Who doesn't need more — and better — information when it comes to sourcing? Even the big players need improvement in that area. Take Intel, for example, this year's winner of the Supply Chain Innovation Award sponsored by SupplyChainBrain and the Research Strategies Committee of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.
Innovator of the Year: Intel Corp.
The multinational manufacturer turns to cognitive computing to manage its sourcing function — and make sense of a massive amount of data relevant to supplier selection and monitoring.
Runner-Up: Kansas City Southern Railway Co.
Finalists (in no order): Pfizer Inc., BuySeasons Inc., Schneider Electric
Intel works with about 19,000 suppliers of the materials, labor and equipment required for manufacturing. That's an ocean of partners, but let's face it, with varying levels of expertise. How can you determine which ones are the best for a particular component or service?
That question is hardly academic. Relying on the wrong supplier can be catastrophic. Supplier failures or disruptions can bring a finely tooled supply chain to a crashing halt.
Having selected a supplier, Intel needs to monitor it on an ongoing basis, with the ability to detect organizational turmoil, financial instability or plans to acquire another supplier.
With the aid of cognitive computing, Intel can amass all available data, regardless of source, and assimilate it into a unified body of knowledge. The system’s natural language capabilities aid in extracting vital information from unstructured text. Using a proprietary A.I. tool known as Saffron, the company can make previously undetected connections between raw data acquired from disparate sources.
New suppliers are rated according to multiple criteria, including specific skills, job roles and geographic presence. The cognitive computing engine ranks the candidates in a series of easy-to-interpret bar graphs.
The system also creates a virtual map that reduces the need for human managers to engage in extensive research on each supplier’s capabilities. As a result, the manufacturer gains access to more relevant information, can direct requests for quotes to the most capable suppliers, acquires greater negotiating leverage when considering more than one supplier, and speeds up the entire decision-making process.
When it comes to procurement and planning, the number of variables to consider is staggering. Yet the cognitive computing platform is able to make calculations within a matter of minutes, according to the company. It can support planning across some 450 million units per year, across multiple business entities. That's innovation.
Sometimes, simple is so much better. Take the border crossing between Laredo, in the U.S., and Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico. It handles more than a third of all products moving between the two countries, including autos and parts for them, grain, steel and petroleum products. But the necessity to stop trains to handle customs inspections on both sides caused terrible delays and traffic congestion in both cities. A new bridge would have been costly, and would have taken years to construct. Then Kansas City Southern Railway, this year's runner-up, proposed and initially funded a Unified Cargo Processing Program. The facility was placed in the U.S., both nations' personnel were stationed there, and joint inspections were made when needed. Processing time has been improved by 20 minutes per train, for a median improvement of between 33 and 60 percent. Simple, but innovative.
You are anything but simple when you operate in 175-plus countries, dispense more than 24,000 products and work with more than 200 contract manufacturer partners. Indeed, your supply chain is the very definition of complex. How can you and your partners have complete visibility to in-transit product?
Without a highly orchestrated supply network, you can't. That's why Pfizer went to work on creating a system that would put the needed information at users' fingertips, quite literally. Its highly innovative End-to-End In-Transit Visibility project has developed an app called TrackiT, which users can launch on a smartphone, permitting them to view whatever data they require at any given time, wherever they are.
Taking orders is only half of the sale; you have to fill them as well, quickly and accurately. But picking is where the delays and mistakes can bedevil the best fulfillment intentions. Clearly, voice technology, barcode scanning and light-directed picking are indispensable to the task, but each has its strengths and drawbacks depending on the type of items to be chosen and the quantity. Why not incorporate all three technologies? That's exactly what BuySeasons, an online seller of costumes and party supplies, did when it implemented a multimodal order fulfillment solution from FastFetch. That innovation has tripled the speed with which orders are filled and sent on their way.
Waterfall and Agile are by far the most popular methodologies the world over for software development. Each has its proponents, each has its detractors. At Schneider Electric, innovative thinkers felt there was better way to design, build, test and monitor software. And they were right. Their solution: to introduce supply chain thinking into the complex world of software development.
Innovations come in all sizes and flavors — some simple, some complex. There's no recipe or blueprint for what works. Imagination, creativity and the willingness to try something new are what's required. And we salute this year's finalists for their initiative.
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