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Think Supply Chain

Leading the supply chain conversation

Join the supply chain conversation with Sharon Rice, executive director of the APICS Educational and Research (E&R) Foundation. Explore topics including the role of supply chain planning in corporate success, how sustainability and corporate social responsibility enable the bottom line, global supply chain risk management, and more. Comments are welcome. 


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Joining the Big Data Revolution

by APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi CSCP, CPA, CAE | N/A 2012 | 0 | 0

APICS Operations Management NowI see the term “big data” more and more__in publications from the Harvard Business Review to USA Today and everywhere in between. Expert panelists discussed it at the 2012 APICS Conference & Expo, and bloggers, software company spokespeople, and pollsters also are weighing in. So what is it, really?

In August, APICS conducted a survey defining big data as “an innovative technology that accesses, integrates, and reports all available data.” The October 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) takes its definition further: “The big data movement, like analytics before it, seeks to glean intelligence from data and translate that into business advantage. However, there are three key differences.” Those differences, the authors explain, are volume, velocity, and variety.

“As the tools and philosophies of big data spread, they will change long-standing ideas about the value of experience, the nature of expertise, and the practice of management,” write Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in HBR. “Smart leaders across industries will see using big data for what it is: a management revolution.”

The authors worked to determine if data-driven decision making enhances business bottom lines. They discovered that companies were all over the map in terms of using data to make better decisions. However, the companies that identified themselves as data-driven had better financial and operational ratings.

The authors recommend business leaders take two steps if they want to effectively use big data. First, they need to start asking “What do the data say?” when there is an important decision to be made. That has to be followed up with questions about where the data come from, what type of analyses were conducted, and what the level of certainty is surrounding the data. Second, true leaders in this “revolution” must be willing to be overruled by what the data show. “Few things are more powerful for changing a decision-making culture than seeing a senior executive concede when data have disproved a hunch.”

APICS survey reveals big data challenges

The APICS 2012 Big Data Insights and Innovations report reveals that supply chain and operations management professionals face their own set of questions when it comes to big data. Overwhelmingly, they are overloaded with data; however, professionals lack the detailed data essential to many decisions, plans, tasks, and functions. Further, important data are not reaching practitioners in efficient time frames. About half of respondents report there is an undesirable delay in receiving information about actual sales, demand forecasts, customer changes and orders, and materials or component shipment status.

Lastly, the report shows that data are not always easily accessible. There may be support limitations or restrictive security requirements. APICS research also found physical or paper records are used in many cases, thereby limiting how data may be used. And, many times separate databases serve different departments or partners in differing global locations. Of course, that means that colleagues often are using disparate data.

APICS is committed to keeping its members and partners informed about big data and its implications. I encourage you to check out the APICS 2012 Big Data Insights and Innovations report. APICS staff also are working on a big data folio, which will be published later this year. APICS offers a variety of folios and research reports on such topics as sales and operations planning, supply chain risk, and supply chain strategy. Visit apics.org/research to get the information you need to help you advance your career and enhance your company’s bottom line.

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