Feb 28th 2014: Imagine, you are buying a t-shirt. You find two you quite like; they are comparable on both style and price. You pull out your smartphone and swipe the barcode to easily compare the air miles it has taken each shirt to get to you, the amount of fuel used, the condition of the factories they were made in, the living standards of the workers, the chemicals used in the colouring process and the manufacture quality of the fabrics.
With all this additional information it is easy to differentiate one from the other, and chose which shirt you want to buy.
Imagine being able to do this with the food you eat, the medicenes you take, anything and everything you buy.
Now reverse that and imagine you are not the consumer but part of the supply chain involved in getting not only that product to the consumer but all of the information that they expect as well.
At the end of February 2014 Selwyn Pellett, Imarda CEO, was a keynote speaker at the Chief Logistic Officers Summit in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia. Speaking on that buzz term ‘Big Data’, Selwyn presented the audience with this future, where information was ubiquitous and we had perfectly informed consumers, and challenged them to consider how they needed to prepare their businesses for this future and take advantage of the opportunities presented.
Big Data is part of common lexicon now. We are producing and logging more information about the human race than ever before. The statistics are staggering.
But even as we generate a piece of information every mille-second many businesses are asking the question… So what?
Big businesses, like Amazon, Facebook and retailers like Walmart and Target, who have operations at scale, have been able to quickly capitalise on the benefits of Big Data in the way they do business. The results are staggering and can be some-what disconcerting when we are wearing our private individual hats. Forget basic, age and gender demographics, Target can tell with 87% accuracy if a customer is pregnant, based on their buying behaviour, and use that to deliver superior offers, communications and customer experiences.
With the proliferation of the cloud, the storage of and raw power for processing data becomes cheaper and so the trickle down effect of big data will be seen across businesses of all sizes and in all types of industry.
While it is businesses capitalising now, the way big data evolves will be driven by the consumers. What consumers want will ultimately determine the evolution of any technology. Let’s take a look at a historical example: when television first proliferated it was a broadcast medium, with a broad audience who passively received it’s messages. There was limited choice, limited channels and a limited understanding from marketers about who was receiving the messages.
But with evolution in the technology for television delivery things went HD, digital and internet television began to rise – now consumers are able to chose exactly what they want to watch and when. Businesses can also understand exactly who is interested in what, when, where. By capitalising on this ability to better deliver to customer wants and needs some companies are having wild success, while others have missed the boat, both strategically and technically and as a result are 5 steps behind their competition.
We are in similar progression with big data for supply-chain. When computers and the internet first came about there was limited access and limited understanding of the people at the other end who were digesting content. Imarda’s CEO Selwyn Pellett comes from a broadcast back-ground, having seen the change in television he recognised the pattern early and founded Endace in 2001. Which, as the pipes widened and more and more people connected to the internet, helped big organisations capture and make sense of the data they were producing. Again this was about business and government making use of the information to further their agendas. But just like with television the big data will soon evolve to benefit the consumer.
Just like our early example of the perfectly informed consumer, and the evolution of broadcast mediums, like television, eventually the consumer demand for information and choice will win out. It is the companies that are able to best innovate to meet this demand that will thrive. When we look at a supply chain in the context of big data world we see that marketers are already capitalising on big data, profiling and targeting consumers with increasing accuracy. Which leads us to look at our distribution networks as the next piece in the chain to change. People talk about Big Data being able to improve operational efficiency. Which it does. But this is table stakes. You will always need to drive costs down. And the more granular information you have about your company the more effectively and efficiently you will be able to do this. But what excites us about big data in the distribution chain is that as consumers with a hunger for choice and information rise they create an opportunity for companies to succeed through innovative differentiation, in terms of how they deliver and use the data we collected.
However, just like with television, there will be many companies that miss the boat with this opportunity. If you want to succeed and thrive in this challenging environment your technologists need to be engineering solutions now that can manage M2M communications and big data, in order for your business to remain competitive in the future. You need to build the right infrastructure to compete; capturing data granularly, storing and being able to retrieve the information about your business, as well as innovating ways this data can not just reduce costs but also provide real insight and improve what you offer consumers.