This dialogue occurred on Thursday, February 20, at 4:30 p.m. EST.
The reality of the global supply chain demands always-on data access. Increasingly, leading-edge organizations are working to add mobile apps to manage the supply chain. We've invited Tyler Ziemann, head of growth at mobile supply chain software vendor Elementum, and Tom Linton, chief procurement officer at contract manufacturer Flextronics, to talk about the benefits and realities of building a real-time mobile supply chain.
Sorry I missed the live conversation but some really good thoughts. Having been around awhile just in the last 20 years the ability to be truly mobile just based on connectivity and devices has been huge. For instance 20 years ago a Buyer from the states visiting a supplier in Shenzhen meant they basically lost all productivity realted to anything else for a week. Therefore you would only go once a year. Now you can go and basically keep everythnig going. However, being able to go to a Starbuks anywhere in the world to connect to seperate systems and information silos still is not optimum or really time. It is great that the speed of development for a single platform, information source agnostic mobile optimized platforms is moving faster.
I think the key questions supply chain mangers need to ask themselves are 1) How safe is your supply chain? 2) how fast is your supply chain? 3) how cost effective is your supply chain. All of these point to tools that are less costly, faster and de risk their business.
I guess it's time to draw the conversatoin to a close, but thank you Tom and Tyler, for your thoughts. This will remain for others to read so feel free to share the links with friends and colleagues.I know some of our folks on other continents will stop by later. And thanks to the community for some great questions!
I'd like to point folks to our recent Velocity e-mag on the topic of supply chain security, It's only going to get more critical, whether the platform is traditional or mobile: http://dc.ubm-us.com/i/207639
@Tom, i see a lot of new supply chain programs opening at universities. It will be interesting to see what the next crop of supply chain pros bring to the table. That's a whole other coversation though!
@tech4people regarding earlier security questions. Today supply chain data isn't secure. Most supply chains are managed in spreadsheets and sent via email attachment. This can go to anyone / anywhere.
We have built our service using standards in cloud security and reliability so that all requests to the server/database go through a single point of entry that provides only data to authenticated users and looks at your role, org, enterprise, etc. for what you are entitled to see.
@tziemann, that seems like a great approach that would net applications that focus on granular problems that apply to specific businesses. Do you think that the market will regulate quality and capabilty on these apps? Or will you be working on vetting these apps in some way?
Hailey, honestly a mobile app solution is MUCH cheaper than any other route to get the same results. Its a no brainer for me since I am using the existing data layer that exists in the supply chain and extracting what I need to know to make better decisions. Its a decision as a service vs. just a software as a service.
@Hailey. Each of our apps is "bite-sized" and focused on a specific business user and problem statement (or workflow). There are probably going to be apps for every person/role in supply chain. Our aim is not to build all of them. Very soon, we will be opening up our platform and APIs to 3rd party developers and ISVs to build their own supply chain apps a la Force.com.
Lastly, the world is moving to real-time. As I said before, the heads of supply chain are looking over their shoulders at the heads of sales, hr, and marketing, and wondering why they don't have the same access to information.
Everyone has a supply chain. When I was in Semiconductor companies and OEM companies they all have a data rich supply chain. Everyone has multiple tiers and everyone benefits from better visibility. Not just an EMS concern.
@Hailey hi-tech is acutely aware of trends in technology and increasing velocity of supply chain; otherwise, it really depends where the pain has been recently felt. For many, it is the new emergence of global warming, global disasters, etc. that are causing more pain to supply chain companies because they are so distributed now.
Are there particular sectors of the electronics market that are ripe for this type of app? Is it centered in a particular vertical among those you mentioned or is this a trend that is coming across the board?
RFID is helpful to capture the physical location of goods. This feeds into the data layer of a company via an ERP. Mobile reaches down and taps this data and pushes it up to a user. In this case RFID is one node of information in a stream of data.
More splintered in general and wearable devices less splintered in consumer devices as key ecosytems form around Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Lenovo. There is a rapid emergence of electronics in Medical, Automotive, Energy and Industrial industries which is expanding the pervasiveness of internet connected devices. This begs for a simple mobile solution to integrate all this data into more simple, fast and reliable user interfaces.
Let's talk a little bit about the mobile supply chain landscape in general. Currently it's pretty splintered. Do you have any predictions about where this market will be in a year or five years? Do you see potential roadblocks?
In addition, their product cycles are measured in months, not years. They can't spend millions and take years to install an Oracle, SAP, or RedPrairie for instance and then do all the integrations. They are on to the next product already and probably have a completely different supply base.
Haily, no in our case. We run every possible supply chain software configuration possible (1000 customers in supply chain). The value in mobile is it attaches to existing data bases without creating a new one. It is simple in that an implementation takes only days or weeks and its value is in its user interface just like was mentioned by Tyler in a "whats app" or other app interface.
@Rodney Yes. We have a simple user interface that rolls up the data into a KPI for our Perspective app. For Exposure and Transport, we have a Twitter like interface that gives you information in a feed. We are leveraging and emulating the best of the consumer web and have a user experience team of more than 10 folks focused on making each of these apps easy-to-use and "lickable" for the end-user ;-)
So what's invovled with an organization with an existing supply chain infrastructure in place? Most organizations have some supply chain software in place, even if it's not mobile. What's the path forward for them? Do they have to do a forklift upgrade?
In general, do you see pushing for that real-time mobile experience to be most useful for larger supply chains or is there benefit for smaller organizations as well? Is it affordable enough for these smaller folks?
@Hailey @Rodney EX: being able to see units produced real-time by station or line in your factory on a mobile device. EX: being able to see real-time shipments and bottlenecks in your carrier network. EX: being able to see real-time events and how they impact your supply base. We have an app for each of these use cases.
We have a simple API/integration layer that allows us to connect to any external endpoint using any format. Today, we receive EDI, json, rosettaNet, and other file types, including even flat file or excel.
Kim, I like the flexibility of having the most important data pushed to me in an app so yes it does make me more productive and strategic. It also makes me more predictive than reactive. Real time information is power - I think its time supply chains harnesses that power to drive a new level of performance.
Bringing JimC's question to the top so it doesnt' get lost: How does the data about your supply chain, particularly the many tiers of suppliers, get into these mobile apps, and how do they stay up-to-date?
@Kim. Great question. One of our strategic partners is Flextronics. Our apps our pre-integrated with Flex systems so OEMs can get up-and-running in a matter of weeks. We also have pre-built integrations with other supply chain data sources like carriers, risk information, and other contract manufacturers.
@Hailey. We have an app based approach: Transport = shipments visibility; Perspective = health and monitoring; Exposure = risk management. All of these apps sit on the same cloud platform and access the same supply chain models and data. This allows each of them to "talk to each other" and get cross organizational visibility. Today's SCM "systems" go deep in one area like warehouse management, but don't then tell you how supply chain events and risk can effect your inventory because they don't connect (or do at great expense)
Well, I have it on my phone and it alerts me to changes in my supply chain. I am immediate and real time and often head of the news. Its an app that monitors supply chain security just like a security system in our home or office monitors when we are away. I track my suppliers against risks. Risks in this case can come as supply disruptions, quailty or simple impacts from geographic, weather, social, environmental or even political areas.
@JimC. Yes. I think the fact supply chain is messy (especially the data) and that every business does things differently, has been problematic. Now with new database technologies like flexible schema databases (NoSQL) and Big Data technologies like Hadoop, we're able to ingest both unstructured and structured data in a much more cost effective way.
@tziemann, it's true that the supply chain has historically been very used to siloed and dedicated systems. Cloud technologies, the need to share information and more are breaking down those walls. Do you find that security concerns come along with that?
Tyler, great point about the difference between sales, HR and supply chain. Isn't part of the problem for supply chain simply in the way it is organized and the way it may vary from company to company (including the amount of activity that takes place outside the corporate walls)?
The largest issue we face daily is managing the risks in our supply chains. In this case its more the invisible than the visible. Mobile collects supply chain data from the nodes in a supply chain exports it into the cloud and makes it immediately available to me as a supply chain manager.
@Tziemann, that's very true. It seems like there are a variety of players, but certainly no one app or offering has emerged to take center stage. What do you think the key capabilities of such an offering would be? And what's kept supply chain folks behind the times?
If you ask the head of sales in your company how they manage their sales force, they will say Salesforce.com. If you ask the HR, they will say Workday. Both are mobile optimized products that allow Sales and HR to manage on-the-go.
We live in a world of Real-time And Continous Information-flow.Its very-very difficult in this situation for most(if not all companies) to keep up with Various changes,events that happen everyday.Does it make sense for most(except the largest companies) to outsource this Critical Supply Chain function today to experts?
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