Ashes got me Thinking

by Lora Cecere on April 19, 2010 · 6 comments

I had never heard of it.  I still struggle to say it. However, on Friday, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano taught some valuable lessons. 

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-plah-yer-kuh-duhl, according to the Associated Press) began on Wednesday, and resulted in the cancellation of more than 63,000 flights by Sunday.  One of them was  mine. 

The economic ripples are quickly translating into supply chain realities. They will fill the press for weeks.  They will become the new stories for the supply chain risk management text books; but before this happens, I want to share.  In the middle of this chaos, I had several Eureka moments.  Here I tell my story, what I learned, and why I think that it is important.

-Volatility versus Surprise:  While most of the supply chain risk management plans focus on the management of the supply chain through periods of volatility, there is very little writing on navigating a supply chain through a period of surprise.  Supply chain risk  in a period of surprise is VERY different than management of the supply chain through volatility.

This was clearly a surprise. Unlike a hurricane, there was no early warning system, no pre-planned drills, or carefully crafted procedures.  The reason?  Who would ever have thought that an Iceland volcano would have such a profound affect?

When a surprise happens, the need for the immediacy of data increases.  In this case, I found that twitter was my NEW best friend. This was my Eureka moment.

-Immediacy of Information.  As I descended into the din of chaos at JFK airport in New York, I was able to get real-time pictures, updates, and recommendations.  My Tweetdeck was quickly broadcasting messages on hashtags #ashtag and #EAU.  Both tags were actively tweeting information from around the world, from people that I did not know, and with incredible accuracy.  

I knew that my flight to Milan would not fly two hours ahead of the notification from the Delta medallion service desk.  As the Milan airspace closed, I knew that the Barcelona airport might be a possibility and I had the right flights to ask for. The information was both more accurate and immediate then what I could get on the ground from customer service agents.  As the day progressed, I became a BELIEVER. 

Why it Matters

 As a supply chain risk manager, the first step that I would take in planning for a surprise is to be sure that EVERYONE understands the power of twitter.  Establish the hash tags early, and empower employees to actively tweet information. Embrace social media into your field readiness plans.

I am now rescheduled to fly to Milan on Tuesday.  I will consult twitter before I go to to the Delta website to check flight status.  I will continue to monitor #ASHTAG for information throughout the day tomorrow, and if I get stuck in Europe, you will find me tweeting to look for a hotel. Wish me luck on getting to Europe.

Next week is sure to be a mess.  I wish you luck sorting through the issues, finding out where your freight is, and how to expedite it.  You may want to try twitter.  Consult the #ashtag, it may hold some promise for you in the week of chaos as well.

What do you think?  Any good stories to share on the use of social media to navigate this situation?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jai Mrug April 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Very much appreciate the immediacy of information as a key in dealing with SC surprises. But as you plan your next steps in the itinerary one eternal fact of the Supply Chains is borne out very well. The drummer in Dr. Goldratt’s Goal, the slowest child in the entire file of children moving in the trek. Dr. Goldratt said the file (i.e. your Supply Chain) could only be as fast as the slowest one, and if one had to do anything with to enhance the throughput it is this constraint that had to be alleviated. Twitter was like alleviating the constraint of information flow partially; by being faster than most other sources, it let you plan faster or atleast mitigate the potential disruptions in your Supply Chain faster. That is the power of the drummer. In any Supply Chain if we are able to spot the drummer and just make that drummer more visible or audible we solve a lot of our problems. Therefore we see technologies that sense Demand better or make POS based Forecasts picking up better as the Demand is the drummer and they boradcast the drummer better, and these shall eventually reduce the power of DRP. Technologies and processes that enable the drummer better shall localise DRP as much as possible. SNC in many ways seeks to make the drummer more visible, but leaves the choice of the drummer to the process you choose.

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loracecere April 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I appreciate such a well-thought out response. When we think back to Goldratt’s work, what do other’s think? Can twitter be the new drummer? Let us know your thoughts!

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Nari Viswanathan April 20, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Here are my 2 cents. While it is true that in an information constrained environment, an application such as Twitter can alleviate the constraint somewhat. However there are a few areas where Twitter will need enhancement to be a business decision support tool.

a) Visibility versus responsiveness: Twitter provides good visibility to events as they happen however there needs to be mechanism to respond to these events. Of course in a typical supply chain disruption environment, humans play the biggest role in response management. However there are decision support tools that can help come with alternative solutions for execution related problems.

b) Lack of a defined syntax: There does not seem to be a machine readable way to read Twitter. Everyone has their own way of writing tweets (the point Lora raised about establishing hashtags early solves some of the problem) and the format is free unstructured text. Maybe there is a need to establish a universal business standard for tweeting that can interoperate
with existing event management and supply chain visibility tools.

c) True version of the truth: There have been instances (for eg. in the Mumbai bomb blasts last year) where falsified versions/rumors were floating around that may have caused confusion and bad decisions.

Lora – thanks for raising this issue in your blog and wish you safe travels

Nari

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loracecere April 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Great feedback. The lack of a well-defined syntax is definately an obstacle. So, what is the right answer?

Do you recommend that we bring emergency response social networking techniques behind the firewall using technologies like SocialCast, Yammer or into private communities built with Jive or Lithium?

What do others think? Do social networking technologies have a place in crafting a timely and accurate emergency response for the global supply chain?

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Jai Mrug April 25, 2010 at 5:41 am

Friends, two more cents from me again. I guess Social Networking technologies do have a place in crafting a timely and accurate emergency response for the global supply chain. However once the responses are hashtagged or a common syntax evolved for them, they would need to be calibrated and feed into a Supply Chain Event Management System. Most would have their own Exception Management Frameworks and a basic but secured integration would need to be evolved between sites like twitter and these Exception Management Frameworks. If the exception Management Frameworks have basic simulation capability they will make the response that much better. But none of these should need heavy investments. The basic aim is to be “approximately right” rather than “certainly wrong”.

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Trevor Miles April 27, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Wow, what a contrastfrom a discussion on CIO.com by Tom Wailgum titled “Real-Time Speed Is Seductive and Dangerous” warning against the use of real-time data because it may not be accurate. I am much more aligned with this group, especially Jai’s comment that it s better to be “approximately right” rather than “certainly wrong”.

Nari, I agree. Knowing that something has happened is useful, but knowing how you are impacted, or who else is impacted, and what can be done about the situation, i.e. how to respond best, is where the real value lies. However, knowing “too late” means that the impact analysis and response are worthless, so there is real value in “knowing sooner”.

I am also intrigued by the discussion about a defined syntax. I know this is as much nirvana as is “clean” data, but I think the biggest barrier to the broad adoption of multi-tier SCM solutions is that we do not have a common syntax for the exchange of structured information, and a way to combine structured information (PO’s, orders, forecasts, BOM’s, …) with unstructured information (chats, tweets, …).

Combining these 2 forms of information is the issue at the heart of Jai’s 2nd reply. To Nari’s point, leaving it completely unstructured makes it difficult to consume this information in a system that can be used to evaluate the consequences and plan a response. But to Jai’s point, if the “syntax” is geared toward structured information, a lot of the communcation value will be lost.

There is a fascinating book I read way back in the mid-80′s called “Grammatical Man” by Jeremy Campbell in which he investigates the originas of information theory. (http://www.progressiveliving.org/grammatical_man_samples.htm) Though a lot of the book, as far a I remember, is focused on machine-to-machine communication, there was quite a bit abotu how language is a combination of sparseness to reduce the efrot required to communicate and redundancy to ensure the transmission of the message.

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