"Big data" seems to be a big buzzword these days, but there is limited agreement on what it is, what purpose it serves, and what it means for the future of supply chain management. Many experts believe that big data analysis—sifting through huge amounts of data, both structured (information residing in conventional databases) and unstructured (data lying in other types of information repositories), to find cause-and-effect relationships—will revolutionize industry by enabling supply chain managers to make more informed, data-driven decisions. However, more conservative observers suggest that big data's supply chain value is overblown and that it is little more than an extension of "analytics."
The current issue of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' Hot Topics explores the big data phenomenon and how supply chain partners view it. The publication summarizes a report, written by researchers at the University of Alabama, that examines managerial expectations for the use of big data in supply chain management relationships. Issues the researchers addressed included the obstacles to implementing big data analyses. Globally, supply chain managers identified several concerns in that regard. One was procuring the right data—that is, information that is meaningful at both the strategic and operational levels. Another was finding well-trained data analysts to handle all aspects of big data. Supply chain managers were also concerned about legal and ethical issues, namely regulation, risk, privacy, and transparency.
The researchers also asked respondents about opportunities for gaining benefits from big data analyses. For many respondents, those opportunities currently focus mostly on process improvement and logistics cost reductions. However, in the future respondents plan to focus on finding strategic uses for big data.
Supply chain managers are in agreement that big data provides an opportunity for some measure of improvement, and nearly all seem ready to move forward with a big data strategy. The key for many managers appears to involve integrating big data systems and developing tools to more efficiently organize and analyze the data.
One thing is for certain: Now, more than ever, supply chain managers need help and guidance as big data becomes an increasingly important part of partnership-based strategies.
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