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Digital Operations: Test-And-Learn Beats Wait-And-See

Dr. Achim Krüger

Digitalization is dramatically shaping supply chain operations in the 21st century.

By embracing the latest Internet of Things (IoT) applications and other cutting-edge technology, supply chain organizations are creating new business models and more efficient ways to work.

Smart logistics processes optimize warehousing operations and delivery, creating enhancements in inventory and transportation. Through smart manufacturing, businesses can accelerate production, increase agility, and make strides toward more easily delivering product customization. Meanwhile, smart engineering enables designers to simulate manufacturing and identify challenges before products are actually built.

Digitalization and a seamlessly digital supply chain clearly have their advantages. The adoption of the latest technology, however, comes with a unique set of challenges. Primarily, leaders seeking to innovate and incite change must strike a delicate balance, walking the knife’s edge between chasing digital initiatives – a metaphorical collection of “shiny objects” – and dismissing every new digital technology as “hype.”

While you certainly don’t want to waste your time implementing initiatives that don’t benefit your enterprise, you can’t afford to hold off on adopting innovative technology too long, or you risk falling too far behind to ever catch up.

Taking a test-and-learn approach at your organization

Contrary to previous technology waves, like enterprise resource planning and mobile communications, sticking to standard business processes won’t lead to the successful application of digital technology.

How should this realization impact your plans for digitalization and your investment in people, processes, and technology moving forward?

SCM World research advises taking a test-and-learn approach rather than clinging to a wait-and-see mindset. Thinking strategically about which technologies to implement and invest in instead of waiting for early adopters to forge the path is key for success in a hypercompetitive business landscape.

To begin instituting test-and-learn at your organization, you should first consider your business holistically through three levels of analysis:

  1. How will digitalization change business processes and customer expectations?
  2. How will digital disruptions and IoT change business models within your industry?
  3. How will digitalization impact the nature of work itself?

Answer these questions to determine where digital investment makes the most sense, then take action – with the intent to constantly refine and improve for the future.

These top companies prosper with test-and-learn

A number of leading companies are already doing just that. From analyzing new data streams and leveraging advanced analytics, to making improvements in 3D printing and advanced robotics, to delivering digital products via the cloud, organizations worldwide are reaping the benefits of taking a test-and-learn approach and experimenting with digitalization.

While heavy hitters such as Amazon and Uber are often-cited digital disruptors, additional examples of companies getting ahead with test-and-learn include:

  • Schneider Electric: Tailored Supply Chain, Schneider’s comprehensive effort to divide its supply chain according to six unique customer segments, uses a series of advanced analytics tools to understand customer behavior. The initiative will help the company enhance data insights and develop a new business process focused on improving demand sensing capabilities. The program, which didn’t require a large investment in new technology, has so far already generated 340 million euros worth of incremental margin contribution.
  • DB Schenker: DB Schenker recently leveraged the concept of the sharing economy and forged a partnership with UShip that connects shippers to trucking companies online – similar to what Airbnb does for travelers looking for a place to stay. So far, this collaboration has not only impacted speed and selection for DB Schenker’s customers, it’s also improved efficiency by making use of previously underutilized assets.
  • Harley-Davidson: Harley-Davidson’s product planning approach decreased from a 21-day fixed plan to a six-hour window. In addition to positively impacting on-hand inventory, the initiative has added more agility and flexibility around scheduling and accommodating orders. All this is largely due to an increasingly digital supply chain, which offers the company greater visibility.

Get smart: Adopt a test-and-learn approach today

These organizations are just a few of the many that are prospering with a test-and-learn approach. From increasing agility and precision to reducing costs and waste, they demonstrate how smart investments in digital technology must strike a balance between inaction and overkill to revolutionize the nature of supply chain.

For more examples of how top companies are using test-and-learn to positively impact business outcomes, and to learn how you can successfully implement the concept at your own organization, download the full SCM World report: Smart Operations and the Internet of Things.

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Dr. Achim Krüger

About Dr. Achim Krüger

Dr. Achim Krüger is Vice President of Operational Excellence (EAM and EH&S) at SAP. After starting his career as an officer with the German Air Force, he held several positions in the areas of maintenance of helicopters and transport aircraft as well as systems engineering, before he worked in higher commands as a logistics general staff officer. Joining SAP in 2002, Dr. Krüger first served as a consultant before establishing the SAP for Defense & Security industry portfolio and later assumed several other duties in Solution Management and Development,

The Intelligent Supply Chain: A Use Case For Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

The term artificial intelligence (AI) invokes images of robot uprisings, space missions to galaxies far, far away, and lab-created clones that make humans immortal. For years, thought-provoking talks by professors have entertained the notion of whether AI is—or ever will be—self-aware. The more adventurous among us may be drawn toward theosophical discussions on creationism or debates about the realities and influences of the quantum world.

Current thinking about AI may border on science vision (if not science fiction or philosophy)—perhaps for a good reason. Technologies once imagined only on the movie screen now bring convenience and value to our daily lives. Some examples include gestural interfaces, machine-aided purchases, facial recognition, autonomous cars, miniature drones, ubiquitous advertising, and electronic surveillance. Machines are now making predictions on trading stocks, customer purchases, traffic flows, and crime—much as we saw in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.”

From movie screen to real-world applications

Technology leaders have placed big bets on technologies such as brain-computer interfaces, AI in medicine, and deep learning and machine learning tools. AI is expected to lead the new economy, which is becoming known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the Second Machine Age. AI is at the forefront of business innovation, along with emerging technologies such as robotics, the Internet of Things3D printingquantum computing and nanotechnology.

Companies are still deciding how AI can be designed to fit into their processes. However, burning questions persist around whether self-learning machines will replace or assist humans in white-collar and blue-collar jobs:

  • Can machines learn common sense and empathy?
  • Who owns the insights that are generated by AI technology, and who owns the responsibility for an erroneous decision made by a machine?
  • Can you teach a machine how to make a decision when dealing with an ethical dilemma?

While these concerns still require much deliberation, most industries understand that the application of AI in businesses brings immense potential. Currently, the top 10 use cases for the technology are data security, personal privacy, financial trading, healthcare, marketing personalization, fraud detection, recommendations, online search, natural language processing (NLP), and smart cars.

Considering how quickly these new technologies are adopted and adapted to new use cases, it is only a matter of time before we start seeing AI capabilities become a part of the fabric of normal business processes. While routine transactions have already been automated, many companies that are higher on the learning curve use predictive and prescriptive analytics to guide their operations.

In the supply chain management function, people talk about degrees of autonomy in the planning process. From use of historical data for planning, it goes through use of automation that can be overridden and ends at nonoptional automation, where planners cannot review the recommendations of the algorithms. The algorithmic supply chain requires organizational maturity and cultural readiness to embed and regularly rely on systems. The concept of an intelligent supply chain goes a step further by incorporating self-learning capabilities of the machine to make better supply-chain decisions.

An opportunity to “learn” and improve–without disruption

Common wisdom tells us that organisations compete on the strength of their supply chain ecosystems. Future organisations would compete on the strength of intelligence embedded in their systems. Ultimately, the winner will be the supply chain that learns most quickly with greatest precision.

At a fundamental level, machine-learning algorithms are a teaching set of data. The machine then answers a question by adding every possible correct or incorrect answer to the teaching set. The algorithm keeps getting better and smarter over time.

Organisations learn in a similar fashion: Every organisation has its own embedded intelligence, which manifests itself through the behavior of its managers and their response to the environment. Supply-chain managers use it to review and modify machine-generated forecasts, production plans, or procurement plans.

Putting a self-learning loop into the system will allow a machine to analyse, for example, why a manual override was made to its recommendation, and it can then check for it during the next cycle. This capability is helpful with managing transactions such as fixing incorrect settings, changing norms, or addressing evolving market dynamics. Over a period of time, machines would learn how managers prioritize their plans based on emerging business scenarios, not just optimization algorithms.

For more on how advanced technology is transforming traditional business models, see Are You Joining The Machine Learning Revolution?

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Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

About Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur

Dr. Ravi Prakash Mathur is Senior Director of Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Head of Logistics and Central Planning at Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. He heads the global logistics, central planning, and central sourcing for the pharmaceutical organization. Winner of the 2015 Top 25 Digitalist Thought Leaders of India award from SAP, Dr. Mathur is an author, coach, and supply chain professional with 23 years of experience and is based in Hyderabad. He is also actively involved in academic activities and is an internal trainer for DRL for negotiation skills and SCM. In 2014, he co-authored the book “Quality Assurance in Pharmaceuticals & Operations Management and Industrial Safety” for Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, Hyderabad. He is also member of The Departmental Visiting Committee (DVC) for Department of Biotechnology, Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT) Allahabad. Professional recognitions include a citation from World Bank and International Finance Corporation for his contribution to their publication “Doing Business in 2006” and the winner of the Logistics-Week Young Achiever in Supply Chain Award for 2012.

Flash Briefing: Why 3D Printed Food Just Transformed Your Supply Chain

Peter Johnson

Today, we’re talking 3D printing and how it could disrupt operations and supply chains in markets around the world.

 

Tune in Monday through Friday for more Digitalist Flash Briefings on disruptive technologies and trends on your favorite device or app.

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Find and listen to previous Flash Briefings on Digitalistmag.com.

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Peter Johnson

About Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson is a Senior Director of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership at SAP, responsible for developing easy to understand corporate level and cross solution messaging. Peter has proven experience leading innovative programs to accelerate and scale Go-To-Market activities, and drive operational efficiencies at industry leading solution providers and global manufactures respectively.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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Dan Wellers

About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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Are AI And Machine Learning Killing Analytics As We Know It?

Joerg Koesters

According to IDC, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to become pervasive across customer journeys, supply networks, merchandizing, and marketing and commerce because it provides better insights to optimize retail execution. For example, in the next two years:

  • 40% of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by cognitive computing and AI capabilities to provide critical, on-time insights for new operating and monetization models.
  • 30% of major retailers will adopt a retail omnichannel commerce platform that integrates a data analytics layer that centrally orchestrates omnichannel capabilities.

One thing is clear: new analytic technologies are expected to radically change analytics – and retail – as we know them.

AI and machine learning defined in the context of retail

AI is defined broadly as the ability of computers to mimic human thinking and logic. Machine learning is a subset of AI that focuses on how computers can learn from data without being programmed through the use of algorithms that adapt to change; in other words, they can “learn” continuously in response to new data. We’re seeing these breakthroughs now because of massive improvements in hardware (for example, GPUs and multicore processing) that can handle Big Data volumes and run deep learning algorithms needed to analyze and learn from the data.

Ivano Ortis, vice president at IDC, recently shared with me how he believes, “Artificial intelligence will take analytics to the next level and will be the foundation for retail innovation, as reported by one out of every two retailers globally. AI enables scale, automation, and unprecedented precision and will drive customer experience innovation when applied to both hyper micro customer segmentation and contextual interaction.”

Given the capabilities of AI and machine learning, it’s easy to see how they can be powerful tools for retailers. Now computers can read and listen to data, understand and learn from it, and instantly and accurately recommend the next best action without having to be explicitly programmed. This is a boon for retailers seeking to accurately predict demand, anticipate customer behavior, and optimize and personalize customer experiences.

For example, it can be used to automate:

  • Personalized product recommendations based on data about each customer’s unique interests and buying propensity
  • The selection of additional upsell and cross-sell options that drive greater customer value
  • Chat bots that can drive intelligent and meaningful engagement with customers
  • Recommendations on additional services and offerings based on past and current buying data and customer data
  • Planogram analyses, which support in-store merchandizing by telling people what’s missing, comparing sales to shelf space, and accelerating shelf replenishment by automating reorders
  • Pricing engines used to make tailored, situational pricing decisions

Particularly in the United States, retailers are already able to collect large volumes of transaction-based and behavioral data from their customers. And as data volumes grow and processing power improves, machine learning becomes increasingly applicable in a wider range of retail areas to further optimize business processes and drive more impactful personalized and contextual consumer experiences and products.

The transformation of retail has already begun

The impacts of AI and machine learning are already being felt. For example:

  • Retailers are predicting demand with machine learning in combination with IoT technologies to optimize store businesses and relieve workforces
  • Advertisements are being personalized based on in-store camera detections and taking over semi-manual clienteling tasks of store employees
  • Retailers can monitor wait times in checkout lines to understand store traffic and merchandising effectiveness at the individual store level – and then tailor assortments and store layouts to maximize basket size, satisfaction, and sell through
  • Systems can now recognize and predict customer behavior and improve employee productivity by turning scheduled tasks into on-demand activities
  • Camera systems can detect the “fresh” status of perishable products before onsite employees can
  • Brick-and-mortar stores are automating operational tasks, such as setting shelf pricing, determining product assortments and mixes, and optimizing trade promotions
  • In-store apps can tell how long a customer has been in a certain aisle and deliver targeted offers and recommendations (via his or her mobile device) based on data about data about personal consumption histories and preferences

A recent McKinsey study provided examples that quantify the potential value of these technologies in transforming how retailers operate and compete. For example:

  • U.S. retailer supply chain operations that have adopted data and analytics have seen up to a 19% increase in operating margin over the last five years. Using data and analytics to improve merchandising, including pricing, assortment, and placement optimization, is leading to an additional 16% in operating margin improvement.
  • Personalizing advertising is one of the strongest use cases for machine learning today. Additional retail use cases with high potential include optimizing pricing, routing, and scheduling based on real-time data in travel and logistics, as well as optimizing merchandising strategies.

Exploiting the full value of data

Thin margins (especially in the grocery sector) and pressure from industry-leading early adopters such as Amazon and Walmart have created strong incentives to put customer data to work to improve everything from cross-selling additional products to reducing costs throughout the entire value chain. But McKinsey has assessed that the U.S. retail sector has realized only 30-40% of the potential margin improvements and productivity growth its analysts envisioned in 2011 – and a large share of the value of this growth has gone to consumers through lower prices. So thus far, only a fraction of the potential value from AI and machine learning has been realized.

According to Forbes, U.S. retailers have the potential to see a 60%+ increase in net margin and 0.5–1.0% annual productivity growth. But there are major barriers to realizing this value, including lack of analytical talent and siloed data within companies.

This is where machine learning and analytics kick in. AI and machine learning can help scale the repetitive analytics tasks required to drive leverage of the available data. When deployed on a companywide, real-time analytics platform, they can become the single source of truth that all enterprise functions rely on to make better decisions.

How will this change analytics?

So how will AI and machine learning change retail analytics? We expect that AI and machine learning will not kill analytics as we know it, but rather give it a new and even more impactful role in driving the future of retail. For example, we anticipate that:

  • Retailers will include machine learning algorithms as an additional factor in analyzing and  monitoring business outcomes in relation to machine learning algorithms
  • They will use AI and machine learning to sharpen analytic algorithms, detect more early warning signals, anticipate trends, and have accurate answers before competitors do
  • Analytics will happen in real time and act as the glue between all areas of the business
  • Analytics will increasingly focus on analyzing manufacturing machine behavior, not just business and consumer behavior

Ivano Ortis at IDC authored a recent report, “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits,” in which he provides further insights on this topic. He notes how retail leaders will use new kinds of analytics to drive greater profitability, further differentiate the customer experience, and compete more effectively, “In conclusion, commerce and technology will converge, enabling retailers to achieve short-term ROI objectives while discovering untapped demand. But implementing analytics will require coordination across key management roles and business processes up and down each retail organization. Early adopters are realizing demonstrably significant value from their initiatives – double-digit improvements in margins, same-store and e-commerce revenue, inventory positions and sell-through, and core marketing metrics. A huge opportunity awaits.”

So how do you see your retail business adopting advanced analytics like AI and machine learning? I encourage you to read IDC’s report in detail, as it provides valuable insights to help you invest in – and apply – new kinds of analytics that will be essential to profitable growth.

For more information, download IDC’s “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits.

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Joerg Koesters

About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.