IBM's Sterling Supply Chain Suite will use AI and blockchain to simplify the process of getting goods from suppliers to consumers.
Supply chains are only becoming more complicated as business globalizes, but IBM is hoping to help enterprises organize the process.
IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite will use blockchain and Watson-backed artificial intelligence to optimize supply chains, allow for better communication, and help companies get ahead of potential problem spots.
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In an interview with TechRepublic, Chief Technology Officer of IBM Sterling Marshall Lamb said that the platform lets retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and more share data while using a system that is actively learning from its mistakes. He called it a secure "open platform with hybrid-cloud support that enables organizations to integrate their own data and networks -- and the data and networks of their suppliers and customers."
According to a statement from IBM, the company sees this as a potentially $50 billion market that they can dominate.
"Supply chains are now mission-critical systems for all businesses to drive success and profitability," said Bob Lord, IBM's senior vice president of cognitive applications and developer ecosystems.
"Many organizations have risen to the top of their industries by building efficient and agile supply chains. By modernizing supply chains on top of open, hybrid-cloud platforms and infusing Watson AI, IBM Blockchain, and IoT into their networks, the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite can help companies across all industries enter a new era of global competitiveness.''
IBM built the platform based off of Sterling B2B Network and Sterling Order Management. IBM purchased Sterling in 2010 and have added blockchain and AI capabilities to their well-regarded platform.
"We've been adding visibility, intelligence, and anomaly detection on top of everything that happens. Sterling came to us with the plumbing, and we at IBM have been enhancing the visibility and analytics on top of the plumbing," Lamb said. "We've been working hard on infusing the product line with AI. The big tagline is building an intelligent, self-correcting supply chain. The intelligence comes from Watson. Sterling has strong investment in the market as well as a positive reputation with customers and analysts and even competitors. This was a chance to go back to a strong brand, capitalize on it and grow it."
With the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite, businesses can gain access to public APIs that give you secure information and data. You can even build your own "AI agent" that uses machine reasoning skills to go through your data and find problem spots.
Lamb said IBM's biggest customers for this kind of project are retailers, companies managing consumer packaged goods, and industrial companies. Car companies are also keen on using the platform because of how many different, disparate pieces of hardware they have to bring together for each vehicle.
So many times companies disputed things throughout the supply chain, like how many orders were delivered, and needed a verifiable way to see what happened. With the addition of blockchain, the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite provides the kind of data that can simplify these kinds of problems.
"When a large retailer purchases something, the software keeps track of inventory at every store, helps with managing replenishment, and rebalancing inventory based on demand. It helps with the optimizing of the delivery of the goods," Lamb told TechRepublic.
"The biggest problem these companies have is cost. It is very expensive to warehouse goods. They want to promise consumer arrival dates and that is a focus area of companies. They want to get ahead of disruptions, ahead of shortages, and our product focuses not only on optimizing inventory but getting ahead of the next demand, getting ahead of the next strain in inventory."
Lamb continued that they hoped financial companies, and other kinds of businesses would eventually see the value of a platform like this. Logistics companies were also a major vertical interested in the platform.
Lamb added that they hoped the platform would allow companies to "embrace the networks of the future as well as offer an open platform that allows our partners, integrators and customers to build solutions that integrate with these new networks and systems."
Juan Andres Pro Dios, CIO of Madrid-based corporation El Corte Ingles, said his business had retail locations across Spain and Portugal but had to manage a global web of resellers and e-commerce.
"The complex, global nature of our omni-channel operations presents a significant supply chain challenge that could be turned into a business opportunity, if the right technology is applied," said Dios. "The IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite provides open development capabilities that let us quickly tailor solutions to meet our unique business needs. This allows us to embrace operational complexity while optimizing operational performance and improving omni-channel customer experiences."
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