Creating a Thinking Supply Chain for the Cognitive Era

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We are in the early days of a promising new technology era – the era of artificial intelligence (AI).

AI technologies are no longer the realm of science fiction – nor the sole domain of computer scientists and techies. According to TechRepublic (ZDNet), technology and economics are aligning in a way that puts us at “a tipping point after which the use of artificial intelligence will become commonplace.”

AI, also known as cognitive computing or cognitive technology, is increasingly being applied by forward-looking companies across almost every industry – from healthcare and finance to manufacturing and consumer products.

In a recent edition of WIRED, an analyst from Tech Evaluation Centers wrote, “It seems we are approaching another turning point in technology….Machine learning, along with many other disciplines within the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive systems, are gaining popularity, and it may in the not so distant future have a colossal impact.”

IDC estimates that, by 2020, 50% of all business analytics software will incorporate cognitive computing functionality.[1] The nonprofit Pew Research Center, which conducted in-depth research on the current state of AI, wrote: “By 2025, artificial intelligence will be built into the algorithmic architecture of countless functions of business and communication, increasing relevance, reducing noise, increasing efficiency and reducing risk across everything from finding information to making transactions.”[2]

The Future Comes Fast

The future always comes too fast. Those are the words of Alvin Toffler, the best-selling author and “futurist” known for his works examining the impact of technologies. It seems paradoxical that the technologies that help us stay competitive can also disrupt industries.

If your career spans more than a decade or two, you probably have some personal perspective on this disruption. We’ve seen the Internet, enterprise software, and mobile phones emerge and evolve – and now could never imagine doing business without them. They’ve not only transformed our businesses, but our lives and our world.

Some technologies cause ripples; some cause waves. Some businesses and industries benefit from the resulting changes, and others fall behind. Some businesses see changes on the horizon and take action. Others get swept up in the tide.

Like the technological innovations that have come before, AI and cognitive computing will disrupt and change industries, giving those who leverage its power a significant competitive advantage.

Starting Out with Cognitive Technologies

So, how to you take advantage of these technologies that are the wave of the future? Where do you start?

Cognitive technologies present tremendous opportunity for the supply chain organization, but the function needs to be ready – to start thinking how the technology will transform their role and organizations.

An ideal way to do so is to initiate a cognitive technology project in strategic areas. Think about what projects or processes in your organization could most benefit from cognitive technology. Where is there enormous data to be managed? Where could you use greater analytical skills? As you apply these technologies to certain challenges or processes, you’ll begin developing internal capability and expertise. And you’ll begin to enhance the skill set of your professionals.

Consider these specific tasks and programs:

  • Sorting through very large amounts of structured or unstructured data
  • Providing detailed supplier assessments of a single supplier, a group of suppliers, or your supply base
  • Assessing and calculating risk, including identifying hidden risks
  • Elevating supply chain professionals and extending their knowledge and experience
  • Supporting and validating decision-making
  • Innovating, finding new ways of operating, providing new insights, and uncovering new opportunities

According to the IBM Institute for Business Value research, lack of visibility and transparency is the greatest hurdle in achieving the supply chain organization’s objectives.[3] Most organizations lack transparency into critical links in supply chain processes – as well as the visibility needed to better predict and prevent disruptions and inventory imbalance. This largely stems from an inability to corral and make sense of an overwhelming amount of data, scattered across different processes, sources, and systems.

This is an ideal area to apply supply chain technology. Cognitive technology can:

  • Enhance existing systems by understanding, reasoning, and learning about suppliers, partners, and the supply chain
  • Analyze data at enormous scale and speed for deeper insights
  • Establish comprehensive visibility across the supply chain
  • Provide robust capabilities to intelligently monitor and assess threats, disruptions, and risks

Cognitive technologies make for a thinking supply chain – improving transparency, resilience, and predictability. Learn more about cognitive technologies in supply chain – and download our report on the top supply chain trends for 2017.


[1] IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Big Data and Analytics 2016 Predictions

[2] Pew Research Center: Predictions for the State of AI and Robotics in 2025

[3] Source: IBM IBV Global Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) Study

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