Photo by Flickr user Victor1558

Supply chain’s biggest buzzwords: “Big Data” and “end-to-end visibility”

Photo by Flickr user Victor1558Every white paper, webinar, and article about supply chains these days seems to include some mention of big data, end-to-end (“e2e”) visibility, or advanced analytics. As with most  buzzwords, their definitions are vague and it is unclear how, if at all, they are related to each other.

When talking about big data, most sources emphasize the sheer scale of the data sets that now exist, with anything over 1 petabyte usually getting the big data label. A petabyte of data is 1024 terabytes, and terabyte of data is 1024 gigabytes. To provide some sense of scale (and how far we’ve come), 20 petabytes is the total amount of hard disk drive space manufactured in 1995. Today it is the amount that Google processes on a daily basis. For 15 percent of manufacturers in a recent survey, 20 petabytes also represents the current size of their ERP databases.

Finding a consensus for what supply chain visibility means is much harder, but by any definition it’s a very passive exercise.  Essentially, companies are executing transactions, storing the results in a data warehouse, pushing the data to portals and/or business intelligence tools, running analytics on what has happened, and just trying to do better next time. And while the “end-to-end” label is often used, the truth is that most technology systems still offer a simplistic form of visibility into one part of the supply chain at the expense of the other. At best (and this is rare), this means visibility across the internal departments of the organization with national sales and purchasing visibility into its immediate trading partners.

Given these limitations, it is no wonder that Gartner Research recently revealed that virtually no companies are able to or will be able to provide end-to-end supply chain visibility in the near future; in fact, by 2016, they estimate less than 20% of companies will be able to provide end-to-end supply chain visibility. The truth is that most companies are essentially flying blind.

Why is end-to-end visibility so hard to obtain? The primary reason (and one that that has been overlooked by most other outlets), is that supply chain visibility is primarily a big data problem.

Tomorrow I’ll go into a more detail about the outsourced supply chain’s big data problem…but in the meantime, read the new whitepaper, “Turning Big Data into Big Visibility” here.

Bruce Jacquemard

Executive Staff at One Network Enterprises
Bruce Jacquemard is a member of One Network Enterprises' Executive Staff and leads a variety of customer-facing and field operations related activities. Much of his career has focused on European and Asian markets.