Thought Leadership Article

The Analyst Age

Data this, data that – data is certainly getting its due, but where do you fit in?

We’ve passed into the Analyst Age without fanfare despite its importance. Like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, big data – which at its most basic, comprises data sets so large that traditional data processing techniques are inadequate – and its analysis carries with it the same destructive payload for companies who choose to continue to operate in the same, inward-looking manner they always have.

“They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see,” to quote Cole from Sixth Sense, “They don’t know they’re dead.”

To be fair, part of this is the extreme difficulties in grappling with how to use big data when the terms of engagement can change so rapidly. It’s a nebulous term to encompass the vast swathes of information we leak without realising it in interactions with systems, particularly online. What about ‘thick data’? Or ‘data lakes’?

Relax. None of that’s important. This column isn’t to lambaste, but instead to help provide context, with the help of Gartner. Gartner conducts a regular annual survey on big data, and its latest from late 2014 reveals some interesting points. I’ve referenced Gartner before, and any supply chain company should really be reading anything the company puts out, but in particular I’d like to focus on some of the myths of big data and where you’ll likely fit in.

Firstly, if you feel like you’re being left behind, don’t. Gartner’s survey determined that only 13% of its respondents had actually managed to deploy big data implementations in 2014. Most were still in the planning and knowledge-gathering phase, with a quarter saying they had “no plans” to implement big data in some capacity (See: Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, Sixth Sense reference, first paragraph.)

Given the volume of big data, it’s also not surprising where companies are choosing to focus their efforts.

According to Gartner, some 79% of companies are looking at transactional data as their main focus, with log data serving as the secondary source. While this might not seem useful, performing analysis on transactional data can yield huge benefits, such as identifying the real costs of different shipping options across multiple service providers.

There’s also a belief that volume somehow makes up for quality, and while the power of big data does lie in both its quantity and variety, this ‘myth’ is one of my biggest bugbears. As a company that provides detailed analysis at multiple levels of the supply chain, the quality of data is of paramount importance – while the individual impact of any one flaw is smaller, the volume means there’s many more to deal with.

Combine it with exogenous data that is necessary to make big data work, and you have a potential analysis car wreck on your hands. Working on the quality of your data can help improve your own collection and documentation systems, which will be key when you need to leverage external service providers.

And you will. One of Gartner’s predictions is that, by 2017, more than 30% of enterprise access to big data will be done through data brokers and data intermediaries. To stay with the asteroid metaphor, data brokers are to logistic companies as Jupiter is to astral bodies – Jupiter’s mass serves as a sink for our solar system, sucking up most of the asteroids and comets that would pose a threat, and letting us get on with it.

It’s not feasible or possible for logistics companies to collect all that data when what’s important contextually isn’t immediately apparent. Arbitrary things like the weather and comments about a brand’s coolness factor on Twitter can mean the difference between increasing internal inventory stock or negotiating long-term distribution contracts with third-party warehousing providers.

Ultimately, big data is bigger than your company – to get the most benefit, you’ll need data brokers and analysts, with the ability to vacuum up huge amounts of data from various sources and provide insight into business-specific situations. Get comfortable with the idea. Start small, start with data you’re comfortable with, start with the questions you want big data to answer.

But, most importantly, get started. •

Written by: Rick de Klerk
Date: 25 May 2015
  • Warehousing in South Africa today – and the near future Worldwide, in the warehousing business, when future operations are discussed, the conversation is likely to be about more automation, greater variety, better systems, more integration, more efficiency and greater flexibility. The dreams, discussions and plans focus on issues such as robotics, the ‘Internet of Things’, tomorrow’s deliveries by drones, 3D printing, multi-channel fulfilment, ecommerce growth, rapid fulfilment and the need to individualise operations.
  • Warehousing 2018: from cost centre to growth centre Warehousing operations and IT professionals need to respond positively to the significant changes and challenges that will be influencing the industry over the next five years – or face disaster.
  • Raising productivity and morale in the warehouse It’s a well-known fact that happy and motivated workers produce better results. A recent study found that happier workers were 12% more productive than their counterparts. It underlines staff morale and wellbeing is not just an HR goal: it’s fundamental to business performance levels.
  • Supply chain orchestration – people are needed to play the music It’s easy to think supply chains consist of co-ordinated processes, enabled by cool IT, through which needed products flow smoothly with occasional storage to the end consumer. Great in theory but it takes the right people doing the right things at the right time to make end customers happy.
  • Africa: the giant IS awakening – seriously September saw the respective international conferences of two major supply chain management industry bodies – that of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA, in Taipei) and that of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT, in Dubai). At both gatherings there was substantial African representation and, at the CILT Convention, Africans were in a clear majority. What does this imply for African businesses?
  • The Moneyball Problem OPSI Systems recently hosted the annual Operations Research Society of South Africa’s (ORSSA) conference, and it served as an illuminating example of the intersection of experience, education and technology.
  • Warehousing in South Africa today – and the near future Worldwide, in the warehousing business, when future operations are discussed, the conversation is likely to be about more automation, greater variety, better systems, more integration, more efficiency and greater flexibility. The dreams, discussions and plans focus on issues such as robotics, the ‘Internet of Things’, tomorrow’s deliveries by drones, 3D printing, multi-channel fulfilment, ecommerce growth, rapid fulfilment and the need to individualise operations.
  • Warehousing 2018: from cost centre to growth centre Warehousing operations and IT professionals need to respond positively to the significant changes and challenges that will be influencing the industry over the next five years – or face disaster.
  • Social supply chains: trend or threat? Buzzwords like social sharing, interconnectedness, engagement, immediacy and transparency have left the confines of social media discussions dominated by marketers and have started scaring professionals across all levels and functions of organisations.
  • Raising productivity and morale in the warehouse It’s a well-known fact that happy and motivated workers produce better results. A recent study found that happier workers were 12% more productive than their counterparts. It underlines staff morale and wellbeing is not just an HR goal: it’s fundamental to business performance levels.
  • Bridging the divide between fleet managers and drivers The relationship between drivers and fleet managers can often be challenging due to high productivity pressures and a lack of understanding regarding each side’s difficulties.
  • CHEP ‘Blue Motion’: gaining instant control of the SC CHEP South Africa’s newly launched ‘Blue Motion’ mobile application will allow wholesalers and retailers greater control over their supply chains. Named for the company’s distinctive blue pallet range, the application provides its customers with a mobile asset management system utilising real-time data, which can be formatted to suit customers’ specific needs.
  • Horses for courses – hub and spoke in rural Africa Moving goods from source to destination through Africa is a multidimensional challenge and one where first-world thinking still trumps appropriate. A change in game needs to happen.
  • Supply chain orchestration – people are needed to play the music It’s easy to think supply chains consist of co-ordinated processes, enabled by cool IT, through which needed products flow smoothly with occasional storage to the end consumer. Great in theory but it takes the right people doing the right things at the right time to make end customers happy.
  • Human error and accidents and the role of self-regulation Companies using third party contractors to move their goods are confronted with the challenges of poor economic growth, ever increasing transport costs and high rate of accidents. In an environment with one of the worst accident rates in the world, where accidents cost the economy an estimated R300-billion annually, something different needs to be done, but what?
  • The Analyst Age Data this, data that – data is certainly getting its due, but where do you fit in?
  • Truck drivers: obsolescence or opportunity? As new technologies shift the dynamics of employment in the supply chain, transport managers will have to gauge where the real benefits lie, and nowhere is this more apparent than future self-driving vehicles.
  • Africa: the giant IS awakening – seriously September saw the respective international conferences of two major supply chain management industry bodies – that of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA, in Taipei) and that of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT, in Dubai). At both gatherings there was substantial African representation and, at the CILT Convention, Africans were in a clear majority. What does this imply for African businesses?
  • An Imperial solution in Malawi An effective supply chain model established by Imperial Health Sciences to deliver essential medicines to the people of Malawi has successfully achieved this goal, and, in addition, has resulted in the growth and development of a local logistics service provider.
  • Powering up your distribution As South Africans struggle with load shedding and Eskom angles for a hefty rate increase, we’ve been learning – with something bordering gleeful resentment – about the intricate details of national power supply.
  • Out … but not forgotten Outsourcing logistics and supply chain functions is commonplace today by manufacturers and shippers – but do customers get the deal they expect or deserve? It depends.
  • Managing change for long-term success The second episode of a three-part serialisation of the supplychainforesight 2015 research report highlights that with new technologies being introduced, and companies competing in an increasingly cutthroat and competitive ecosystem, the ability to make key shifts and transform from within is becoming essential for survival – and for long-term business success.
  • Exciting times – harvesting our youth dividend Legislation and other Government interventions may assist in transforming our society into one in which the limitations on each individual’s success are only self-imposed. A more important element to a nation’s success, however, is that those who have gained experience and expertise take proactive steps in using those assets to invest in society’s future – our young people. We examine the opportunities this represents.
  • The Moneyball Problem OPSI Systems recently hosted the annual Operations Research Society of South Africa’s (ORSSA) conference, and it served as an illuminating example of the intersection of experience, education and technology.