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Big Data Analytics: The Supply Chain Potential

Data from sources like social media, along with powerful analytic software, are giving companies insights into customer buying habits that never before were possible, says Raj Devarajan of Symphony Analytics. He discusses this and other implications that big data holds for supply chain management.

The revolution in big data presents a huge opportunity for supply chain managers to start thinking through what data they are going to collect and how they will use it, says Devarajan, vice president and global practice leader at Symphony Analytics. "One of the advantages of big data technology is that you can use unstructured data to start looking at things like quotes that never became orders, all the searches that never actually went through to a quote and different buying patterns," he says.

"Once you understand customer behavior and intent, you can follow the example of companies like Amazon - group customers together, look at how they buy products, their pricing sensitivity, how they shop around, and so on. Then you can use that not only in your sales and marketing but to build loyalty and quality of service. I really see supply chain managers being in the forefront of this trend," Devarajan says.

Big data and advanced analytics will change supply chain processes on the supply as well as the demand side, he says. "Think of a company with outsourced manufacturing that may not know all of the suppliers feeding the manufacturing process, and suppose a natural disaster occurs. That's the kind of situation where unstructured data, from the Web or social media or Twitter, can really make a difference."

Companies need to be thinking about three steps, Devarajan says. First is the collection of data, including sources of unstructured data outside the company. "Enterprises need to decide how much data they want to collect and how they will analyze it," he says.

The second step is using technology to separate insights from garbage and present the insights in a way that is instantly understandable. The third step is the most difficult - to incorporate these insights into the decision making process. "Getting the information into the board room - that is always going to be the biggest challenge," he says.

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