IBM launches supply chain analytics center in Singapore

[UPDATE] Launched in collaboration with Singapore's Economic Development Board, facility will develop analytics technologies to help businesses improve their overall supply chain efficiency.

SINGAPORE--The IBM Supply Chain Analytics Center of Competency (CoC) will create analytics-based solutions that can improve supply chain efficiencies of organizations by enhancing visibility as well as better prepare for and tackle volatility throughout the chain.

At the center's opening ceremony here Thursday, Fran O'Sullivan, general manager of integrated supply chain at IBM Global, said the supply chain was a "natural area" to apply analytics as it is filled with plenty of raw data and "covers a lot of dollars" to transform into insight and savings.

IBM's supply chain CoC in Singapore is its third worldwide.  The other two are in India and the United States. The facility, located within the IBM Singapore Technology Park, is in collaboration with Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB).

O'Sullivan did not disclose the investment figure but said she had "high expectations" for the center to create innovative analytics tools for any industry sector and organization that has supply chain needs and for the outcomes to "delight customers".

Singapore was chosen because it is a "living lab" for IBM to research, develop, test and commercialize the supply chain analytics tools that will be implemented globally through cooperating with the other two centers, she said.

Explaining, she said several resources and requirements are already available among IBM's operations in Singapore that concern supply chain, from high-end server manufacturing, procurement, customer fulfillment, logistics and accounts receivable. The country is also located in the fast-growing Asia region, has established network and data center infrastructure, and a rich pool of IT professionals and young minds in educational and research institutions, she added.

Spot the weak links
According to the general manager, Big Blue had 27 internal projects involving analytics which generated some US$50 million of savings in its own supply chain last year. This, O' Sullivan said, serves as a practical and real example to showcase to customers.

She expects interest and adoption of analytics in supply chain by companies will only continue to grow. There are "big advantages" of analytics in supply chain, for instance, when companies can know in real-time when customers place an order and adjust their inventory accordingly, she noted.

Additionally, analytics can address risk management issues and activate alerts, so companies can know as early as possible if and where a weak link is along the supply chain, she added, referring to recent events of Japan's earthquake and Thailand's floods.

Increasing the visibility so as to predict, model and act upon information in real time also helps manage the volatility of supply chain operations, O'Sullivan concluded. "If companies don't implement analytics, they won't be competitive [and will] get left behind."

Simon Thomas, delivery leader, business analytics and optimization at IBM Global Business Services (GBS), who was also at the event, was optimistic about the uptake. As the data deluge grows, analytics has also advanced from being merely descriptive to having predictive and prescriptive capabilities.

As such, companies can be empowered to get the "right answers" the first time in making informed decisions, just as customers today have become less tolerant of misses and failures, he pointed out. "It's a coming together [of several factors], and the opportunity [to gain an edge with analytics] will soon become an imperative. Companies have to embrace it, it's do or die."

The launch of the analytics center comes a month after IBM signed a three-year collaboration with Singapore's National Environment Agency to develop analytics to address urban sustainability challenges. The project, worth S$13 million (US$10.3 million), involves developing advanced predictive capabilities in four key issues--air quality, weather forecasts, dengue outbreaks and early detection of health management issues such as food poisoning incidents.