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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Leveraging Data to Support Your Supply Chain: What to Watch For in 2019

Learn how blockchain, control towers, and recognizing the strategic value of your data can enhance your supply chain.

There are interesting shifts and trends in the market as organizations grapple with the abundance of data at their disposal. This year we saw the growth and maturation of various technologies designed to help businesses harvest useful information from all relevant sources. Enterprises had to make sure that data was available to other processes so it could derive business insights. As we prepare for the coming year, we anticipate this trend to continue particularly in the following areas.

For Further Reading:

How Predictive Analytics Will Change the Supply Chain of Tomorrow

A Framework for Data Monetization

Prescription for Business Success: A New Breed of Analytics

Rising Awareness of the Strategic Value of Data

There's little doubt that companies understand the strategic value of their data and are treating it accordingly. We expect this trend to intensify in the next year, with more companies making data a top priority in their corporate objectives. This drive to harness the power of a wide range of data from across the enterprise and trading partners is also leading companies to embrace multiparty networks as they realize the inadequacies of traditional enterprise systems interconnected via messages such as EDI.

In fact, Gartner's recently issued inaugural "Magic Quadrant for Multienterprise Supply Chain Business Networks" found that, "Multienterprise supply chain business networks support a community of trading partners -- of any tier and type within a network -- that need to coordinate and execute supply chain processes across multiple enterprises."

The report also stated that "Networks are not new, but with companies focusing more on having end-to-end (E2E) processes include their external trading partners, these networks are increasing in importance and value. Collecting data and sensing signals in real time, and then coordinating, executing, and resolving issues quickly, will allow companies to operate their supply chains more effectively."

These networks will continue to gain popularity, not only because of their ability to process and analyze big data that more traditional systems struggle with, but also to handle, "broad data" that originates from a wide diversity of sources and comes in a variety of structured and unstructured formats (and arrives at a variety of times). In particular, we see IoT and telemetry data providing a huge surge of data that will overwhelm traditional systems and necessitate new ways of capturing, analyzing, and responding to it.

This increasing focus on using big and broad data will accelerate the adoption of networks, which make capturing, analyzing, and sharing vast amounts of differentiated data much easier. However, before jumping in, companies should be wary of implementing new solutions that are designed for a single enterprise. Instead, and as Gartner pointed out, they should consider network solutions that are built to manage and coordinate data and workflows across companies in order to dramatically increase efficiencies and vastly improving decision making based on the new types of insights available.

Blockchain Begins to Deliver

The hype around blockchain has been deafening, but we have seen it start to subside. We expect to see some progress as innovative solutions address these earlier challenges. We will see blockchain move beyond pilots and into the real world, delivering measurable value, particularly in high-value and high-risk industries where health is a primary concern, such as pharmaceuticals and food service.

We also see that high risk strategies such as betting on a single blockchain network will become less attractive and many companies will realize that they will have to engage with different blockchain networks or those of their trading partners to meet their needs. Several current providers offer robust smart-contract capabilities, but enterprises will also want to leverage valuable functionality being offered by other providers in areas such as data storage; access to off-chain, high-performance computing services; high-transaction-volume payments; IoT; identity services; and credit check services.

We will see blockchain continue to mature, with an increasing number of platforms connecting to multiple blockchain networks to access these specialized services. Companies should be wary of locking themselves in to this rapidly changing market and look for solutions that leverage blockchain without committing the company to a potential "loser." In doing so, you and your organization will have flexibility, and scalability and reduce risk as the winners in the blockchain race change over time.

Autonomous Control Towers

The rapid evolution of machine learning and artificial intelligence is opening up incredible opportunities for businesses to make better decisions, optimize business processes, and automate trivial tasks. At the forefront of this wave are autonomous control towers.

Control towers enable businesses to gain a global view of their business, across all their customers and their trading partners and see emerging issues as they arise so that managers can intervene and fix them. That is set to change.

Nucleus Research's Control Tower Value Matrix report states: "Looking ahead, vendors are continuing to invest in technologies that will decrease the amount of mundane, day-to-day management of supply chain errors, with the goal of providing capabilities that allow the system to handle the rectification of issues."

Some controls towers already automate some basic functions, but we are talking about a leap to self-managing, autonomous control towers. This technology is not simply pattern recognition or machine learning and predictive analytics. It combines neural networks that feed their analysis into the latest advancement -- neural agent networks. In the same way that neural networks learn and can provide items such as a better sales forecast, we see a second order of neural networks focused on actionability that execute recommendations and learn which actions are optimal.

The novel insights and actions that will result will unlock huge value and accelerate this trend towards expanding the degree of autonomy that the control tower enables. As more data is collected and analyzed, control towers will get better at both identifying the root causes of problems, and the optimal solutions. This will be especially beneficial for companies working with a large number of trading partners around the globe.

When thinking about applying a control tower, be sure to look for solutions that incorporate intelligent agents, deep learning, and neural networks, which provide a combination of sophisticated learning capabilities with the ability to execute decisions. Because machine learning is achieved through analyzing large volumes of data, the control tower should leverage a large network of companies. This will provide the variety and volume of scenarios to train the machine learning algorithms.

About the Author

Ranjit Notani is the co-founder and CTO at One Network Enterprises, a provider of the blockchain- and AI-enabled network platform. To learn more, visit or follow them on Twitter.

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