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The supply chain advantage

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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this saying has been overhauled for the digital era. Organisations are swimming in lakes of information and, to take the analogy even further, dripping in data. But few are able to translate this data into something of value, into something which can make a tangible difference to bottom line and business.
“There is a way that the organisation can leverage supply chain data to gain a competitive advantage,” says Tony Bell, Sales Director at Decision Inc. “Many supply chain organisations want greater visibility into what is happening in their business and there is so much value in the data they already own. It is the black gold of information, capable of improving business and giving great insight so that business can make better decisions, faster.”
What the business wants is to be able to look ahead, to connect to a number of different data sources, to visualise this data and drill down into it whenever they want, however they want, looking for trends and insights. They also want to be able to assess metrics being tracked, empower their users and modify the range of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Why? Because it will improve decision making and make it far easier for the business to react to problems and opportunities. They can even find new avenues of revenue, cut costs, reduce the risks along the supply chain and improve visibility. In short – it’s useful, but it needs the right tools. A recent implementation by Decision Inc. with a well-known brewery saw the business achieve a significant return on investment, improve information management and control, and deliver superior customer service improvements thanks to the introduction of a modern BI tool. The solution utilised the correct tools to ensure that output was accurately measured, complexity reduced and data sets efficiently combined.
“In the supply chain world, the approach to analysing supply chain data uses score carding,” says Bell. “It does provide a rear view mirror of performance, but supply chain organisations require predictive analytics to look at what lies ahead so they can make decisions about the future. The difficulty lies in how to manage the data which is available in this space. The amount of data that supply chain systems can gather at the moment is overwhelming. Everything has sensors and information can be captured from anything relating to the business, from petrol usage to vehicle speeds and more.”
The challenge lies in harnessing this data and in investing in the right tools and processes to leverage it. This then introduces a challenge of its own – the skills needed to manage these programmes and technology. People have to invest in the prerequisite skillsets as these will provide no small advantage when interpreting the flood of data. A recent solution provided to a South African food and beverage manufacturer was devised specifically to empower users and better analyse existing data. The resultant BI tool was flexible and agile enough to allow for richer user engagement along with clear insight. It was designed to be user-friendly so as to boost user uptake and skill sets which resulted in improved quality of service and a 40% increase in packaging efficiencies.
“Essentially, most organisations are looking for a level of robustness in their current reporting systems. They are battling with basic metrics and performance measurements and the fact is, they need these metrics to be a differentiator of excellence in what they are doing. They have to gain a competitive advantage in an industry which is incredibly competitive. With what is happening in the world economy right now, it is becoming more difficult to operate and margins are under threat.”
Supply chain organisations can benefit from the advantage of advanced analytical capabilities. They are able to look to the past and learn from what it can teach them, but they also need to look to the future to assess the cost-based attributes, maintenance-based attributes and sales-based attributes of tomorrow.
“Supply chain organisations are all looking at the best technology path to gain a competitive advantage,” says Bell. “It is a dynamic and exciting space at the moment and a lot of international research is being done into solutions and systems which can really take hold of its potential. Of course, South African organisations are hardly being left behind, many have realised that they need to be involved in change.”
There is a local prevalence of investment into inventive solutions which improve processes and grant access to data insights. Most organisations are looking for analytical capabilities and many are keen to do what they need to take advantage of what data has to offer. A superb example of how this can be done effectively is a recent solution developed by Decision Inc. for one of South Africa’s wine production organisations. Together they worked on an application to address challenges around weather pattern prediction, material shortage and plant efficiencies. The final product was a wine demand planning application which dramatically reduced the amount of time required for planning, allowed for full disclosure and resulted in a lower warehousing requirement.
“It’s an interesting split in South Africa, with some companies really pushing the data agenda, excited to see how it can improve strategic operations and profitability,” concludes Bell. “Others are reticent, finding the influx of data and information just too much for right now. For those supply chain organisations which are diving in, well, there is incredible potential for them to shift the business onto new tracks and grow in ways they hadn’t anticipated before.”
Many of the best implementations have been devised as the result of a supply chain organisation hitting a problem and finding a solution. They have used data to overcome issues, improve quality of service and empower internal users. Each one started out with a challenge unique to their business, and each one has created something which has made their business impressively lean, efficient and effective. The results delivered by data are demonstrable, they just need the right people, tools and solutions to make it happen.