Thursday, April 30, 2020

Supply Chain Management Systems Are Taking a Beating During this Pandemic

From medical supply shortages to consumers hoarding toilet paper, the links in supply chains are under strain. Can we learn valuable lessons for the future?

For example, design of the medical supply chain in the United States has low stress resilience. In early stages of the pandemic, most hospitals are already experience a shortage of personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. As COVID19 cases spread, so will scarcity.

Normally, most enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions can reliably analyze things like inventory levels, historical purchasing trends, and discounts to recommend how much of a product to order. During the worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many programs a are making fluctuating recommendations, and adjustments to inputs are occurring more frequently. As this becomes more dynamic, the frequency of monitoring by supply chain managers is increasing. Human interventions into automated systems can have adverse impacts on algorithms.

Most retail companies rely on some type of model or algorithm to help predict customer demand, from a basic Excel spreadsheet or a refined, software engineer-built application. Normally, those models are fairly reliable and work well. But as with virtual all other systems, they are being impacted by the pandemic. On the news, we see how customers may be concerned about having enough access to essentials such as paper towels.

One reason for added stress is that a lot of trade is international -- for example, trade between the US and other countries, particularly China, has been under stress due to the virus. So distributors and retailers have had to find new sources for products.

Machine learning-based algorithms are the foundation of the next generation of ERP, particularly around logistics. We will see the most significant cost efficiencies around advanced resource scheduling. Neural net and A.I.-based methods are the foundation of a broad spectrum of next-generation logistics and supply chain technologies under the hood of the best ERP solutions. Significant gains are being made where machine learning can contribute to addressing complex constraint, cost, and delivery problems organizations face. Automated analysis can help provide significant insights into how supply chain performance can be improved, anticipating anomalies in logistics constraints, and matching "pull" performance before shortages occur.

Another example is using a decentralized supply chain for track-and-trace applications. This would improve performance and reduce costs. A study found that in a 30-node configuration when blockchain is used to share data in real-time across a supplier network, combined with better analytics insight, cost savings appeared to be more than $5 million a year.

Watch this video to learn more, or read this article.

Friday, April 24, 2020

This Crisis Will Be With Us for Awhile -- What Can We Do to Help, Now?

This pandemic will be with us for awhile. Although studies are showing that quarantine and isolation methods are indeed “flattening the curve” and that we should all continue to keep our physical distance, it is hard not to grow impatient: how long this is likely to last?

IN an interview on with the BBC, Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, says, “Waiting for a vaccine should not be honored with the name ‘strategy;’ that is not a strategy.” Governments should not rely on the advent of vaccines to end the pandemic. Bottom line: a vaccine might be available in 12-18 months. The logistics of inoculating millions will be substantial, once such a solution is mass-produced.

A professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Head of the Department of Immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, Professor Martin Bachmann said, “The real question is, can you keep it down long enough to have a vaccine? Without a vaccine, we are maybe looking at something like a year. But this would mean that 60–70% of the population would have had exposure to the virus.”

So what should we do, as knowledge workers, for the foreseeable future? As management consultants, the team here at Bluedog recommends a few steps that can be undertaken now, to ease the burden. Start by enabling easy, yet secure, remote access for staff who can effectively work at home.

Many jobs can at least partly be done remotely. Staff who may contribute to a customer experience, for example, should be able to do so. Even back office staff can be part of a solution, even more so in times of crisis. We suggest investing in infrastructure and tools that your employees need to stay productive and in contact, even when they cannot come into the office.

From a human resources perspective, ensure the organization has relevant guidelines and procedures in place that help people to work remotely. This includes training on systems that people need to do their work via remote access. To minimize the disaster recovery challenges, run these systems in the cloud. An important aspect of this infrastructure is an appropriate set of productivity tools that facilitate people working collaboratively. There are a plethora of software suites available that allow this, starting with Microsoft’s Office365 along with Slack, Zoom, Google Hang Outs, and many more. Of course, with Workbench “Always on the Job!” an organization can manage teams and projects, in the cloud.

Automation can improve effectiveness and efficiency. For example, give sales representatives backup by building A.I.-like conversational technologies that take away some of the upfront workload. One way to achieve this is implementing a conversational A.I. that supports your business processes. Pre-screen inquiries with fast and efficient flows that get to the root question a customer contact has. Be sure to enable short implementation times to achieve value.

There are a number of techniques, tools, and technologies that can smooth over the radical changes we are all experiencing — remote work is just one aspect of the changing world, as we all work together to weather this crisis.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Agile Philosophies in Practice for Remote Workers

Have you made your move to your home office yet? Ensure you have a setup that works for you and your team. This may mean investing the time up front to evaluate options and put in place everything you need to be productive and comfortable. First, create a space where you are least likely to be distracted.

From an agile perspective, teams are most efficient when balancing time devoted to collaboration with time allocated to the concentrated efforts required for development and other knowledge work activities. When stationed remotely, workers have to be online — but also share their availability. Tools like Slack and Zoom allow you to communicate. Where possible, set availability status and mute notifications when you are embroiled in “flow.” Using status settings is important when teams are accessing flexible work hours.

Project managers, technical leads, and product owners should regularly enquire with questions about their teammates’ level of understanding around requirements, inhibitors to progress, and what might be needed to improve productivity. Some helpful tips include:
  • Employ digital whiteboard tools for sprint planning and design sessions
  • Schedule video web conferencing for stand-up meetings
  • Assign one person to screen-share during reviews
  • Craft simple surveys to capture feedback

Teams working remotely for extended durations may want to discuss documentation standards and see if more significant efforts would be helpful. Sometimes, documenting can replace in-person implementation discussions — the venerable wiki makes a great tool for this.
Leverage the philosophy of being agile, not just by following agile practices, but in recognizing how to embrace change, for the better.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

When Demand Increases, Innovation Follows - Non-Contact Deliveries in the time of Pandemic

Alphabet subsidiary Wing is looking to help out through this pandemic with the scaling up of use of drones. Wing reports its drone delivery service is increasing the number of vendors and new items for delivery as it experiences a "dramatic" increase in customers.

Last April, Wing became the U.S.’ first drone operator to be FAA-certified as an air carrier, and in October it rolled out a test delivery program in the rural town of Christiansburg, Virginia (USA). Deliveries have more than doubled in the area, Wing says. The company has partnered with FedEx and Walgreens, and has added a local bakery, Mockingbird Cafe.

"We're trying to support local businesses that aren't able to open their doors by allowing them to deliver their products directly to customers' homes," Wing said. It pointed to a local bakery in Christiansburg, Virginia, which is now selling 50% more pastries via Wing on one weekend than it usually sells in store.

Social distancing and the need to isolate ourselves has fueled massive demand for delivery. Restaurants are re-tooling to serve take-away in place of sit-down. Uber and Lift are shifting drivers away from carrying passengers (who are not traveling) to help delivery comestibles and even pharmacy orders. Gig workers quickly have emerged as frontline responders, often driving people to the hospital or delivering food to those who have been quarantined, such as the elderly, disabled, or ill.

The San Antonio-based company Xenex has been deploying UV disinfection robots to keep up with coronavirus-fueled demand. The company’s flagship product, the LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot, is a four-wheeled unit with a long, lantern-like tower mounted on it. This "bot" automates the cleaning process, using pulsing xenon lamps that quickly knock out germs lingering in a room’s corners and surfaces.

Xenex’s robots are already in more than 500 hospitals around the world — including Italy, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom — and that number is growing daily due to the coronavirus outbreak. Specialized cleaner robots, like those made by Xenex and others, are more useful than ever right now. They not only help hospitals reduce coronavirus transmission from surfaces, their work also frees up staff to spend more time focusing on tasks that require a human element — attending to sick patients, for instance.

There will be growing scenarios for curb-to-door robots. Such autonomous vehicles could roll up to a household for patient testing, garbage collection, and sanitizing services. One of the added benefits of such a tiered approach to delivery automation is that robots can also be tasked with safely delivering testing kits, then collecting test samples from quarantined populations. This is a logistical challenge for local, state, and federal agencies. Community and landlord-operated robots could also be tasked with collecting and disposing of garbage from quarantined households in a manner that would limit unnecessary exposure and contamination.

But such work still exposes human workers to the threat of contracting COVID-19, among other health risks. Here is an opportunity for coronavirus-immune alternatives like autonomous vehicles and drones to prove they can save the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Non-Repudiation in Supply Chain Management - Use Case for Blockchain

Supply chains are under strain at the moment -- the fragility of current systems is laid bare during this pandemic crisis. Blockchain, simplified, is a data structure that maintains transactional records and while ensuring security. This decentralized approach ensures — a chain of records which are controlled by no single authority. This enables digital information to be distributed, but not copied, so each individual piece of data can only have one owner. Blockchain is the underlying technology of digital currencies. But it has a multiplicity of uses.

Many call blockchain a “digital ledger” stored in a distributed network. Here is one way to think about how Blockchain works:

“Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet…”

This information is constantly reconciled into a database, which is stored in multiple locations and updated instantly. That means the records are public and verifiable. Since there’s no central location, it harder to disrupt as the data exists simultaneously in millions of places.

In the service of supply chain management, manifests could be secured with this approach. Modern supply chains are complex. A business’ supply chain consists of all the links to creating and distributing it products. Depending on the goods, a supply chain can be extraordinarily complex, spanning numerous stages with multiple geographical (often global) locations. The documentation can consist of a multitude of invoices, statements, payments, bills of lading, etc., and have several individuals and entities involved. The timeframe, even with just-in-time production, can require months for the process to go from raw materials, component construction and assembly, through packaging and distribution.

The idea of using blockchain to streamline workflows for all parties, no matter the size of the business network, is not new. In government procurement, for example, shared infrastructure provides auditors with greater visibility into participants’ activities along the value chain.

The challenges in many supply chains include lack of transparency because data consolidation clouds repudiation. There's a lack of real-time issue resolution resulting in ineffective supply chain risk management. Shocks (as we have seen) result in sudden demand changes -- a "bullwhip" effect that reverberates throughout the vendor ecosystem.

A use case might look like this: instead of having a central intermediary, use blockchain in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution to synchronize data and transactions across the network. Each participant verifies the work and calculations of others. This relives the enormous amount of redundancy and crosschecking found in many current systems.

With the right implementation strategy, blockchain has the potential to drive efficiencies, lower costs, and to enhance consumer experience through transparency and traceability.

Monday, April 6, 2020

With remote business and social distancing, now is the time to switch to e-signatures

Businesses are striving to continue to operate normally during the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic. With restrictions on physical meetings, with many businesses are now operating as much as possible remotely. This may raise the question: how to execute documents in these circumstances? Do you wonder whether it is possible to validly execute documents by electronic signature? The short answer is, electronic signatures can be validly used in many circumstances.

An electronic signature allows a person to electronically add a signature to an online contract. An electronic signature (or e-signature) is a digital version of the paper-based method of signing signatures, the person with the intent to sign simply electronically signs the document -- thus removing the necessity of handwritten signatures. It is often an image of a signature.

A digital signature is a different method of validating an online document. Encryption software is required. This involves electronic data, encrypted message and encryption protections. Whilst a digital signature can be grouped with the category of electronic signature, it uses algorithms to create a digital fingerprint or private key (or secret key) unique to your document.

Read more over at