Companies not utilizing artificial intelligence today are finding the resources they need to implement advanced solutions a challenge. While it doesn’t require a Ph.D. in data science, companies that aren’t investing something in this technology today will struggle to find resources in the future as the fast movers invest heavily in the tools, people and technology to bring these systems to bear on supply chain problems.
Open the web page of any major technology solution provider and they will likely have the word “cloud” somewhere on their product’s page. While many IT professionals can understand the different meanings behind the term, for supply chain professionals with a global enterprise to keep running they need a quick primer on what running their supply chain in the cloud means in the future.
In the past, cloud-based applications utilized data centers provided by companies like Microsoft, Google or Apple to host their web-based applications. In simple terms, it was just a massive hard drive for companies to store data and web pages. Today, most companies are utilizing the cloud as virtual servers to run applications that would normally run in their company’s data farm on a cloud provider’s data farm. The effect is to reduce the need for a huge IT infrastructure staff in house.
In the third evolution of the cloud, companies are now utilizing cloud-based applications to reduce or completely eliminate the need for desktop applications. This means all the application interfaces, data, and infrastructure are hosted and presented through a web browser interface and not always through a desktop link.
Microsoft and Walmart decided to co-locate their top engineers to work on moving all of Walmart’s business applications to Azure. In addition, the Microsoft-Walmart team will work to develop a new generation of applications designed specifically for the cloud. While that is great for Walmart, what does this mean in practice for companies that don’t have the combined market capitalization of Microsoft and Walmart?
For most companies, they can start with their analytics. There are several easily implemented solutions that can have companies hosting their data in the cloud to be displayed in a number of browser-based business intelligence applications.
After analytics, companies can look to move their TMS and WMS systems to the cloud. There are many mature solutions available that can live in the cloud. These solutions have quickly moved from providing only base functionality to providing Tier 1 levels of WMS and TMS capabilities in a cloud-based platform. Companies can also move their legacy systems and data to cloud servers to reduce their IT overhead.
Beyond the supply chain application suite, what most people can’t see is that most of the major retail and technology companies have evolved into intelligence companies. Rather than just look at standard reports, they are utilizing a suite of advanced analytics and AI-based applications to pull massive data sets, analyze real-time data, and provide predictions of customer and supplier behavior to management. These tools are changing the game for how companies do business and they are utilizing massive cloud-based data sets to gain deep insights into their supply chain.
The role of technology in supply chain is rapidly changing. What was once a disparate set of green-screen applications is rapidly becoming web-based, high-speed, and powered by AI. This has the potential to allow companies to rapidly respond to consumer demand and power the next generation of supply chain solutions.
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