Supply Chain Shaman

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Last week, I attended the SAS Analyst Day at Steamboat Springs and the Logistics and SCM 2013 event in Las Vegas. (This event is owned and run by WIS Publications and features insights on SAP product developments and software.) I am currently doing research in the area of analytics (reference Supply Chain Insights Report, The Art of the Possible). I strongly believe that the future of supply chain management lies in new forms of analytics and that the ERP /APS vision of the last decade is history. As a result, it was useful for me to contrast the two visions of these two contenders for this new space in back-to-back conferences.  Here I share my insights.
While many would say that this is a big data discussion, I don’t think so. Manufacturers are not dealing with petabytes of data yet, and unstructured data is largely underused. Based on our Big Data report, we find that only 27% of respondents report having an ERP database greater than one terabyte and only 36% of companies have an initiative in place to evaluate Big Data.  I find that the larger concern is advanced analytics.  As shown in the figure below, companies just cannot get to their data to make actionable decisions quickly.

I term this post” SXX?” for a reason. I believe that both of these three-letter acronym companies (SAS and SAP) have a role to play in the emerging market of supply chain management. The only thing that they have in common is the fact that their three-letter acronym name starts with an “S”.
I also think that the applications are largely complimentary and can be difficult to understand.  Many clients that I am helping to untangle the analytics mess in the market are asking “Where should I place my bets?” It is my belief that both of these vendors offer solid solutions for supply chain management leaders, but that each solution requires some deciphering.  I see this as the work of the Shaman.
SAS. Now an Eye on Serving Manufacturing Industries.
Attending an SAS event reminds me of a trip to Radio Shack. At a Radio Shack store there are a lot of parts for the technology enthusiast; but every time that I go into the store, I need help on how to put them together.  SAS sells a lot of analytics parts with confusing names.  Their primary audience has been the data scientist typically in marketing or corporate strategy.  They are currently beginning a new focus to repackage the solutions and move more aggressively against the manufacturing market.  I find this exciting.
Over the course of the last year, SAS has worked on improving analytics virtualization and advancing more mature forms of analytics (text mining, pattern detection and deep optimization).  In the session at Steamboat, the discussions also included cloud-based offerings, work with Hadoop and the design of advanced analytics for big data architectures, and advances in predictive analytics. Over the course of the last five years, the SAS team has successfully sold their Demand-driven Forecasting product to augment missing functionality in SAP APO DP (seasonality and causality), and augmented SAP’s quality and warranty systems with their text mining and pattern detection systems. They are now aggressively moving the positioning of their advanced analytics platforms for in-memory advanced analytics into manufacturing.
While the solutions lack clarity on industry marketing positioning, and the alignment with the line-of-business leader’s business pain, I am thrilled to see SAS more excited than ever about manufacturing and supply chain processes in general.  The Supply Chain Leader should invite SAS into their offices to talk about their vision for advanced analytics and visualization. The solutions are largely complimentary to their SAP investments.  Manufacturers can learn a lot about the art of the possible by hearing the case studies on unstructured text mining, fraud detection, and advanced analytics from the work that SAS has done in insurance, banking and health care.  It is time for manufacturers to get serious about analytics, and I find it refreshing that SAS is getting serious as well.  However, SAS does not know the line-of-business buyer and the nuances of the back office software market like SAP.
SAP. A Look at Logistics and SCM 2013
The Logistics and SCM 2013 event is focused on SAP applications and is run by WIS Publications.  This year, over 1300 SAP users were in attendance. In the past, it has been my favorite SAP event to attend.
I was greeted at the event by consultant after consultant asking me what I thought of the SAP message and HANA.  Each had questions. One had implemented the HANA application on S&OP and we had a good chat.  The system had few bugs and was easy to implement, but they had questions on the data models and future capabilities. They wanted to know my insights on client references and my perceptions of the value proposition. SAP is pushing the advanced analytics message hard into the market, and the halls were full of more questions than answers.
I firmly believe that there is no company in the world that builds quality into their software like SAP.  However, I feel that SAP is at a crucible in product development. The company is placing bets on the HANA platform, the capabilities in the ARIBA network and the planned SmartOps acquisition.  At the core, the brand promise of HANA for supply chain management is about “hot columns.” However, I have a fundamental question. I question if advanced supply chain analytics are a “hot-column problem?” While I think that HANA, and the in-memory columnar data store will help applications like S&OP and advanced reporting, I think that the new forms of predictive analytics will need to load the entire data set into memory (rows and columns). I also believe that the supply chain leader will be using more unstructured data over the next five years.  While the HANA demos show the integration with Netbase for social data, the opportunity is so much more than social data.
The conference had tracks, or subsessions. The supply chain positioning message focused on the automation of the Real-Time Supply Chain.  One element of the vision was the Demand-driven Supply Chain. Readers of this blog know that I have written on these concepts for the past eight years. The demonstration showed great improvement in usability and integration; but I did not see a solution that addresses the basic needs of demand-driven processes in building outside-in processes that sense, shape and translate demand. What I saw was the use of advanced analytics and mobility to automate inside-out processes. Additionally, while the company speaks on the pending acquisition of SmartOps as a path forward on demand sensing, I am not convinced. I have not been able to talk to any successful SmartOps Demand Sensing references.
My Take. 
The term supply chain means different things to different people.  It is no longer about traditional supply chain applications. Instead, it is about the mapping of processes outside-in to automate the value network to sense and orchestrate. Most companies define the term “supply chain” too narrowly as the “supply chain applications” or the “supply chain department.”
Instead, for me, the art of the possible is about value network automation. The terms CRM, SRM and APS are quickly becoming obsolete.  The question is who will lead this transformation.  What are your thoughts? I look forward to hearing from you.

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