Why Big Data is such a Big Deal for Supply Chains

Supply chain players have been late to the party where Big Data is concerned. Mostly, with exception of Retail, they were happy producing ‘things’ and selling ‘things’ to other B2B enterprises and basking in the relative comfort of low volume and structured data world.

Not surprising, as the Big Data phenomenon originated from the growing ubiquity of the social media platforms and digitally savvy consumers; prime hunting grounds of the B2C players. For them, all of a sudden a new set of information channels opened up, that generated raw data on consumer preferences and opinions, as well as provide a direct route to connect with the end consumer with product/brand messaging and promotions.

Relatively more digitally native players in data intensive industries such as Banking, Insurance and Telecom have been the first movers in this space. They have been quick to realize the potential and many are well on their way to digitally transform their businesses and explore new business models that leverage the full potential of big data. The recent step advances in digital data processing technologies have also supported the entire data management, governance and analysis tasks that are inherent to harnessing this behemoth.

For the product based companies, the clarion call naturally came from the industry that is closest to the end consumers, Retail. With the connects to their end consumers first opening up through their retail partners, the downstream manufacturers and brand owners in industries such as Consumer Products, Consumer Electronics, Food Processing (all who sell through retail channels) are now starting to realize the possibilities and scampering to develop capabilities to harness and leverage the full potential.

In the new Big and (bad?) world of big data, the proverbial cheese will soon move further away for the supply chain professionals. The primary driver of new data generation have been the consumers so far. People like you and me. But in the new big world (rather not say, bad) of data, the category that will far surpass ‘people’ in creating new data will be the ‘things’. Machines and products that supply chains have traditionally handled. Sensor enabled machines and products will be able to send vast amount of information that can be hopefully analysed and the results used to take optimal decisions. The scale of such data is staggering. Gartner predicts that by 2020, our world will have about 26 billion devices connected through networks and will be able to generate data on almost all forms of human activity. From, how many times you have braked sharply while driving your car, to whether all process specs have been followed in processing, storing and distributing each packet of processed chicken wing, from the farm to your fork. And all that, in close to real time.

The holy grail of mirroring the physical world with the system world is now a distinct possibility. The question for my supply chain brethren is What Now?

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