There’s no doubt about it: big data, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics are disrupting traditional business models and driving rapid innovation across all industries.  To remain competitive, businesses must find ways to harness these technologies to implement more efficient, cost-effective processes throughout their organization.  It’s no surprise, then, given its direct impact on a business’s profitability, that particular attention has been paid recently to how such advancements can be applied to the supply chain.  And while we at John Galt agree that this is the way of the future, we also recognize that focusing on these technologies is premature if you don’t have a few key fundamentals in place first.

 1. You need accurate and complete historical data

The old adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ is especially true when talking about data analysis.  Even manual spreadsheets and traditional tools — while perhaps more forgiving — can’t help you make informed business decisions when filled with inaccurate or incomplete information.  And when applying advanced analytics tools with real-time data gathering, machine learning, time-series forecasting and predictive capabilities, any information gaps will simply compound and lead to forecasting errors that can’t be corrected easily.  To ensure your data storage software doesn’t become a dumping ground for nonsensical or erroneous information, quality control measures are critical.  Consider tools that offer automated validation checks and other features that monitor veracity and completeness throughout the data collection process.

 2. You need a solid system for data collection and storage

Having accurate and complete information is only one side of the coin.  You also have to ensure that the tools you use for collection and storage are sound and can easily communicate with each other.  Data comes in many forms from across your entire organization; the key is to compile them into one central, easily accessible repository.  As John Galt senior business consultant Paul Mackie said, “You need a single source of data — or at least a database that is structured in such a way that it enables the many bits of information collected from different sources to relate to a common data structure.  Then, and only then, can you design an end-to-end solution.”  This type of approach, combined with accurate historical data, will provide you with a strong statistical baseline forecast from which to draw conclusions about past behavior and predict future needs as well as to measure actual performance.

 3. You need processes that allow for easy collaboration

This goes far beyond the software and technology used.  The supply chain affects — and is affected by — all aspects of a company’s operations, from its marketing efforts to its inventory.  Spreadsheets, offline reports, and other bits of information passed back and forth via email are inefficient, cause confusion, and could lead to version control issues.  Instead, information must be able to flow easily, and well-defined processes that facilitate cross-departmental collaboration need to be established.  Regular meetings and group chats, in addition to the use of software specifically designed to provide real-time visibility to stakeholders and encourage collaborative planning, are just a few ways that you can lower the barriers to communication.

4. You need internal alignment and executive support

This can make or break any effort to use advanced analytics.  Given how complex your supply chain can be and how many data sources there are to pull from, it’s important that everyone involved is on the same page.  In addition, key performance indicators and milestones should be clearly defined and agreed upon.  Backing from top-level executives can help ensure priorities are aligned across departments, arrange for the proper allocation of resources, and propel swift action.  Yet sometimes this support can be the hardest to secure.  When building your case that the company as a whole (not just your department) will benefit from using these advanced tools, look for those specific solutions that give all stakeholders a transparent, real-time bird’s eye view into what is happening across their organization.

5. You need the right technology

Lastly, when considering software, look at the level of customization and whether a particular solution can be seamlessly integrated with your current systems.  But don’t forget that you need technology that allows for growth.  The machine learning algorithms that characterize advanced analytics tools feed on ever-expanding data sets.  You need a system that will help your company compile, sort, and make sense of the increasing amounts of data being amassed, as only then will you be able to make informed business decisions that drive growth.  Lastly, as your business flourishes and your processes mature, you need technology that can keep up with you and meet your ever-evolving needs.

Your business may be relying on manual, labor-intensive processes and traditional tools or may have adopted some degree of automation.  Either way, a more automated, robust software solution that incorporates the latest technology provides a solid foundation for growth. 

John Galt’s Atlas Supply Chain Planning Software Platform helps your team lay the groundwork and master the fundamentals so that you can take full advantage of all these exciting and emerging technologies.  Click here to learn more.