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'Big Business' Advantages For Small And Midsize Business Supply Chains

Shelly Dutton

In small and midsize businesses, supply chains can sometimes be more daunting than their much-larger rivals’. The challenges may be the same; but when every customer counts, there is little room for delayed product shipments, lost material orders, and low-quality supplies. Access to high-quality resources at the right time, right place, and right quantity matters to smaller firms. But more important, they must take every opportunity to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty, generate a stable cash flow, and reduce overhead costs.

To create supply chains with “big business” advantages such as cost-efficiency, growth-enablement, and strategic outcomes, small and midsize companies require a forward-thinking mindset and the right tools. The eBook “Ecosystem in Action: SME Customer Success Stories,” recently released by SAP, offers various examples of supply chains that are running like a big business with the agility and nimbleness that only small and midsize firms can deliver. Here are three of those success stories.

CPIC Abahsain Fiberglass: Driving 50% higher operational efficiency

With a workforce of 350 employees, CPIC Abahsain Fiberglass, a joint venture uniting Bahrain-based Abahsain Fiberglass and China-based Chongqing Polycomp International Corporation (CPIC), is fulfilling the high demand for corrosion-resistant fiberglass and glass fiber across the Persian Gulf region. The company has created a business model dependent on high-quality products, proximity to its customers, reliability, and timeliness. However, maintaining this well-earned reputation required a new perspective after Abahsain opened a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility shortly after its partnership with CPIC was formed.

To operate more efficiently as it significantly increased production output and connectivity with CPIC, Abahsain implemented a foundational enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution system. In short order, CPIC Abahsain Fiberglass enhanced its ability to change and expedite product customizations – leading to 50% greater efficiency, 10% lower operational costs, and higher customer satisfaction. 

Royal Can Industries: Bringing clarity to product costs and driving 5% cost savings

For years, Royal Can Industries has demonstrated mastery in the art of maintaining the lush flavor and nutrients of fruits and vegetables as they are packed in a tin can and shipped to the rest of the world. As a leading packaging can manufacturer in Thailand, the company is the first company of its kind to penetrate the Japanese market – proving its position as the industry’s primary innovator.

When demand and revenue surged, Royal Can Industries’ siloed platform made it difficult to support informed decision making. After implementing an ERP application, all levels of the firm gained an uninterrupted flow of business-critical information and detailed visibility into costs by product and process. With greater transparency and a clear vision, Royal Can Industries decreased its costs by five percent while consistently innovating attractive and convenient packaging designs for consumers.

3F Industries: Responding to dynamic market conditions

3F Industries is playing a vital role in millions of households, bakeries, and confectionery manufacturers – providing vegetable fat products and edible oils that make food healthier, tastier, and longer lasting. To stay competitive in a highly dynamic market that varies from one location to another, 3F must customize its offerings quickly with a high level of flexibility and accuracy.

An ERP software system running on an in-memory computing platform has brought tremendous advantages to 3F’s production operations. The company can now respond quickly to changing market conditions by tailoring daily price changes and schemes to align with different products and locations. Plus, digitalization of quality management activities is ensuring consistent control over product quality across the entire value chain – from procurement to sales – to safeguard the hard-earned trust of its consumers and customers.

Bring “big business” advantage to your supply chain. Learn from the stories of 90 small and midsize firms that are embracing their own digital transformation.

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The 3D-Printed Future Needs A New Supply Chain

Denis Kefallinos

The future landed in my living room around May 12, when we bought our son a 3D printer for his birthday. I had been thinking about buying a 3D printer for some time, but hadn’t gotten around to researching brands, models, and capabilities. As a hands-on engineer, chainsaw rebuilder, home renovator, and general gearhead, the idea of concocting a design, sketching up a drawing, and building it comes to me naturally. But 3D printing is different.

While visiting a childhood friend on Vancouver Island, I noticed a peculiar device in his office. “Is that a 3D printer?” I asked. “Yes, and it’s the best one out there for the money,” he answered. Translation: my trusted friend had already done the research legwork. Excellent! The next week I ordered the same model from Amazon for $300. The printer comes as a kit, and one afternoon my son and I spent six hours putting it together on the dining room table. Sure, we could have bought a complete version, but I felt it would be good for my son to understand the device as he follows in the footsteps of his parents in studying mechanical engineering.

Once we had the printer built, we couldn’t wait to test it. After turning it on and warming it up, we connected the printer to the PC via USB. From CAD software, we exported a drawing to a slicer program. The slicer takes the design and slices it into hundreds of horizontal layers, creating the flow path for the print head. The slicer program then uploads the .gcode file to the printer, and it’s ready to start printing. Layer by layer, the melted plastic filament is laid out and the design materializes.

As our very first design began taking shape on the printer’s platform, I sat there and pondered the implications. Being an engineer-turned-enterprise software professional, I was always conscious of the intersection of the physical, human, and digital planes. No doubt about it, 3D printing will alter our working world. Not only work, but supply chains as well. It wasn’t long ago that someone said, “companies don’t compete, supply chains do.” With 3D printing, it’s time to change that mantra again.

Supply chains compete, and so do ideas

Enterprises can always come up with a great design, but that great design is compromised in the marketplace if the supply chain isn’t there to support it. Suppliers, production, transport, warehousing, distribution, and retail channels are part of the competitive arsenal, and they all need to be in sync.

With this printer sitting in my living room (and presumably millions of living rooms), the supply chain changes. In my unique case, I only need one – correction – two, supply chains. One supply chain for plastic filament, and another for ideas (or designs).

Ideas are not subject to the same constraints as physical supply chains. Ideas move instantly, and there are factors that influence the harvesting, production, refinement, distribution, and performance of ideas.

For an enterprise, an idea may take shape in a design-thinking session or in a customer focus group. It may result from a warranty claim or service ticket, from a manufacturing defect, or from a need to reduce costs. There are limitless sources for ideas.

Now more than ever, enterprises need to put significant energy into driving good, practical ideas from their “idea supply chain.” Enterprises will need to gather data from millions of people (or their IoT-enabled printers) to gauge feedback on designs and respond rapidly. Social media helps people quickly praise or criticize products to a wide audience, but currently that product is at the end of a very long supply and design chain. If the future enterprise is one that sells customers a 3D printer file with a single-use digital right, the ideas and designs will be critiqued. Competitors will launch competing ideas to try to gain market share; no need to wait for the competing product to hit the shelf.

Without the need for a manufacturing and distribution network, next-generation idea enterprises need to ramp idea-management capabilities to compete. In the 3D-printed future, the company that provides its customers with the timeliest idea will be the one that wins.

What’s different in the 3D printed realm

Earlier I said I was no stranger to designing and building, and that this 3D printing realm was different. Here’s my opinion on what’s on the horizon:

  1. The machine builds it. No getting your hands dirty! Upload the file, push the button, and go. As a hands-on builder, it’s cool to let the machine do the work.
  1. Instant gratification with value chain disruption. I dream it, or I need it, and I make it. For example, I need a new light switch cover in the hallway. I’m going to ask my son to measure it up and print a replacement. Now an OEM with a supply chain that sources plastic and has molds and injection-molding machines, employees, warehouses, trucks, and retailer relationships is going to feel that decision. I wouldn’t mind paying that OEM for a single-use digital file holding a tested and proven design.
  1. Instant digital feedback and affinity. The opportunity for designers to learn whether their design worked is amazing. For example, after I print the light switch cover, the 3D printer can send a signal back to the OEM that the print job is complete. Allowing an hour delay after the conclusion of the print, a text message from the OEM would prompt me for my feedback on the design: Am I satisfied? Enter a score – from 1 (bad) to 5 (good) – and hit reply. Feedback will be tracked in real time and displayed on the OEM website for other potential customers to see. I may allow myself to be contacted via an anonymous email alias to provide a reference to a prospective customer. For my trouble, I will get 10% off my next design purchase. As a repeat customer, I might be invited to a virtual design review or to be a beta tester.
  1. New business processes with mandatory digital transformation. In the traditional supply chain, processes such as procurement, manufacturing, quality, testing, packaging, warehousing, and distribution will be impacted by 3D printing. Other business processes will be enhanced or newly created – particularly around design acceleration, customer quality and feedback, customer design collaboration, royalty management, digital rights, and more. These will be digital-only processes.
  1. Enterprise valuations continue to evolve. More emphasis will be put on a company’s investment in R&D and enabling technology as a leading indicator of market opportunity. Traditional logistical value-add streams of buy-make-move-store will have less impact. This already happened over the last few decades with the outsourcing of manufacturing, and 3D printing is poised to bring the next evolution in the enterprise valuation model.

While I am seeing the future from my living room, I’m certain enterprises are seeing it from their boardrooms as well. Physical supply chains will continue to exist, but digital idea-based supply chains are about to rise. I am curious to see how enterprises, particularly OEMs, respond to the 3D printing phenomenon.

For more insight, download the free eBook 6 Surprising Ways 3D Printing Will Disrupt Manufacturing.

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Denis Kefallinos

About Denis Kefallinos

Denis Kefallinos is Head of Presales at SAP Canada.

How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Tomorrow’s Digital Supply Chain

Alina Gross

Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound futuristic, but it’s a real-life breakthrough that exists in the present. Anyone who interacts with an online search engine, shops on Amazon, owns a self-parking car, or talks to voice-powered personal assistants like Siri or Alexa is using AI.

AI is a field of computer science in which a machine is equipped with the ability to mimic the cognitive functions of a human. An AI machine can make decisions or predictions based on its past experiences, or it can respond to entirely new scenarios. When given a goal, not only does it attempt to achieve its objective, it continuously tries to improve upon its past performance.

Revolutionizing the digital supply chain

Within five years, 50% of manufacturing supply chains will be robotically and digitally controlled and able to provide direct-to-consumer and home shipments, according to IDC Manufacturing Insights. Additionally, 47% of supply chain leaders believe AI is disruptive and important with respect to supply chain strategies, per a 2016 SCM World survey. With that in mind, 85% of organizations have already adopted or will adopt AI technology into their supply chains within one year, according to a 2016 Accenture report.

Supply chains need AI to aggregate their mass amounts of data. In the supply chain, AI can analyze large data sets and recommend customer service and operations improvements while supporting better working capital management. As corporate systems become more interconnected, providing access to a wider breadth of supply chain data, the opportunity to leverage AI increases.

Let’s look at the potential benefits of using AI to link transportation data with order data:

A logistics enterprise ensures the delivery of a product within two days. With AI, the carrier can view past performances from shipping a similar product on a specific day, using a particular route, which reveals there’s a 25% chance the order will arrive in four days, not two. This information supplies customer service and supply chain professionals with proactive alerts of potential fulfillment challenges.

To take this a step further, AI could also compare historical shipping data to the customer’s requested delivery date to provide recommendations on whether this particular carrier’s performance meets requirements, or if you need to consider a different logistics enterprise that is 15% more expensive, but 25% more likely to deliver the product on time.

Step by step to a more efficient supply chain with AI

There are many opportunities to use AI throughout the supply chain, from buying raw materials/components and converting them into finished products to selling and delivering items to customers. Supply chains can also use AI to end repetitive manual tasks and begin automating processes. This can enable companies to reallocate time and resources to their core business, and other high-value, judgment-based jobs, by using AI for low-value, high-frequency activities.

In an AI-driven selling platform, chatbots can manage many of the sales, customer service, and operations tasks traditionally handled by humans, including interacting with buyers, taking orders, and passing those orders through the supply chain. In warehouse operations, AI-capable robotics and sensors can enable organizations to enhance stacking and retrieval, order picking, stock-level management, and re-ordering processes.

Amazon is currently combining automation with human labor to increase productivity by using robots that can glide quickly across the floor to rearrange items on shelves into neatly organized rows, or alert human workers when they need to stack the shelves with new products or retrieve goods for packaging. And Logistics company DHL is using AI and automation to create self-sufficient forklifts that understand what products need to be moved, where they need to be moved, and when they need to be moved.

Supply chain companies see a path forward with AI

Leveraging AI is an important next step for supply chain companies looking to lower costs and improve productivity. It can enable your organization to spend less time on repetitive processes, such as planning, monitoring, and coordinating, and focus more on innovation and growth.

AI still needs careful monitoring, however, as well as experienced and knowledgeable logistics and operations professionals to ensure it’s being used to its maximum potential.

For more on how AI and advanced tech can help boost your business, see Next-Gen Technology Separates Digital Leaders From The Rest.

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Alina Gross

About Alina Gross

Alina Gross is currently pursuing her BA in international business at Heilbronn University. She plans on deepening her knowledge by adding an MA in international marketing. During her six-month, full-time internship at SAP, she has focused on marketing and project management topics within the field of supply chain, especially around event management and social media.

Data Lakes: Deep Insights

Timo Elliott, John Schitka, Michael Eacrett, and Carolyn Marsan

Dan McCaffrey has an ambitious goal: solving the world’s looming food shortage.

As vice president of data and analytics at The Climate Corporation (Climate), which is a subsidiary of Monsanto, McCaffrey leads a team of data scientists and engineers who are building an information platform that collects massive amounts of agricultural data and applies machine-learning techniques to discover new patterns. These analyses are then used to help farmers optimize their planting.

“By 2050, the world is going to have too many people at the current rate of growth. And with shrinking amounts of farmland, we must find more efficient ways to feed them. So science is needed to help solve these things,” McCaffrey explains. “That’s what excites me.”

“The deeper we can go into providing recommendations on farming practices, the more value we can offer the farmer,” McCaffrey adds.

But to deliver that insight, Climate needs data—and lots of it. That means using remote sensing and other techniques to map every field in the United States and then combining that information with climate data, soil observations, and weather data. Climate’s analysts can then produce a massive data store that they can query for insights.

Meanwhile, precision tractors stream data into Climate’s digital agriculture platform, which farmers can then access from iPads through easy data flow and visualizations. They gain insights that help them optimize their seeding rates, soil health, and fertility applications. The overall goal is to increase crop yields, which in turn boosts a farmer’s margins.

Climate is at the forefront of a push toward deriving valuable business insight from Big Data that isn’t just big, but vast. Companies of all types—from agriculture through transportation and financial services to retail—are tapping into massive repositories of data known as data lakes. They hope to discover correlations that they can exploit to expand product offerings, enhance efficiency, drive profitability, and discover new business models they never knew existed.

The internet democratized access to data and information for billions of people around the world. Ironically, however, access to data within businesses has traditionally been limited to a chosen few—until now. Today’s advances in memory, storage, and data tools make it possible for companies both large and small to cost effectively gather and retain a huge amount of data, both structured (such as data in fields in a spreadsheet or database) and unstructured (such as e-mails or social media posts). They can then allow anyone in the business to access this massive data lake and rapidly gather insights.

It’s not that companies couldn’t do this before; they just couldn’t do it cost effectively and without a lengthy development effort by the IT department. With today’s massive data stores, line-of-business executives can generate queries themselves and quickly churn out results—and they are increasingly doing so in real time. Data lakes have democratized both the access to data and its role in business strategy.

Indeed, data lakes move data from being a tactical tool for implementing a business strategy to being a foundation for developing that strategy through a scientific-style model of experimental thinking, queries, and correlations. In the past, companies’ curiosity was limited by the expense of storing data for the long term. Now companies can keep data for as long as it’s needed. And that means companies can continue to ask important questions as they arise, enabling them to future-proof their strategies.

Prescriptive Farming

Climate’s McCaffrey has many questions to answer on behalf of farmers. Climate provides several types of analytics to farmers including descriptive services, which are metrics about the farm and its operations, and predictive services related to weather and soil fertility. But eventually the company hopes to provide prescriptive services, helping farmers address all the many decisions they make each year to achieve the best outcome at the end of the season. Data lakes will provide the answers that enable Climate to follow through on its strategy.

Behind the scenes at Climate is a deep-science data lake that provides insights, such as predicting the fertility of a plot of land by combining many data sets to create accurate models. These models allow Climate to give farmers customized recommendations based on how their farm is performing.

“Machine learning really starts to work when you have the breadth of data sets from tillage to soil to weather, planting, harvest, and pesticide spray,” McCaffrey says. “The more data sets we can bring in, the better machine learning works.”

The deep-science infrastructure already has terabytes of data but is poised for significant growth as it handles a flood of measurements from field-based sensors.

“That’s really scaling up now, and that’s what’s also giving us an advantage in our ability to really personalize our advice to farmers at a deeper level because of the information we’re getting from sensor data,” McCaffrey says. “As we roll that out, our scale is going to increase by several magnitudes.”

Also on the horizon is more real-time data analytics. Currently, Climate receives real-time data from its application that streams data from the tractor’s cab, but most of its analytics applications are run nightly or even seasonally.

In August 2016, Climate expanded its platform to third-party developers so other innovators can also contribute data, such as drone-captured data or imagery, to the deep-science lake.

“That helps us in a lot of ways, in that we can get more data to help the grower,” McCaffrey says. “It’s the machine learning that allows us to find the insights in all of the data. Machine learning allows us to take mathematical shortcuts as long as you’ve got enough data and enough breadth of data.”

Predictive Maintenance

Growth is essential for U.S. railroads, which reinvest a significant portion of their revenues in maintenance and improvements to their track systems, locomotives, rail cars, terminals, and technology. With an eye on growing its business while also keeping its costs down, CSX, a transportation company based in Jacksonville, Florida, is adopting a strategy to make its freight trains more reliable.

In the past, CSX maintained its fleet of locomotives through regularly scheduled maintenance activities, which prevent failures in most locomotives as they transport freight from shipper to receiver. To achieve even higher reliability, CSX is tapping into a data lake to power predictive analytics applications that will improve maintenance activities and prevent more failures from occurring.

Beyond improving customer satisfaction and raising revenue, CSX’s new strategy also has major cost implications. Trains are expensive assets, and it’s critical for railroads to drive up utilization, limit unplanned downtime, and prevent catastrophic failures to keep the costs of those assets down.

That’s why CSX is putting all the data related to the performance and maintenance of its locomotives into a massive data store.

“We are then applying predictive analytics—or, more specifically, machine-learning algorithms—on top of that information that we are collecting to look for failure signatures that can be used to predict failures and prescribe maintenance activities,” says Michael Hendrix, technical director for analytics at CSX. “We’re really looking to better manage our fleet and the maintenance activities that go into that so we can run a more efficient network and utilize our assets more effectively.”

“In the past we would have to buy a special storage device to store large quantities of data, and we’d have to determine cost benefits to see if it was worth it,” says Donna Crutchfield, assistant vice president of information architecture and strategy at CSX. “So we were either letting the data die naturally, or we were only storing the data that was determined to be the most important at the time. But today, with the new technologies like data lakes, we’re able to store and utilize more of this data.”

CSX can now combine many different data types, such as sensor data from across the rail network and other systems that measure movement of its cars, and it can look for correlations across information that wasn’t previously analyzed together.

One of the larger data sets that CSX is capturing comprises the findings of its “wheel health detectors” across the network. These devices capture different signals about the bearings in the wheels, as well as the health of the wheels in terms of impact, sound, and heat.

“That volume of data is pretty significant, and what we would typically do is just look for signals that told us whether the wheel was bad and if we needed to set the car aside for repair. We would only keep the raw data for 10 days because of the volume and then purge everything but the alerts,” Hendrix says.

With its data lake, CSX can keep the wheel data for as long as it likes. “Now we’re starting to capture that data on a daily basis so we can start applying more machine-learning algorithms and predictive models across a larger history,” Hendrix says. “By having the full data set, we can better look for trends and patterns that will tell us if something is going to fail.”

Another key ingredient in CSX’s data set is locomotive oil. By analyzing oil samples, CSX is developing better predictions of locomotive failure. “We’ve been able to determine when a locomotive would fail and predict it far enough in advance so we could send it down for maintenance and prevent it from failing while in use,” Crutchfield says.

“Between the locomotives, the tracks, and the freight cars, we will be looking at various ways to predict those failures and prevent them so we can improve our asset allocation. Then we won’t need as many assets,” she explains. “It’s like an airport. If a plane has a failure and it’s due to connect at another airport, all the passengers have to be reassigned. A failure affects the system like dominoes. It’s a similar case with a railroad. Any failure along the road affects our operations. Fewer failures mean more asset utilization. The more optimized the network is, the better we can service the customer.”

Detecting Fraud Through Correlations

Traditionally, business strategy has been a very conscious practice, presumed to emanate mainly from the minds of experienced executives, daring entrepreneurs, or high-priced consultants. But data lakes take strategy out of that rarefied realm and put it in the environment where just about everything in business seems to be going these days: math—specifically, the correlations that emerge from applying a mathematical algorithm to huge masses of data.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), a nonprofit group that regulates broker behavior in the United States, used to rely on the experience of its employees to come up with strategies for combating fraud and insider trading. It still does that, but now FINRA has added a data lake to find patterns that a human might never see.

Overall, FINRA processes over five petabytes of transaction data from multiple sources every day. By switching from traditional database and storage technology to a data lake, FINRA was able to set up a self-service process that allows analysts to query data themselves without involving the IT department; search times dropped from several hours to 90 seconds.

While traditional databases were good at defining relationships with data, such as tracking all the transactions from a particular customer, the new data lake configurations help users identify relationships that they didn’t know existed.

Leveraging its data lake, FINRA creates an environment for curiosity, empowering its data experts to search for suspicious patterns of fraud, marketing manipulation, and compliance. As a result, FINRA was able to hand out 373 fines totaling US$134.4 million in 2016, a new record for the agency, according to Law360.

Data Lakes Don’t End Complexity for IT

Though data lakes make access to data and analysis easier for the business, they don’t necessarily make the CIO’s life a bed of roses. Implementations can be complex, and companies rarely want to walk away from investments they’ve already made in data analysis technologies, such as data warehouses.

“There have been so many millions of dollars going to data warehousing over the last two decades. The idea that you’re just going to move it all into a data lake isn’t going to happen,” says Mike Ferguson, managing director of Intelligent Business Strategies, a UK analyst firm. “It’s just not compelling enough of a business case.” But Ferguson does see data lake efficiencies freeing up the capacity of data warehouses to enable more query, reporting, and analysis.

Data lakes also don’t free companies from the need to clean up and manage data as part of the process required to gain these useful insights. “The data comes in very raw, and it needs to be treated,” says James Curtis, senior analyst for data platforms and analytics at 451 Research. “It has to be prepped and cleaned and ready.”

Companies must have strong data governance processes, as well. Customers are increasingly concerned about privacy, and rules for data usage and compliance have become stricter in some areas of the globe, such as the European Union.

Companies must create data usage policies, then, that clearly define who can access, distribute, change, delete, or otherwise manipulate all that data. Companies must also make sure that the data they collect comes from a legitimate source.

Many companies are responding by hiring chief data officers (CDOs) to ensure that as more employees gain access to data, they use it effectively and responsibly. Indeed, research company Gartner predicts that 90% of large companies will have a CDO by 2019.

Data lakes can be configured in a variety of ways: centralized or distributed, with storage on premise or in the cloud or both. Some companies have more than one data lake implementation.

“A lot of my clients try their best to go centralized for obvious reasons. It’s much simpler to manage and to gather your data in one place,” says Ferguson. “But they’re often plagued somewhere down the line with much more added complexity and realize that in many cases the data lake has to be distributed to manage data across multiple data stores.”

Meanwhile, the massive capacities of data lakes mean that data that once flowed through a manageable spigot is now blasting at companies through a fire hose.

“We’re now dealing with data coming out at extreme velocity or in very large volumes,” Ferguson says. “The idea that people can manually keep pace with the number of data sources that are coming into the enterprise—it’s just not realistic any more. We have to find ways to take complexity away, and that tends to mean that we should automate. The expectation is that the information management software, like an information catalog for example, can help a company accelerate the onboarding of data and automatically classify it, profile it, organize it, and make it easy to find.”

Beyond the technical issues, IT and the business must also make important decisions about how data lakes will be managed and who will own the data, among other things (see How to Avoid Drowning in the Lake).

How to Avoid Drowning in the Lake

The benefits of data lakes can be squandered if you don’t manage the implementation and data ownership carefully.

Deploying and managing a massive data store is a big challenge. Here’s how to address some of the most common issues that companies face:

Determine the ROI. Developing a data lake is not a trivial undertaking. You need a good business case, and you need a measurable ROI. Most importantly, you need initial questions that can be answered by the data, which will prove its value.

Find data owners. As devices with sensors proliferate across the organization, the issue of data ownership becomes more important.

Have a plan for data retention. Companies used to have to cull data because it was too expensive to store. Now companies can become data hoarders. How long do you store it? Do you keep it forever?

Manage descriptive data. Software that allows you to tag all the data in one or multiple data lakes and keep it up-to-date is not mature yet. We still need tools to bring the metadata together to support self-service and to automate metadata to speed up the preparation, integration, and analysis of data.

Develop data curation skills. There is a huge skills gap for data repository development. But many people will jump at the chance to learn these new skills if companies are willing to pay for training and certification.

Be agile enough to take advantage of the findings. It used to be that you put in a request to the IT department for data and had to wait six months for an answer. Now, you get the answer immediately. Companies must be agile to take advantage of the insights.

Secure the data. Besides the perennial issues of hacking and breaches, a lot of data lakes software is open source and less secure than typical enterprise-class software.

Measure the quality of data. Different users can work with varying levels of quality in their data. For example, data scientists working with a huge number of data points might not need completely accurate data, because they can use machine learning to cluster data or discard outlying data as needed. However, a financial analyst might need the data to be completely correct.

Avoid creating new silos. Data lakes should work with existing data architectures, such as data warehouses and data marts.

From Data Queries to New Business Models

The ability of data lakes to uncover previously hidden data correlations can massively impact any part of the business. For example, in the past, a large soft drink maker used to stock its vending machines based on local bottlers’ and delivery people’s experience and gut instincts. Today, using vast amounts of data collected from sensors in the vending machines, the company can essentially treat each machine like a retail store, optimizing the drink selection by time of day, location, and other factors. Doing this kind of predictive analysis was possible before data lakes came along, but it wasn’t practical or economical at the individual machine level because the amount of data required for accurate predictions was simply too large.

The next step is for companies to use the insights gathered from their massive data stores not just to become more efficient and profitable in their existing lines of business but also to actually change their business models.

For example, product companies could shield themselves from the harsh light of comparison shopping by offering the use of their products as a service, with sensors on those products sending the company a constant stream of data about when they need to be repaired or replaced. Customers are spared the hassle of dealing with worn-out products, and companies are protected from competition as long as customers receive the features, price, and the level of service they expect. Further, companies can continuously gather and analyze data about customers’ usage patterns and equipment performance to find ways to lower costs and develop new services.

Data for All

Given the tremendous amount of hype that has surrounded Big Data for years now, it’s tempting to dismiss data lakes as a small step forward in an already familiar technology realm. But it’s not the technology that matters as much as what it enables organizations to do. By making data available to anyone who needs it, for as long as they need it, data lakes are a powerful lever for innovation and disruption across industries.

“Companies that do not actively invest in data lakes will truly be left behind,” says Anita Raj, principal growth hacker at DataRPM, which sells predictive maintenance applications to manufacturers that want to take advantage of these massive data stores. “So it’s just the option of disrupt or be disrupted.” D!

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


About the Authors:

Timo Elliott is Vice President, Global Innovation Evangelist, at SAP.

John Schitka is Senior Director, Solution Marketing, Big Data Analytics, at SAP.

Michael Eacrett is Vice President, Product Management, Big Data, Enterprise Information Management, and SAP Vora, at SAP.

Carolyn Marsan is a freelance writer who focuses on business and technology topics.

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About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in articles such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics. 

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Artificial Intelligence: The Future Of Oil And Gas

Anoop Srivastava

Oil prices have fallen dramatically over last few years, forcing some major oil companies to take drastic actions such as layoffs, cutting investments and budgets, and more. Shell, for example, shelved its plan to invest in Qatar, Aramco put on hold its deep-water exploration in the Red Sea, Schlumberger fired a few thousand employees, and the list goes on…

In view of falling oil prices and the resulting squeeze on cash flows, the oil and gas industry has been challenged to adapt and optimize its performance to remain profitable while maintaining a long-term investment and operating outlook. Currently, oil and gas companies find it difficult to maintain the same level of investment in exploration and production as when crude prices were at their peak. Operations in the oil and gas industry today means balancing a dizzying array of trade-offs in the drive for competitive advantage while maximizing return on investment.

The result is a dire need to optimize performance and optimize the cost of production per barrel. Companies have many optimization opportunities once they start using the massive data being generated by oil fields. Oil and gas companies can turn this crisis into an opportunity by leveraging technological innovations like artificial intelligence to build a foundation for long-term success. If volatility in oil prices is the new norm, the push for “value over volume” is the key to success going forward.

Using AI tools, upstream oil and gas companies can shift their approach from production at all costs to producing in context. They will need to do profit and loss management at the well level to optimize the production cost per barrel. To do this, they must integrate all aspects of production management, collect the data for analysis and forecasting, and leverage artificial intelligence to optimize operations.

When remote sensors are connected to wireless networks, data can be collected and centrally analyzed from any location. According to the consulting firm McKinsey, the oil and gas supply chain stands to gain $50 billion in savings and increased profit by adopting AI. As an example, using AI algorithms to more accurately sift through signals and noise in seismic data can decrease dry wellhead development by 10 percent.

How oil and gas can leverage artificial intelligence

1. Planning and forecasting

On a macro scale, deep machine learning can help increase awareness of macroeconomic trends to drive investment decisions in exploration and production. Economic conditions and even weather patterns can be considered to determine where investments should take place as well as intensity of production.

2. Eliminate costly risks in drilling

Drilling is an expensive and risky investment, and applying AI in the operational planning and execution stages can significantly improve well planning, real-time drilling optimization, frictional drag estimation, and well cleaning predictions. Additionally, geoscientists can better assess variables such as the rate of penetration (ROP) improvement, well integrity, operational troubleshooting, drilling equipment condition recognition, real-time drilling risk recognition, and operational decision-making.

When drilling, machine-learning software takes into consideration a plethora of factors, such as seismic vibrations, thermal gradients, and strata permeability, along with more traditional data such as pressure differentials. AI can help optimize drilling operations by driving decisions such as direction and speed in real time, and it can predict failure of equipment such as semi-submersible pumps (ESPs) to reduce unplanned downtime and equipment costs.

3. Well reservoir facility management

Wells, reservoirs, and facility management includes integration of multiple disciplines: reservoir engineering, geology, production technology, petro physics, operations, and seismic interpretation. AI can help to create tools that allow asset teams to build professional understanding and identify opportunities to improve operational performance.

AI techniques can also be applied in other activities such as reservoir characterization, modeling and     field surveillance. Fuzzy logic, artificial neural networks and expert systems are used extensively across the industry to accurately characterize reservoirs in order to attain optimum production level.

Today, AI systems form the backbone of digital oil field (DOF) concepts and implementations. However, there is still great potential for new ways to optimize field development and production costs, prolong field life, and increase the recovery factor.

4. Predictive maintenance

Today, artificial intelligence is taking the industry by storm. AI-powered software and sensor hardware enables us to use very large amounts of data to gain real-time responses on the best future course of action. With predictive analytics and cognitive security, for example, oil and gas companies can operate equipment safely and securely while receiving recommendations on how to avoid future equipment failure or mediate potential security breaches.

5. Oil and gas well surveying and inspections

Drones have been part of the oil and gas industry since 2013, when ConocoPhillips used the Boeing ScanEagle drone in trials in the Chukchi Sea.  In June 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first commercial permit for drone use over United States soil to BP, allowing the company to survey pipelines, roads, and equipment in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. In January, Sky-Futures completed the first drone inspection in the Gulf of Mexico.

While drones are primarily used in the midstream sector, they can be applied to almost every aspect of the industry, including land surveying and mapping, well and pipeline inspections, and security. Technology is being developed to enable drones to detect early methane leaks. In addition, one day, drones could be used to find oil and gas reservoirs underlying remote uninhabited regions, from the comfort of a warm office.

6. Remote logistics

As logistics to offshore locations is always a challenge, AI-enhanced drones can be used to deliver materials to remote offshore locations.

Current adoption of AI

Chevron is currently using AI to identify new well locations and simulation candidates in California. By using AI software to analyze the company’s large collection of historical well performance data, the company is drilling in better locations and has seen production rise 30% over conventional methods. Chevron is also using predictive models to analyze the performance of thousands of pieces of rotating equipment to detect failures before they occur. By addressing problems before they become critical, Chevron has avoided unplanned shutdowns and lowered repair expenses. Increased production and lower costs have translated to more profit per well.

Future journey

Today’s oil and gas industry has been transformed by two industry downturns in one decade. Although adoption of new hard technology such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has helped, the oil and gas industry needs to continue to innovate in today’s low-price market to survive. AI has the potential to differentiate companies that thrive and those that are left behind.

The promise of AI is already being realized in the oil and gas industry. Early adopters are taking advantage of their position  to get a head start on the competition and protect their assets. The industry has always leveraged technology to adapt to change, and early adopters have always benefited the most. As competition in the oil and gas industry continues to heat up, companies cannot afford to be left behind. For those that understand and seize the opportunities inherent in adopting cognitive technologies, the future looks bright.

For more insight on advanced technology in the energy sector, see How Digital Transformation Is Refueling The Energy Industry.

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Anoop Srivastava

About Anoop Srivastava

Anoop Srivastava is Senior Director of the Energy and Natural Resources Industries at SAP Value Engineering in Middle East and North Africa. He advises clients on their digital transformation strategies and helps them align their business strategy with IT strategy leveraging digital technology innovations such as the Internet of Things, Big Data, Advanced Analytics, Cloud etc. He has 21+ years of work experience spanning across Oil& Gas Industry, Business Consulting, Industry Value Advisory and Digital Transformation.