Big data and the supply chain: hype, confusion, and transformation

big data and the supply chain

Big data is big.  It is revolutionary.  It is transformative.  But what the heck is it?

MIT’s Technology Review does a great job of outlining the hype and the confusion around big data:

“There is unanimous agreement that big data is revolutionizing commerce in the 21st century. When it comes to business, big data offers unprecedented insight, improved decision-making, and untapped sources of profit.

And yet ask a chief technology officer to define big data and he or she will stare at the floor. Chances are, you will get as many definitions as the number of people you ask. And that’s a problem for anyone attempting to buy or sell or use big data services—what exactly is on offer?”

Research conducted by Accenture highlights this dichotomy.  Eight-nine percent of survey respondents reported that they believe big data will revolutionize business operations in the same way that the Internet did.  Seventy-nine percent of respondents reported that “companies that do not embrace big data will lose their competitive position and may face extinction.”   However, the research found that companies hold “differing views of data sources and uses,” and that “valuable data sources are omitted or overlooked.”

Big data and the supply chain

Accenture’s Global Operations Megatrends research looked at big data analytics in the supply chain.  Ninety-seven percent of supply chain executive reported that big data analytics can benefit their supply chain.  Their expectations for big data analytics include: creating an organizational ability to react more quickly to changes (48 percent); helping their company gain insights about the future (45 percent); and achieving a cross-functional view of the supply chain with the objective of optimizing overall supply chain performance (43 percent).

Although the majority of executives believe big data analytics will benefit their supply chain only 17 percent of survey respondents reported that their company has already implemented analytics in one or more supply chain processes/functions.  Accenture makes this supposition:

“While there is considerable hype about, and a high level of general awareness of the value of, ‘big data,’ many companies still do not fully understand how to apply analytics to this data to drive higher supply chain (and overall enterprise) performance.”

Given Accenture’s research, as well as that conducted by Jonathan Stuart Ward and Adam Barker at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, I’d take this one step further.  In spite of the hype (or perhaps because of it) there remains confusion regarding what big data actually is.  Without a clear definition and understanding of big data, it is (and will continue to be) a challenge to implement big data analytics.  Before we realize transformation we need to get to understanding.

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