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Supply Chain Takeaways from Think 2018

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Simon Ellis presented two sessions on supply chain innovation at Think 2018:

  • “IDC: What Research Tells Us about the Future of the Supply Chain”
  • “IDC Discussion: Supply Chain Networks with Johnson Controls and Rosenthal & Rosenthal”

I had both the opportunity and privilege of attending and speaking at IBM Think last week in Las Vegas. What an event …. me and 25,000 of my closest friends. If you couldn’t find a particular topic of interest, you weren’t looking hard enough. Once again, I lamented my inability to be in more than one place at one time; there were so many overlapping and fascinating sessions. Fortunately, in the digital age we live in, most sessions were recorded and some even now are available online.

Digital transformation in the supply chain

It was a terrific event for those of us who Think that the supply chain is the most important function. Blockchain certainly led the conversation, but analytics and artificial intelligence were not far behind. Indeed, the potential for these technologies to change the way that we manage and optimize the supply chain is truly mind boggling … even as many companies make rapid progress. Digital transformation in the supply chain is alive and well.

Man with machine

Change is hard though. While it ushers in all kinds of new capabilities and experiences, it is not always kind to the status quo. In her keynote address, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty talked a lot about the next wave of innovation that digital will enable, and the notion that it is not man versus machine, but rather man with machine. She talked about both blue and white-collar workers becoming ‘new-collar’ workers and that 100% of jobs will change. I Think she’s right. I’d encourage anyone who wasn’t in Las Vegas to listen to the recording of her session.

Technology solving problems

I’m also conscious of the discussions that are taking place in areas like global trade and supply chain visibility. It strikes me that so many of the ‘problems’ that the supply chain has been forced to endure over the years are poised to fall away as digital technology enables capabilities that were previously just aspirational. It is important, of course, to remember that these digital technologies are not ‘solutions’ unto themselves, and that they must ultimately serve to resolve business problems. A ‘solution’ is not a solution if it doesn’t actually solve a problem – then it’s just an application. I Think IBM gets this, and I attended many sessions where the focus was on technology solving business problems. After all, IBM runs a large supply chain of its own.

IBM and the supply chain

But this idea that persistent challenges like global trade and supply chain visibility are solvable in today’s supply chain is a powerful notion indeed. IBM is embarking on a joint venture with Maersk, the Danish guys with big boats, to bring blockchain technology to a supply chain process that lacks structure and data trust. Blockchain doesn’t magically solve data accuracy problems, but it does enable data credibility that allows the source of potential inaccuracy to be identified more easily. This was just one of many fascinating discussions at IBM Think.

Learn more about how artificial intelligence is revolutionizing today’s supply chain.


Program Vice President, Supply Chain Strategies, IDC Manufacturing Insights

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