10 ways big data is revolutionising supply chain management

Big data is providing supplier networks with greater data accuracy, clarity, and insights, leading to more contextual intelligence shared across supply chains.

Forward-thinking manufacturers are orchestrating 80% or more of their supplier network activity outside their four walls, using big data and cloud-based technologies to get beyond the constraints of legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) systems. For manufacturers whose business models are based on rapid product lifecycles and speed, legacy ERP systems are a bottleneck. Designed for delivering order, shipment and transactional data, these systems aren’t capable of scaling to meet the challenges supply chains face today.

Choosing to compete on accuracy, speed and quality forces supplier networks to get to a level of contextual intelligence not possible with legacy ERP and SCM systems. While many companies today haven’t yet adopted big data into their supply chain operations, these ten factors taken together will be the catalyst that get many moving on their journey.

The ten ways big data is revolutionising supply chain management include:

  1. The scale, scope and depth of data supply chains are generating today is accelerating, providing ample data sets to drive contextual intelligence.
  2. Enabling more complex supplier networks that focus on knowledge sharing and collaboration as the value-add over just completing transactions.
  3. Big data and advanced analytics are being integrated into optimisation tools, demand forecasting, integrated business planning and supplier collaboration & risk analytics at a quickening pace.
  4. Big data and advanced analytics are being integrated into optimisation tools, demand forecasting, integrated business planning and supplier collaboration & risk analytics at a quickening pace.
  5. Using geoanalytics based on big data to merge and optimise delivery networks.
  6. Big data is having an impact on organizations’ reaction time to supply chain issues (41%), increased supply chain efficiency of 10% or greater (36%), and greater integration across the supply chain (36%).
  7. Embedding big data analytics in operations leads to a 4.25x improvement in order-to-cycle delivery times, and a 2.6x improvement in supply chain efficiency of 10% or greater.
  8. Greater contextual intelligence of how supply chain tactics, strategies and operations are influencing financial objectives.
  9. Traceability and recalls are by nature data-intensive, making big data’s contribution potentially significant.
  10. Increasing supplier quality from supplier audit to inbound inspection and final assembly with big data.

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External Insights Critical to Effective Supply Chain Performance

Traditional forecasting models that leverage historical data to predict future performance are the tools used by most supply chain executives to plan critical functions, yet these predictions are frequently inaccurate. In fact, research from KPMG International, in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, shows that most quarterly forecasts are off by 13 percent—meaning that supply chain managers are basing their decisions for ordering materials and scheduling distribution on erroneous projections. The result can mean surpluses or shortages, potentially costing companies millions either way.

There is a better way to anticipate supply chain demands—one that can vastly improve projections, and decrease the discrepancies between forecasting and reality, therefore helping supply chain executives perform their jobs more effectively. Few companies take into account macroeconomic factors, global manufacturing activity, consumer behavior, online traffic, weather data, etc. when making business projections. Yet companies that do identify leading performance indicators using such external data earn more than a 5 percent higher return on equity than those that use only internal metrics. Leveraging external factors, in addition to internal performance measures, is proven to result in more accurate, effective forecasts. Not to mention that improving forecast accuracy can represent huge bottom-line benefits. For a billion dollar manufacturing company, for example, improving forecast accuracy and overall return on equity even 1 percent can equal a $3 million increase in net income.

Forecasting accuracy, improved through external factors, benefits multiple business functions—from financial operations (shareholder value) to human resources (adequate staffing) to marketing (product innovation)—but is especially impactful on the supply chain management function.

Improves Inventory Management

Improved forecast accuracy using external drivers equates to reduced inventory management costs, ultimately improving bottom-line profit. By accounting for external factors, companies can see a 10 to 15 percent improvement in forecast accuracy, significantly decreasing the cost of excess inventory. By ordering raw materials based on correct projections, supply chain managers no longer have to worry about discounts necessary to move excess inventory or the cost of warehousing excess materials because they are ordering accurately from the start.

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Why Supply Chain Visibility Tools are a Good Investment

Global supply and demand networks introduce distance, cultural and time-zone challenges, creating a need for greater visibility. Moreover, businesses are under constant pressure to cut supply chain costs and improve cycle times while meeting customer expectations. Ongoing mergers and acquisitions create even more complexity as each new division finds itself operating in silos and unable to leverage economies across the organization.

According to a recent report by Lora Cecere, founder and CEO of Supply Chain Insights LLC, two of the top global supply chain business pains for companies are increasing regulations and compliance and decreased clarity on decision-making across global and regional teams. Other major pain points included the ability to effectively use data; product quality and supplier reliability; availability of skilled people to do the job; and risk management.

To manage the opportunities and risks requires three supply chain visibility capabilities: quick access to global supply chain information; proactive supply chain alerts and the ability to manage by exception; and efficient collaboration with global trading partners. This type of visibility is more than tracking and tracing on the transportation leg. It’s following a product concept and subsequent purchase or sales order from design to final delivery, with all the compliance and finance steps along the way.

With easy access to real-time information, a company can monitor performance across the commercialization and purchase order lifecycles, including sourcing, logistics and import and export operations. With this insight, a company can improve its understanding of the impacts of decisions across its supply chain and respond quicker to potential issues. Similarly, supply chain visibility tools can help identify key metrics and create alerts to manage safety stock levels and minimum/maximum inventory levels, for example.

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