Malaysia Air flight 370 – it was the GE produced engines that were constantly pinging the maintenance servers that gave investigators a better sense of the direction of the plane’s flight. But these examples reinforce with Simon was saying – these are all about remote monitoring.

When will our supply chains see IoT moving beyond “just” remote monitoring and asset management examples? That is where M2M (Machine to Machine) will begin to play a larger role. I spoke earlier this year with Toolsgroup, a supply chain solution vendor, and they spoke to me about their working with Costa coffee and their coffee distribution machines. So how does a coffee vending machine have a role in all this? Initially this story is all about improved monitoring for improved inventory management. How Costa Coffee dispensers are being “smarter” in how they communicate to ensure more efficient fulfillment. Up to this point it is really about monitoring. But let’s take it to the next level.

With greater machine learning, could the dispensers become smarter with marketing to the individual consumer? You purchase a soy milk latte from the machine. That machine can now learn your preferences if that is what you have been purchasing at other machines. Could you imagine that their is data being exchanged between other systems? Maybe where Costa coffee materials are sold or maybe partner goods are offered. Machine to machine learning, could lead to greater machine to machine communications. Now the machines could communicate and proactively push coupons or deals to your mobile device about a soy milk and coffee bean bogo offer. Yes there is some big brother aspects to this…but get used to more of that with IoT.

We are just beginning to see how IoT will impact supply chains. What we know it is doing is bringing a greater amount of information from a larger number of sources that we otherwise had access to. What we are still determining is what kind of data we will be getting and how we can use the data – for more than simply monitoring.

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Filed under IOT, Supply Chain

End of an era at JDA – Hamish Brewer leaves supply chain vendor

Today JDA announced the changing of the guard at the head of the company  with long time JDAer – Hamish Brewer moving on. Interim CEO Baljit (Bal) Dail will take over until a full time CEO is found.  From an outside perspective this is a surprising announcement. However, from a business stand point this makes sense.

Since the acquisition/merger with Red Prairie in April 2013, the dynamics for JDA has changed. What has been a strategy of acquiring new revenue streams – see Manugistics and i2 acquisition – could not be sustainable. At some point JDA will need to compete with organic development of its own and revenue if it hopes to challenge the likes of SAP and Oracle. It looks as if the board determined that Hamish was not the right person for this new challenge. Mr Brewer does deserve a lot of credit for being able to cobble together a family of supply chain vendors and not only keep the ship afloat but also continue to drive JDA forward.

Whether it is Mr Dail or a new CEO, they will face some challenges:

  • How will JDA continue to drive and grow revenue. JDA has the classic problem of a large business, the good is they have a large portfolio of products the negative they have a large portfolio of products. In such verticals as automotive they are facing challenges from the likes of Kinaxis. In the S&OP space the likes of SteelWedge offer a viable option. Of course they always have the threat from SAP and Oracle.
  • Speaking of product portfolios…JDA, like many legacy vendors, straddles the world of on premise and cloud offerings. While I think there remains room for both, I think the value that comes from being more “cloud heavy” will start to out weigh on premise. For example companies such as One Network or E2open have leaned heavily on the cloud and in doing so are able to bring added benefits of creating turn key networks. Users who need to integrate large networks of suppliers, customers and partners via their solutions into their supply chain network will lean more and more towards cloud heavy offerings.

The new CEO for JDA will face some interesting challenges. However, the company still has a number of arrows in their quiver. It will be interesting to see how the company moves forward. And what type of background the next CEO has will go a long way in determining where JDA finds itself in 5 years.


Disclosure: I worked at i2 Technologies for 5 years. I left i2 Technologies prior to being purchased by JDA in 2010.


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Filed under Current Events, Supply Chain

Bitcoin coming to an ATM by you…

Bitcoin, the leading P2P currency, is coming to an ATM near you. There is an ATM right here in Boston now! At least Boston keeps its place as a high tech center…barely. Anyways, first what really is Bitcoin, other than being linked to the infamous Winklevoss twins? Click here for a good crash video on what it is.

Coming to an ATM near you...better get your digital wallet ready

Coming to an ATM near you…better get your digital wallet ready

Basically it is an online generated form of currency, no banks, no physical currency is created. It allows the online community to have a form of money to empower eCommerce – not that your credit cards doesn’t still work. Online commerce could function and not have to pay some of the fees associated with credit cards and other forms of traditional brick and mortar payment methods. So what does it mean that you can now go to the ATM machine and “get” Bitcoins?

For the most part it feels like a marketing scheme, to make the every day user comfortable with this form of currency. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with eCommerce both via their smart phones, tablets or computers. They have become comfortable using their credit cards online. Bitcoin has to hope they start feeling comfortable seeing Bitcoin as a viable payment option. Showing consumers how to leverage Bitcoin in a format they are used to – aka the ATM machine – should allow for an ease of association with the medium. I get that the ATM gives me $20 bills (in New York sometimes $100 bills!), I get how to use my phone for more than phone calls….now I can somewhat better grasp how this all mixes together with Bitcoin. From a marketing and education perspective this makes a lot of sense. It is also interesting when it comes to the timing – with many highly publicized credit card theft issues from Target to Neiman Marcus could Bitcoin find away to offer a “safer” alternative for online commerce?

It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to these Bitcoin ATMs, will it uptick the usage of the currency? Will the curiosity fade after a few days? Regardless it will be interesting to watch and I believe the impact will reach further than we might expect today…think supply chain. A discussion for another post!

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Filed under Current Events, eCommerce, Online payment, Technology

Facebook adds to empire – final gets their communication platform in Whatsapp

Earlier today Facebook announced a massive acquisition of mobile instant messaging platform Whatsapp. The deal will be for $16billion, of which $4billion will be in cash and the remainder in equity. Regardless of how you structure it, that is a lot of money, wonder how many bitcoins that could have purchased.

From what I have been able to read, most agree, as do I, that Facebook needed to get a stronger footprint in the world of mobile communications. Yes Facebook remains one of the most used mobile apps and the growth continues on the upwards trend. Within that segment, the non – “US & Canada” are showing continued growth, while US & Canada remain steady.

Growth curve outside North America picking up steam

Growth curve outside North America picking up steam

Facebook has tried to get a foothold on the world of IM/SMS type communications on mobile devices. Anyone who is a regular Facebook user knows how they have been constantly pushing their mobile messenger app on users. I will admit I actually finally broke down and downloaded the app, only to delete it after a few days and went back to going through the regular Facebook to leverage the messaging function. Of course for Facebook they realize that not everyone has a Facebook account…gasp….and therefore might be accessible through Facebook messenger. Just like Apple knows that not everyone is on iOS…gasp…and cannot all use iMessenger the same way. For this reason 3rd party messaging platforms like Whatsapp, Viber, Snapchat or old school ones such as AIM and Yahoo! try to be device agnostic and focus just on being communications platforms. Not some uber social media community. Of course the growth shown by Whatsapp doesn’t hurt their attractiveness either!


So it makes perfect sense for Facebook to find in Whatsapp their potential asset in the mobile messenger world. Much like Instagram provided them with their photo-sharing platform. While Facebook has these functions in their existing platform, they just aren’t very good at differentiating them, as they are just drowned out in the overall Facebook environment. Buying Whatsapp gives Facebook a strong asset in the mobile messaging space. It gives them an asset that has done well outside the United States, an area where Facebook mobile enjoys continued upward movement – could be very complimentary in that aspect. Does it admit failure in decoupling Facebook Messenger as a stand alone? Sure. But Facebook doesn’t seem to be afraid to go out and throw around their vast cash resources to shore up a need when their own efforts fall short. Hey, if you have the cash and financial heft, use it!

Of course one has to hope that Facebook treats Whatsapp like it did Instagram, allows it to function independently. If they do so, I think that Whatsapp will continue to grow its user base and messaging position.

Wonder if Snapchat is kicking themselves today…I guess Facebook wasn’t really after the ability to send “mission impossible” type messages but just wanted a messaging platform.

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Filed under Current Events, Social media

Time Warner and Comcast come together – merger of dinosaurs

Comcast will drop $45.2 billion for Time Warner. Wow. That is a lot of cake. It is expected that that the deal will be approved. Although it might not have been a decade ago. But how things have changed when it comes to this industry.

It is coincidental that the other day I was watching an early Seinfeld episode where Kramer convinced Jerry to get illegal cable – since the Mets would be on cable 70 times that season. But would Jerry need cable today? He could stream the audio through Sirius or get the television broadcast through If Jerry wanted to watch HBO or Cinemax he could sign up online, get the app and then stream it indexdirectly to his tablet, smart phone or laptop. Oh and if he went out and got a Chromecast or Apple TV device, he can just send the signal directly to his 60 inch LCD television and watch on the big screen. Need to watch some Winter Olympics from Sochi? Stream that heated Russia vs China curling match directly through the NBC sports app. Need a recap of the day in sports? Flip over to your ESPN app and watch Sportscenter. If Jerry wanted to watch “Rochelle Rochelle” he can probably find it either on Netflix or on Amazon direct. All this…without having to go through the cable companies.

Cable companies still have the advantage of being in many of our homes, right there next to the TV. Most consumers are very familiar and comfortable with the set top box – DVR function, pay per view and content. But the are fighting a defensive battle, trying to protect what they have as they are being assaulted from multiple angles. The ability to cut the cable and still get your fix is easier and easier – click here for such a plan.

Good luck to Comcast and Time Warner. That is a lot of capital to grow your empire. But could this be similar to the expansion of the Ottoman empire in the 1900s, looks impressive on paper, but fundamentally flawed.

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Filed under Cable, Current Events, Smart Phone, Tablet, Technology, Television

The real supply chain disruptor…

The past few weeks, or really the past few years, have given us plenty of examples of Amazon slowly but surely cranking up their disruptive aspect when it comes to supply chains. Of course, when we think of Amazon we think of the giant of eCommerce. A company that has not physical retail channel but one that can sell us anything from a copy of the Iliad to furniture to baby’s diapers. For me Amazon is the biggest winner from the crazy dot com days of the late 1990s. The giants associated with that era – Yahoo, AOL, WebVan, eBay, Geocities, Lycos – to name a few. Yes Google was around then, but I would argue their real rise to prominence came after the bubble.

But the one name that weather that storm and is a massive player – Amazon. The reality is that Amazon is that they are not only the 800lb gorilla in eCommerce and retail but also for supply chains. Here are some areas where Amazon is a disruptive supply chain force:

  • Delivery – Anyone who watched or read about the coming of Amazon drones is probably expecting to get their copy of “50 Shades of Grey” or their latest set of Dr Dre Beat headphones dropped off by an unmanned flying machine. There is also the buzz that Amazon will look to have same day delivery, could be empowered by the rise of the drones. The eCommerce giant is also looking to conquer the enigma that is grocery delivery. Combine all these projects and you quickly realize that Amazon is bringing a whole
    Coming to your personal airspace.

    Coming to your personal airspace.

    new perspective to delivery. The reality is that they might not be able to achieve all these lofty goals…but the fact they are pushing these ideas out there and that they are driving the conversation is disruptive enough.  The fact that same day delivery is being mentioned will drive how our expectations are set as consumers. If I believe I can get fresh produce delivered to my door, do I accept getting anything that isn’t similar from the likes of Shaws, Whole Foods, Tesco, Giant Eagle, Safeway or any of the other grocery chain?

  • Warehousing – Amazon has mastered this for a long time, ever since they started selling CDs and Books via the internet. In order to fulfill these massive online catalog and to do so in a timely fashion, they have become masters of how to manage a warehouse and more importantly how to run an efficient pick and pack, inventory and distribution from geographically placed warehouses. Their acquisition of Kiva demonstrates that they see how
    The rise of the machines.

    The rise of the machines.

    robotics and the rise of the machines will disrupt how we run our warehouses. There has been some rumbling about how they drive their warehouse work force to ensure they can meet their tighter and tighter fulfillment windows. This might become more disruptive from a negative perspective. However, overall look for Amazon to change the way warehousing is approached.

  • Demand management – In the supply chain space, the holy grail is around better understanding and anticipation of what true demand is. A whole host of companies ranging from the likes of Orchestro, RSi, IRI, JDA, Steelwedge, SAP, Oracle, Kinaxis, Terra Technology to name a few, are all offering solutions that profess can better determine or predict what actual demand will be. But what about Amazon? They are already savvy when it comes to understanding what our buying habits on their web site – what else can or would we want to buy? Now comes word that Amazon has patent to provide “anticipatory delivery.” They are looking to better anticipate our demand! Wow. They will be able to put inventory on trucks before we even a)know we want the product b)order the product…talk about getting ahead of the demand curve. This goes beyond what some are tagging as demand sensing and moves into true demand anticipation. Again, will they be able to pull this off? Who cares. The fact they are speaking of being able to do so will create a disruptive mental wave that will have consumers wondering…”hey why can’t you anticipate what I want!”
  • Mobility – The Kindle is a quiet mobile supply chain device. How? It allows Amazon to place mobile ordering kiosks in consumers hands. Giving Amazon another point where they can check on demand and buying patterns. Add to this the Amazon app that is available on iOS or Android and you have a mobile powerhouse. One that allows the company to get as close
    A cash register and inventory system in your pocket!

    A cash register and inventory system in your pocket!

    as you can when it comes to POS information. With the app one could argue that Amazon have found a way to get into the four walls of the brick and mortar stores. Consumers have been trained to use the app as a mobile cash register and inventory system. Your daughter wants the latest American Girl doll? Scan a bar code or snap a picture and see what Amazon has…and if you want click “Buy Now” with your Prime account and boom, it gets delivered to your door.

So Amazon is the quiet supply chain disruptor. Whether or not they can pull off some of the projects they are tackling is inconsequential (well maybe not that inconsequential…). The fact that Amazon is driving the discussion around some of these hot button topics means all players within the supply chain cannot ignore some of the game changers that are on the table.

Amazon at the end of the is all about pushing more inventory through their system. But in doing so they are creating some mega changes when it comes  to how supply chains think about and tackle a host of issues. Next time you get a box from Amazon remember – they are shaking up the supply chains as we know them.

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Filed under Retail, Supply Chain, Technology

Top 3 things to look for in 2014

When it comes to the supply chain space and solutions, there are three trends I am looking for in 2014:

  • Software providers will strive to offer full supply chain solution suites. Mega vendors such as SAP, Infor and Oracle have been ahead of this game, just by their sheer size. A growing number of service providers such as JDA and Logility will continue to push in this direction –looking to offer their own supply chain solution platform.  Practioners will seek service providers that can address larger and more inclusive supply chain challenges, rather than simply optimizing pieces of the overall puzzle. They recognise that optimizing parts of the supply chain can often times lead to unintended consequences in other parts of the supply chain. This does not mean that software providers that do not offer a full end to end solution will fall out of favour. These bolt-on solutions will continue to allow for targeted supply chain problems to be addressed. However, these solution providers will have to continue to demonstrate how their solution will be interoperable within the overall supply chain solution network. If you are already engaged with a mega vendor, lean on them to understand how their solution suite can address your larger supply chain issues. When it comes to vendors with smaller solution footprints, ensure that they can seamlessly tie into the solution ecosystem.
  • Expect innovation from the non-usual suspects. Innovative solutions as well as thought leadership will not come only from best of breed providers or consultants, but also from such sources as 3pls and contract manufactures. These players will bring their unique perspective to the supply chain, and drive innovation and thought leadership from the manufacturing and transportation position….think about 3D printing from your contract manufacturers like Flextronics or Jabil and how they are applying this technology and how that innovation can impact your supply chain. Or how your logistics provider like DHL, FedEx or UPS will drive aspects like same day delivery or multi-channel retailing. Other logistics providers who can empower you to drive your supply chain into emerging marketing such as the likes of Agility or Imperial Logistics. Innovation in the supply chain had become more democratized; do not hesitate to look to all your service providers for innovative thinking.
  • It will not be about big data but about actionable data. The notion of large amounts of accessible data will not diminish, on the contrary the amount of data we have access to for our supply chains will only continue to grow. But the vendors that are equipped to provide actionable data is going to be more important than big data. For example vendors such as IRI and Neilson can already provide large quantities of consumer data. Other business intelligence vendors have the ability to take massive data to cleanse and harmonize data. But practioners need to look for the vendors that are focusing on identifying that actionable data. To borrow a phrase from a conversation with SAP – “the haystack keeps getting larger and larger, and you are still looking for that needle” Solution providers will start focusing on identifying the actionable data, rather than just big data. Just because we can start looking at every last piece of data does not mean we should be doing so. Solution providers that offer the intelligence to find the key pieces of data within that haystack will be the ones that gain in relevance.  Companies like Zyme are focused on the hi-tech space will be able to give companies like Barnes and Nobles a better understanding of what data they need to be aware of for products such as the Nook tablet. Work with your service providers to go deeper than just looking at big data – understand what types of data they are comfortable with and what industries they have deep knowledge of.

2014 should be another interesting year in the space…but then again isn’t every year that way?

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Filed under Supply Chain, Technology