Mining for Data in the Supply Chain

Feb. 1, 2016
From procurement to IT, information is the key to improving jobs, departments, and entire organizations.

Companies of all sizes continue to grapple with the need to manage and harness the power of the data available to them—information about their customers, suppliers, processes, prospects, and opportunities that can add up to business improvement across their organizations. Much of this data sits within their own four walls, waiting to be mined from information technology systems, social media, and elsewhere.

For supply chain professionals, accessing this data can mean the difference between a lean supply chain and an optimized one, but doing so may be one of the toughest challenges in business today. Global Purchasing recently talked to David Telford, senior director of global market development for business intelligence software company Qlik about the importance of mining data across the supply chain. Telford explained some of the challenges companies face in trying to organize and share the data they already have, along with future challenges that are likely to arise from Internet of Things opportunities—another data-driven field.

What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

Global Purchasing: Terms like “Big Data” and “Small Data” are on the radar screens of organizations large and small. How does the need to address data issues affect the supply chain?

David Telford: Typically, in the supply chain there are a huge number of data sources—more so than other business processes. ERP (enterprise resource planning) and SCM (supply chain management) systems are sources, but there are many that are outside of the organization—governments, suppliers, customers and, increasingly, consumers, from social media sources. It’s important for supply chain professionals to try and capture all of that because integrating different data gives users the ability to analyze and make business decisions.

GP: What are the most common challenges companies face in the data mining process?

Telford: The sorts of challenges that organizations typically face are really ones of just trying to get context to the huge amount of information that is available. You hear a lot of talk about Big Data, the Internet of Things, and the explosion of data available today. There’s no doubt that represents a huge opportunity, but also a huge challenge. Many organizations are struggling to use the core data that they already have in a collaborative way.

GP: How is this issue affecting supply chain professionals in particular?

Telford: With access to better analytics, supply chain executives are getting a higher seat at the leadership table—because they can show how their performance affects the overall business. When you think about it, [the supply chain] is the heart and lungs of the organization. Not only does it often drive the efficiencies of the organization, but it allows the organization to invest in growth activities.

GP: Who is most likely to be involved in these data discussions? Are procurement and supply chain professionals part of the process?

Telford: We have done a lot of research to understand the personas of people who invest in applications and platforms like Qlik (which provides a range of software and data analysis tools). They fall into three main categories:

  1. The C-Suite. They are very often involved in the early stages of discussion with us, concerned about the strategic areas of the supply chain. Procurement is included here, too—they tend to get very involved at the end of the process, ensuring that the solution is going to meet their priorities.
  2. Supply chain operations and analysts. They are responsible for the performance of the supply chain at a process level; they know the [organization’s] processes inside and out. They are not necessarily looking at the performance of their area of responsibility, but how their performance is affecting the overall supply chain process.
  3. The “I” level. These are C-level leaders responsible for the organization’s information technology. They are responsible for delivering the technological footprint.

GP: You have mentioned the Internet of Things. What is its relationship to the data issue?

Telford: Our view is straightforward: we see [the IoT] as representing more data—and data is just an input to a decision.

The key issue from my point of view is asking yourself what value you expect to extract from the data you have. Organizations could get a lot more value out of existing data if they could find better ways to share it, to collaborate. There is a fundamental need for organizations to power users to use the data that is currently available to them.

David Telford is senior director of global market development for Qlik, a business intelligence software company that provides tools and services to help businesses better access and use data and information across their organizations.  Visit Qlik’s website for more information.

About the Author

Victoria Kickham | Distribution Editor

Victoria Kickham is the distribution editor for Electronic Design magazine, SourceESB and, where she covers issues related to the electronics supply chain. Victoria started out as a general assignment reporter for several Boston-area newspapers before joining Industrial Distribution magazine, where she spent 14 years covering industrial markets. She served as ID’s managing editor from 2000 to 2010. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in English from Northeastern University.

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