In Talking Logistic’s most recent video and podcast, Adrian Gonzalez interviews our very own SVP of Marketing and Business Development, Ty Bordner to discuss emerging technologies and the potential they could have to transform the way that we do business, specifically within a global supply chain. Ty and Adrian cover a wide variety of technologies and topics such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). Find out how companies could integrate these technologies into their supply chains and what the future of the global supply chain might hold by watching the video below:
Based on all the buzzwords and headlines in industry publications, there’s certainly no shortage of emerging technologies that have the potential to transform the way we do business, especially in the global supply chain management realm. Do you believe we’re on the cusp of transformative change in the industry?
I believe so. All the signs in the industry point to that happening. Of all the buzzwords, digital transformation is the king. Digital transformation, as a term, started getting popular around two years ago. It really means different things depending on someone’s industry and the aspect of business that they are in. But how does it represent itself in a supply chain solution?
Digital transformation is the creation of a digital model that can mimic or represent all functions that occur in a global supply chain. How do you take these areas and facilitate and improve the movement of goods across borders? By digitizing the supply chain, you can then help companies collaborate, automate, and analyze the data in the digital supply chain.
Digital transformation is ultimately collaboration, automation, and analyzation. For a company it translates to value, competitive advantage, and risk management. Back to the question, are we at the cusp of something big? I really believe we are. You don’t just wake up and have a digital supply chain. It does take time and investment. But we will be able to look back five years from now and see that this was the pivotal point in the industry. But it doesn’t happen overnight.
Let’s dive into some of these emerging technologies, starting with blockchain which has certainly grabbed the headlines this year. Once you get past the “What is blockchain?” question, the next question companies have is, “What are its applications in supply chain management and why is it better than existing solutions?” What’s your response?
That is a good question. I remember getting asked about blockchain for the first time two years ago at a conference. At that time, I understood blockchain in terms of crypto currency but not how to apply it to a supply chain. Since then, I’ve really educated myself and so has the industry. Once you get past, the “what is it?” question, the important questions are “why would it be useful?” and “why do I need it?”. I think those questions are still open ended.
Currently, blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. My view is that the global supply chain is a large and vast system. There are applications available that do fit the blockchain module. When dealing with trading or exchanging assets, whether it’s a visa, license, or even containers, the ability to leverage a technology that allows you to trade those assets seamlessly through parties is valuable. But there are a lot of things in which people are trying to use blockchain for but it does not quite work.
There is definitely a grayscale, especially with blockchain. There is not currently a right or wrong way to use blockchain. We feel that a lot of the apps in the global supply chain world or GTM applications can integrate with blockchain, especially the software here at Amber Road. Blockchain as a technology requires data to run its software. It is the fuel that keeps the technology running. Because we have a robust sense of data and transactional data, we have the fuel to run those apps and can integrate with them.
Another hot technology segment is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, which many VC and private equity firms are investing in. Why is there so much interest in AI and machine learning? Where are we today in terms of its use in supply chain management and what’s on the horizon?
This is a really good question and I have my own views on this question. I’ve been in the GTM software world for 22 years and came up through the technology side of global trade management. I believe the terms artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are getting conflated and confused with regular automation. People want to use the buzzwords and say that they are doing it too but in reality, only a small subset of people using the terms are using true AI or machine learning.
Machine learning is being able to take historical data and predict the future. If a software pulls in weather data and historical data to predict the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of a future shipment, then that is true machine learning. But I’m not sure that is true AI. AI and machine learning is valuable but most of what people are talking about today is automation and that’s not bad. Automation is valuable. Taking what humans have to do and letting a piece of software and computer do it is valuable, efficient, and less error-prone. The value of this, of doing things with artificial intelligence, can be amazing but I don’t quite believe that what most people are talking about is true AI.
We’ve been talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) for a few years now. Has the industry made much progress in leveraging IoT in global supply chain process?
Of course! The term Internet of Things (IoT) means a lot, from your refrigerator to your door bell or anything connected to the internet. In the supply chain world, Iot is related to the information regarding the physical status of your goods. Where are they? What condition are they in? Have they been tampered with? I think we are making progress in answering those questions.
Several companies are focused on “domestic trucking”. They are able to take advantage of a satellite device or cellphone, which can communicate information about where the truck is, and other devices, that track the temperature. Amber Road is not going out there to try to gather that information ourselves. Instead our application provides a central location for the supply chain structure to normalize this data. We’ve been gathering event information through EDI, XML for trucks, barges, flights, and much more for as long as we’ve been doing this. There are better ways to do this now. With IoT, we’ve been integrating with companies who are actively collecting this information and collecting that data centrally.
Most importantly, IoT provides value - to Amber Road, to companies collecting that data, and ultimately to the customer. They are going to get a better solution, more visibility, more real time data that software can then use to automate, collaborate, and then analyze. We work with Project 44 and Savy to help collect this data and provide it to our customers. So, if we go back to the question, the answer is yes. It is there. It is getting there and it is only going to get better.
We hear a lot these days about the importance of making smarter decisions faster, and that ties into Big Data and Analytics, which continues to attract a lot of interest and attention in the industry. What advancements are you seeing in this area? How are companies using Big Data and Analytics to deliver business value?
I think that in regard to big data and analytics, if you come from the software world or analytical world, you truly understand it and see the value. People often say we want to buy a tool, a business intelligence tool, a big data tool and think it will solve their problem but that doesn’t solve the problem. The big problem for big data is not the tool, but it is the data and the design of the schema or database.
When you want to do big data-like things, you can’t do it on a transactional database because a transactional database doesn’t scale. I can’t go out and do a time series analysis of my information across time and trends on a transactional database. I need to flatten that data out and then design a schema that works for that kind of task. Then I need a tool to sit on top of that...a tool that is flexible and allows me to ask more questions; to develop another question that I didn’t think of yesterday.
Big data is a combination of the design of that tool or application which has nothing to do with the actual tool that does the work or queries, then it’s the data itself. Again, this goes back to this digital model. If you don’t have a digital model, and you are not ingesting all the information your supply chain offers into that model, then there is no big data. The true question is, do people realize that? Do they understand that this is truly the issue and the problem? I’m not sure if we are quite there yet.
So, when you consider all of these emerging technologies, how would you characterize the future of how companies will manage global supply chains? What will be the biggest differences compared to today?
I would say this is a “good news” and “bad news” story. The good news is that there is a ton of opportunity. I think that companies today, everyone we talk to, even our customers who are beginning on this journey would agree that it is just the beginning of digitizing the supply chain.
The bad news is that it’s just the beginning of the journey. There is plenty of work in front of everyone to do this. But the good news is there are companies, like Amber Road, building out these capabilities and investing heavily into building these capabilities so that at the end of the day customers and their partners can enjoy the benefits. The benefits of having a true digital model that leads to better collaboration, automation, and analytics, which ultimately creates the efficiency that everyone is hoping to gain.
To wrap up, I know a lot of companies struggle with how to prioritize emerging technology investments and how to roll them out in a way that minimizes risks and costs. What advice do you have for companies in terms of how to prioritize and get started?
I think all the things we talked about here today with these emerging technologies, starting with blockchain, IoT, machine learning, and big data have a common element. All these technologies need a place to get digital data from. When people look at the daunting task of digitizing their global supply chain, they don’t have to do that all at once. In fact, we wouldn’t recommend doing it all at once but companies need a place to get started. They need a base, a home base, to be able to build from. A core piece of technology that they have the confidence in to do future things.
When you look at software companies, like ours, you shouldn’t just look at what they have today. You should look at what they can do tomorrow and where that is going to take your company. I think the key is to just go ahead and get started. Take a piece of your global supply chain and solve for that; automate it. There are many pieces to a supply chain, but start with one and once you’ve done that, you can leverage that home base to expand, especially if you’ve chosen the correct platform. If you digitize that one part, you gain value. If you decide to expand into your second part later, it will be easier to get started because you’ve already completed a lot of the things you will need for the second phase of the project. There are some economies of scale from a project standpoint and you just have to get started.
Listen to the full conversation on our video above or on our podcast page here.
This post was published on December 3, 2018 and updated on December 3, 2018.