In today´s digital age, technology has become omnipresent. We use it to function daily. Its continuous and ever growing integration in our lives is only going to escalate with time. This presence is especially felt in the way our economy operates. Consumer behavior is immensely impacted by digital technology; social media platforms can launch viral trends that can increase demand for a goods or a service overnight. Potential customers can take part in simultaneous conversations online across a globally interconnected community. Due to these unexpected peaks of demand, traditional supply chains have not been able to keep up. The sequential nature of traditional supply chains results in their forecasts, which are always based on previous sales. This method is used to order the right amount of raw materials from suppliers to be sent to their manufacturing facilities. If an unexpected peak in demand were to occur as a result of a viral trend, the company would quickly sell out of the said product and the replenishment of stock in a traditional supply chain would result in an overall loss for the company. The additional cost incurred of expediting material shipments to the factories and the premium shipment fees to the stores can take a significant amount of time with no guarantee of how long the trend will last. Companies can potentially be left with a surplus of unsold products, and this would result in a loss.
The need for our supply chains to evolve has become imminent. They need to transform into interconnected eco-systems that can answer customer solutions and digitally operate, thus making them more apt to efficiently manage customer needs across multiple channels and proactively avoid risks of loss. Adopting digital supply chains would mean that changes in demand could be identified instantaneously, making the supply chain into a competitive advantage for the company, leveraging flexible logistics network with shared infrastructure and giving these companies the versatility and agility that is needed to operate in this digital age.
This is where the need for big and thick data comes into place. In theory, this sounds like a perfect idea, but no one has yet been able to integrate a fully optimized digital supply chain. Today’s Conglomerates have already taken steps in digitalizing their supply chains in making them demand based. The amount of raw data in the cloud is unimaginable. The sorting of said data is what proves difficult. Investing in big data is easy, but making it a prolific reality is difficult; 73% of big data projects are not profitable. Ethnographer Tricia Wang observed that what is missing from big data is human insights. “We have to change the way we look at big data. When quantifying in systems that are contained, we don´t consider new factors. Relying on big data alone increases the chances we´ll miss something. As humans we all fall victim to quantification bias; fixating on numbers, which is comforting.” When referring to thick data we refer to the qualitative information that provides us with insights that dictate consumer behavior, going beyond big data answering the “Why and How” a consumer decided to purchase a certain product.
This has forced companies to rethink the way they design their supply chain. In addition, several social and economic movements have changed customer expectations. For example, in recent years pressure to reduce carbon emissions and having a sustainable supply chain has become a plus. According to McKinsey & Company, there is a “definite trend towards individualization and customization that drives strong growth and constant changes.”
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