There’s no denying it: the pace of the global supply chain is getting quicker every day. Broad increases in connectivity have led to equally broad increases in customer expectations, meaning that when things inevitably diverge from expectations, it’s imperative that supply chain managers react swiftly and decisively. This growing need for lightning fast response times comes with increased pressure to build a value stream that is visible and connected enough to provide planners with the information that they need about existing operational plans and potential plan b’s—including inventory levels, transport routing information, and delivery requirements.
This is, in large part, a question of supply chain connectivity, but it’s also a question of technology. Are there particular IT requirements for enabling agility in the supply stream? The short answer is yes: in order to get information to planners in a timely manner, businesses must utilize technology that reduces latency and centralizes mission critical data in an agile and active environment. Recently, some businesses have been turning to in-memory technology (both in-memory databases and in-memory processing); but is that a meaningful way to empower agile decision-making for planners?
What is In-memory Technology?
Essentially, in-memory technology involves storing data in your computer system’s RAM rather than on a disk, which has the effect of reducing the number of actions that must be taken in order to retrieve a piece of information. With in-memory, everything that a planner might need can be kept close at hand, without requiring various requests for data to take circuitous paths through one’s system's architecture in order to be carried out. The practical effect of this change is that data is more centralized, which enables both a dramatic reduction in latency and an increase in data quality. Where, previously, planners would have to suffer long wait and processing times when making decisions based on information that might be coming from various disparate sources in the value stream, in-memory makes it possible to eliminate that wait time, thereby speeding up not just the availability of the data but the ability to make calculations and determinations based on it.
While, on the one hand, the utility of reduced latency is self-evident, some readers may be tempted to dismiss it as being a matter of relatively small importance. After all, how much value could there really be in saving what will often be very small amount of time? As it turns out, the value here is considerable, in large part because it helps pave the way for real-time information and advanced analytics workflows, to saying nothing of the significant value-added proposition inherent in having more centralized data.
The Benefits of Real-time Information
If you think of every second of latency as a chance for out of date information to infiltrate your planning workflows, then the potential value of real-time supply chain information should begin to become apparent. Beyond the obvious boons like improved order and inventory tracking, real-time has the unique benefit of empowering businesses to adopt a sales & operations execution (S&OE) process. Essentially, in-memory technology can create an environment in which planners can access up-to-the-minute demand information, as well as real-time data about inventory usage and transport logistics, in order to make small weekly and daily adjustments to ongoing operational plans. This has the effect of staving off slowdowns and bottlenecks before they become problematic, and maintaining the integrity of mid-term plans without overreacting to small, short-term fluctuations in demand.
S&OE processes exist as a complement to sales & operations planning(S&OP), but their importance is quickly becoming obvious to supply chain managers. Naturally, these workflows are crucial drivers of supply chain risk reduction in and of themselves, but they are also emblematic of the additional speed, agility, and adaptability that supply chain managers can achieve through in-memory databases and operations. Though latency times for calculations and database calls might seem like a mere annoyance, they can actually represent a meaningful hurdle in and of themselves, owing to the difficulty of performing planning operations in a swift and flexible manner.
Reducing Risk with Simulations
In addition to paving the way for S&OE, which helps to stave off ongoing misalignments between expectations and reality, in-memory technology can also power “what if” simulations, gathering data from disparate points along the value stream in order to create a digital copy of your supply chain on which to simulate potential disruptions. While these types of simulations are certainly possible in traditional disk databases, in-memory databases speed the entire process up to the point where scenarios can be tweaked and reconfigured on the fly, with new simulations being run virtually instantaneously. The result is a more open, collaborative atmosphere, in which new ideas can be explored with relative ease and rapidity, leading to the creation of improved back-up plans for unexpected supply chain events. Not only can the creation of more robust “plan b” options create a more agile, and thus more resilient, overall supply stream, it can help form a more transparent value chain in which planners maintain alignment with one another even in the face of uncertainty.