Bringing Cognitive to Knowledge Management in Supply Chain

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“Knowledge is power,” declared Francis Bacon, the English philosopher whose advocacy of the scientific method helped spark the scientific revolution.

The famed writer Anton Chekhov joined the historical dialog, noting that, “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” Dale Carnegie, the American writer, and perhaps the father of corporate training, agreed, “Knowledge isn’t power, until it is applied.”

That’s the rub: We know the value of knowledge. But, in business, the challenge is how do you transfer, share, and ensure the application of knowledge?

From a supply chain perspective, we’re making significant progress in managing data, but not necessarily knowledge.

Knowledge management in the cognitive era

That task will become increasingly important in the next decade:

  • First, key personnel are retiring. Baby boomers, the experienced core of supply chain teams, are retiring at a record pace.[1] Replacing their knowledge will be a hefty task.
  • Second, millennials, who make up the bulk of new hires, are tech-savvy, but often lack supply chain experience. They’re also hard to retain – averaging less than two years in their positions.[2]
  • Globalization and growth add to the challenge, along with corporate mergers and acquisitions, which put additional strains on organizations.

However, these challenges are happening at an opportune point from a technology perspective. We’re now in the era of artificial intelligence (also known as cognitive technology).

Cognitive technologies hold tremendous promise for knowledge management and supply chain applications. Cognitive technologies are solutions that go beyond information retention and process automation. They can actually think, reason, and learn in a way similar to humans – that is, very efficient and smart humans.

They process a tremendous amount of data and information – both structured and unstructured data, such as news articles and reports – and provide summaries and analyses of that information in an instant.

Using cognitive technology to share historical, current, and future information across the enterprise

Consider the possibilities if your systems retained and shared not just data, but information, knowledge, and analysis across your global organization. What if your systems recalled how you successfully handled past supply chain disruptions and informed a new employee of those practices? Imagine if your system retained endless supplier knowledge, and combined intelligence across systems and the Internet on any supplier – and instantly shared that knowledge with staff around the globe. What if your system collaborated with you and partners (e.g., logistics providers) and provided analyses and recommendations in advance of a meeting?

Imagine the impact on your global organization – how it would elevate individual team members and the business as a whole.

It’s not a dream; it’s becoming reality.

Trends with staying power

IDC estimates that, by 2020, 50% of all business software will incorporate some cognitive computing functionality.[3] Additionally, the Pew Research Center notes, “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.”[4]

Cognitive technologies can transform industries and the fortune of companies. And it’s critical for organizations to have visibility into, and an understanding of, the potential changes ahead.

That’s why we recently published a report examining key technology and business trends impacting supply chain organizations, including the knowledge management and cognitive technology trends discussed here.

I welcome you to check out Top Supply Chain Trends for 2017 or visit the Watson Supply Chain microsite, which also discusses cognitive technologies.


[1] Pew Research Center Population Projections

[2] Gallup, Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation, May 2016

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

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


Market Segment Manager (Product Marketing), IBM

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