Tag Archives: Big Data

Death, Taxes and Supply Chain Disruptions!

It is that time of the year again here in the United States…tax day. You know how the saying goes:

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklinin a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789
I might add another certain to Ole Ben’s letter – supply chain disruptions. Unfortunately much like death and taxes, these disruptions are not something to look forward to. But much like taxes and death, the inevitability of their happening does not mean we shouldn’t plan for their potential impacts. By preparing for these events we can ensure that we emerge from these situations in the best shape possible.
During the first few months of this month I have heard the same concerns about our supply chains:
  • Acts of nature are unpredictable. Yes floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, blizzards, ash clouds, hurricanes and the list goes on, of natural events are unpredictable and constant. While one day we
    Making cars not boats

    Making cars not boats

    maybe able to control the weather and other natural phenomenon (according to some James Bond villains) today we remain at the mercy of Mother Nature. Our abilities to predict acts like the weather are better but certainly not 100% accurate. And we have have to find good ways of pinpointing where earth quakes and volcanic eruptions will occur.

  • Macroeconomic drivers are constantly changing. Exchange rates, the price of oil, deflation and other economic characteristics are driven by government, corporation and human action, but sometimes we cannot really understand the outcomes of these acts. Of course at some level of supply chains entities can afford to pay for influence at these economic levels…but even that does not ensure full control or understanding of outcomes.
  • Humans…yes we are unpredictable at the end of the day. When I studied political science and economics I always struggled with the notion of a “rational” actor or state. What is rational to me might not be to you and vice versa. Yet all of our theories started with some assumptions around “rational” behavior. Of course the same is true within our supply chains. Whether it is a buyer, a worker, a partner or any other human within the supply chain we cannot always assume we understand their behaviors and actions.

So what does this mean? When it comes to our supply chains we should focus on three rules:

  • Embrace the growing amounts of data and sources of that data. While data is not the panacea for our ills, Data conceptit can provide clearer picture of what is happening and where things are being impacted. The growth of data as well as what is producing the data (think IoT) opens the door for companies to get a greater understanding of their supply chain. This digital disruption will only continue to grow in importance – maximize the value for your supply chain.
  • Constantly push yourself to keep an eye on possible new business models. Anyone who has been in business, gone to business school or just read a business publication knows that the secret is to always be ahead of your competitors with “paradigm” changing models. True. But not easy to identify. However within our supply chains we do not need to always identify but more – be open to discovering and leveraging these opportunities when they present themselves.
  • Focus on what you can control. Understand what you cannot control and think about how it can impact your supply chain, but focus on what you can control. The data should help you better understand what is possible as well – but there must be a discipline as to what is controllable and what is not. Within the context of modern supply chains, this discipline is even more crucial.

Like death and taxes, disruptions to your supply chain will be a constant. The good thing is that new digital aspects have given supply chains a fresh arsenal of solutions and business processes to offer solutions to meet this disruptive realities.



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Happy New Year – some wishes for 2015

Once again the inevitable is happening, our journey around the sun has almost come full circle. 2014 was an interesting year – of course for us soccer fans it was extra exciting with a World Cup, but I digress. As we head towards 2015 here are some wishes I have for our supply chains far and wide:


2015 Puzzle Piece Shows New Year's Festivities And Celebrations

Happy 2015 to all!


  • Better and more actionable data: Raise your hand if you are sick of hearing about big data…okay you can all put your hands down. This is not about the continued deluge of data, we all know that we are flush with data and with new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) will only add to this wave of information. What we need to focus on, and achieve for our supply chains is more business data. Business data is the actionable information we can absorb, make a decision with and discard. Many of the CxOs I have spoken to this year, have pointed out that they know the information is out there, the
    Hey look...more "big data"

    Hey look…more “big data”

    issue they have is to identify and focus on the business data that their organizations can better leverage. This is no small task. It is easier to hoard mountains and mountains of data as opposed to be smart about which data to focus on and which pieces of information to lean on. Offerings from the likes of Cisco with their intercloud product provides a layer of intelligence to all that information flowing across our networks. Of course the need to do a better job of filtering and identifying that business information is vital…especially as “big data” only gets bigger. In 2015 let us hope that we become smarter about the types of data we lean on to be better with our supply chains – no easy task.

  • Continued harmonization of execution systems: The need to integrate WMS and TMS seems like a no-brainer, yet remains surprising that in many instances the systems have themselves remained in silos. It is telling that a supply chain vendor such as JDA only acquired a robust WMS solution when they merged with Red Prairie. But as more companies that are in the execution space look to not only add functionality but ensure full integration – even mega vendors like Oracle are working to add functionality such as yard management to their execution suite – one can hope that 2015 sees more of these strategic moves. The value for the end users is to have a faster and deeper visibility into the end to end execution process. For this reason, let us also hope that focused manufacturing service providers such as QAD and Plex also push out from within the factory four walls to include greater services in transportation and warehousing. Being able to monitor my entire execution process is the only way to start to eliminate the blind spots that constantly haunt our supply chains.
  • Smarter evolution of SMAC within all aspects of supply chain: What is SMAC? It isn’t what you talk on the basketball court. SMAC – Social Mobile Analytics Cloud. I look for a greater focus on the first two letters of SMAC for 2015. When it comes to analytics, supply chains have been working on ensuring we add greater layers of analytics and intelligence to our processes. This will only continue to be vital as we add…more data. As for the cloud, it continues to be an area of much debate for supply chains. By some studies, there remains a lot of skepticism when it comes to the cloud. And I understand why. It isn’t because the cloud is not a viable delivery mechanism for the tools and solutions we need to manage our supply chains, rather the business value has not been properly expressed. I am looking at you marketing and sales departments. Too often we lead with the lower total cost of ownership (TCO) or the ability to
    Decision making at the edge - at your finger tips.

    Decision making at the edge – at your finger tips.

    have access to the latest version of the software, rather than discuss why these features of the cloud open up new business models for supply chains. Smart vendors in 2015 will hone in on the business models the cloud empowers – not just lower TCO. But where 2015 holds more promise is with the social and mobile aspects of supply chain. Almost half of supply chain executives agree that social will play a vital role in their business, however less than 20% have any active strategy with social. I expect to see more partnerships such as the one between IBM and Twitter – to bring to the market solutions that these supply chain CxOs can lean on to take advantage of the nuggets that are in social. Finally 2015 will continue to see the importance of mobile in the supply chain. We already have witnessed how tablets and handhelds have impacted the factory floor, logistics, warehousing and within the store. But this is only the beginning. Smarter and more powerful devices will allow us to push decision making and control to the edges of the network. How solution providers tackle this new found power will be integral to how supply chains evolve in 2015.

I don’t think these are too much to ask of our supply chain users and vendors. Next year is an exciting one for new solutions and the continued evolution of existing technologies. But don’t we say that every year??

Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. See you on the other side!

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Filed under Current Events, IoT, Social media, Supply Chain, Technology

Big brother takes on a whole new meaning – collecting data from your kids diaper

I just saw this interesting article in Boston.com about a new product that allows parents to use “smart” diapers for their kids. Click here for article. Really an interesting usage of QR codes and a glimpse into how technology can be leveraged to monitor our current health…and future health. In light of all that has been going on with the NSA snooping on our data, this is another great channel for the NSA to start tracking potential trouble makers. Hahaaa. That was a joke, but only slightly.

Coming to a baby's bottom near you.

Coming to a baby’s bottom near you.

I tend to be an optimist when it comes to technology and how it impacts our day to day lives, this is not exception. But there are some cautions.

The good – being a father myself and remembering how stressful it was at times with a baby in a diaper. Why does his poop look different? Is he peeing enough? Why does he feel hot? And the list of questions a first time parent goes on and on. I can see the value in being able to scan a QR code and get answers to some of these questions. Being able to share, remotely, with the pediatrician data that can either ease ones mind or call for a visit to the doctor. Eventually could that “real time” data allow doctors to anticipate potential issues?

Based on the information your medical provider could anticipate potential issues, send you a text, email or call with a message such as “Bill we noticed that your child was showing early signs of dehydration, we are expecting more of this heat wave make sure you double the liquids your baby intakes.”

Of course there is the potential for less than good. The big brother aspect of this amount of data being shared. What if your medical provider starts trying to predict what diseases that child might get in their 20s or 40s or 70s. And prescribes actions today, which may not work and have many unintended consequences?

On a more business cynical side, how valuable might some of this data be for companies trying to sell you products…I am looking at you large CPG and retailers. P&G might be able to notice that your child’s urine seems to be excessive, and could be leading to greater diaper rash – and poof you get offers for their latest “intense diaper rash cream.” Or maybe they take that data and start building a customer profile…literally from the time you are in diapers.

Overall I am positive that gathering greater data, closer to the consumer, is good. But this reminds us that the data itself isn’t good or bad, it is the way we decide to leverage that data that is what we need to be cautious of.


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Filed under Consumer Product Goods, Current Events, QR Code, Retail

Big Data – bringing “Minority Report” closer to reality

I read an interesting article about the usage of big data and fighting crime – click here for piece. The basic premise is that law enforcement agencies are taping into the mountains of data that is out there to start determining where crimes might occur. Using predictive analytics coupled with the mountains of available data allows for an improved ability to understand where and even when crimes might occur. The article points out some measurable improvements of using some versions of the predictive solutions:

“the intermediate results look quite impressive. In Los Angeles, five LAPD divisions that use it in patrolling territory populated by roughly 1.3m people have seen crime decline by 13%. The city of Santa Cruz, which now also uses PredPol, has seen its burglaries decline by nearly 30%. Similar uplifting statistics can be found in many other police departments across America.”

Impressive to say the least, even if it remains early. There is even more discussion of how law enforcement could leverage sites such as Facebook to track and anticipate users who might have a higher probability of committing a crime.

Showing up based on your Facebook posts

Showing up based on your Facebook posts

“The police are also finding powerful allies in Silicon Valley. Companies such as Facebook have begun using algorithms and historical data to predict which of their users might commit crimes using their services. Here is how it works: Facebook’s own predictive systems can flag certain users as suspicious by studying certain behavioural cues: the user only writes messages to others under 18; most of the user’s contacts are female; the user is typing keywords like “sex” or “date.” Staffers can then examine each case and report users to the police as necessary. Facebook’s concern with its own brand here is straightforward: no one should think that the platform is harbouring criminals.”

So think twice when you drunk post on Facebook!

So what does this mean for us and our privacy? While there are some positives, what about the potential down side? Remember the movie – Minority Report? Tom Cruise and his police team would be able to anticipate crimes before they happened and arrest the future criminal…before they actually committed the crime. How would one feel to have big data “predict” that you are about to do something against the law…before you even do it. Is it worth to have a percentage of citizens be mislabeled to have a larger percentage of future crimes nipped in the bud? And what happens if big data predicts a crime and law enforcement does not act upon it…and it does happen?

It creates some very interesting issues. I think that this is an another example of Big Data and the potential it might hold, but also the dangers associated with advances in technology.

Another reason to be careful about what you post on Facebook!

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Data, Data, my kingdom for Data!!!

Big Data…it is everywhere…well what would you expect from something titled BIG! It must be massive, all over the place, surrounding us. Big Data also reminds me of the carpetbagger character in Outlaw Josey Wales when asked about his “product” –

Josey Wales: Works wonders on just about everything, eh?
Carpetbagger: It can do most anything.

We are constantly inundated with “Big Data” and the promise of it being able to do “most anything.” And there is some truth to that. But the reality is that, to quote another Western themed saying – there are gold in them hills. We must realize that the hills represent the data, the gold is the value…the nuggets of value we are all looking to gain. And similar to prospecting, those who found the gold faster than the next person tended to walk away with more value – a better ROI. Of course we know who made the most money, those providing the services for those prospectors.

As we keep speaking of data, we need to think about data differently and not just as “Big Data.” Data can do most anything, but it is the type of data can do what we need it to do:

  • Fast Data – There are some industries and needs that are more concerned with identifying patterns in data – quickly. Think of high velocity financial trading. The data that is being proceed has less value as time goes on, what counts is to be able to identify a fraudulent trade at the instant that it occurs. This type of data,while massive, is all about getting pattern recognition done at the blink of an eye. But that historical data is not incredibly valuable.
  • Predictive Data – Think of the mountains of historic data that can mined at one’s leisure – to do better planning and forecasting. Now I realize that historical data does not predict the future…but we need to start with something to create a plan and forecast. This is where this type of data comes into play. This is where the amount of historic data has become a massive mountain, with some gold in them hills. Speed is not of the essence here but the ability to gather massive qualities of data is what is key, and being able to draw correlations and relationships amongst that data.

So when a marketer says that big data will help them sell one more item X or if a fraud prevention professional talks of big data helping identify crooks, ask what type of big data they are looking for. All data is not the same.

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Lies, damned lies and statistics…the power of numbers

I have been meaning to write something about the power of numbers, as it relates to what we witnessed during the US Presidential election, of course sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. However after a great conversation today with Retail Insights, I decided why not, let me post something about numbers.

What is interesting about President Obama’s re-election, is the usage of data and numbers his campaign leaned on to get some micro targeting and laser focused for his campaign teams. They demonstrated the power of data and numbers, but more importantly the importance of the proper analytical manipulation. Of course there is also Nate Silver, who predicted every state correctly…again looking at mountains of data.  Finally much of this is also found in the famous book – Money Ball (yes there is also a movie about the topic). What does all mean? For me it is the convergence of greater and richer data…aka big data. With more powerful tools to understand the data. I have spoken about this in the past, the concept of visibility to me is not about “seeing more” but understanding what I am seeing better and faster. What we have witnessed recently is more examples of this.

Increasingly this relates to supply chains. As we look to optimize and better manage our supply chains, we are looking to access greater amounts of data, faster and extract the necessary learning better than our competitor. There is no supply chain where this is as vital as with retailers and CPG manufacturers. With the amount of data collected at store POS systems,via mobile and online, there is a constant flow of rich and at times overwhelming data. Those companies that can understand what this means, faster than their competitor, will be the one on top. But just like Nate Silver and Billy Beane, you must be smarter about the numbers – everyone has numbers. Everyone has statistics.

Of course, it is not all about the numbers and statistics. If Long Term Management Capital showed us anything, is that the best model the best data in the world cannot always predict the next blip on the radar. The same can be said of supply chains. Use your numbers, use your data, but also lean on your people for decisions.

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