Doing supply chain differently: strategies to support production

Manufacturers are investing in cloud capabilities to create agile, competitive and insightful supply chains. Microsoft’s Indranil Sircar tells us more 

Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths on 28 January 2022
Doing supply chain differently: strategies to support production

Global pandemic, geopolitical tension, severe weather events – these are just some of the factors disrupting supply chains that once seemed cost effective and reliable. As a result, manufacturing firms are re-examining their strategies for supporting resilient production.  

“What the pandemic revealed was a clear need for a digitally connected ecosystem with real-time visibility and the removal of silos across functions,” says Indranil Sircar, chief technology officer of manufacturing and supply chain industry at Microsoft. “Rapidly changing markets, demand and supply imbalance, materials and labour shortages and the need for remote working – all while ensuring the health and safety of those onsite – have caused companies to reassess how they can create resiliency in their operations.”  

As manufacturers step up their investment in cloud, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and collaboration technologies, they also need to know they can securely analyse, predict and understand behaviour across the entire ecosystem.   

“Data generated within and outside of organisations – not just in supply chain management systems – is critical to understanding and developing optimisation techniques across the supply chain,” Sircar says. “Any disruption in the supplier base will also interrupt broader supply chain operations, so it’s crucial that companies can predict risks and develop mitigation strategies well in advance of possible issues across the enterprise and the edges – including, for instance, IoT device in warehouses, factories and other facilities.”  

A combination of cloud, edge and digital twin technology – which enables companies to create a digital twin of the entire supply chain including facilities, processes and people – is making this possible.  

“Manufacturers are increasingly adopting autonomous capabilities that can understand events, identify the relationship between them and prioritise actions to resolve the issue,” Sircar says. “For instance, Azure Synapse enables cloud-based capabilities to analyse large datasets so companies can visualise, model, predict and drive decisions. Azure Synapse Analytics includes industry-specific database templates models to generate targeted insights. Azure Purview enables multi-cloud data governance, discovery and sensitive data classification. Meanwhile, securing the edge with Azure Defender for IoT along with Azure Sentinel is playing a significant role in addressing vulnerabilities to threats like ransomware across the organisation, all the way to the supplier base.”  

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Insights – now available in preview – integrates supplier base and data combining with external data sources around geopolitical and weather-related events, supplier risk and other factors so companies can predict, model and mitigate risks. Advanced analytics powered by Azure’s AI and Machine Learning enable predictions and what-if analyses, with simulations to show the impact of potential disruptions – and the decisions made to mitigate them – at any point along the chain.  

“These capabilities are bringing unprecedented intelligence and predictive power across the supply chain,” Sircar says. “For example, Daimler Trucks North America has gained new visibility into its supply chains across multiple tiers of suppliers. Near real-time data allows the company to assess risks and mitigate problems before they lead to disruption. It can also enrich its own supply chain data with external signals like global weather data to predict the impact on shipments.”  

Another solution recently released in preview – the Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing – provides a gateway for companies’ cloud transformation journeys. Focused on the industry’s unique requirements, it brings together new and existing capabilities to support and securely connect people, assets, workflow and business processes across the product and service life cycle.  

Crucially, these tools have the empowerment of people at their heart. “Organisations across the supply chain were already battling talent and skills shortages and now they face the challenge of supporting new ways of working too,” Sircar says. “Remote working and the remote management of operations are the new reality introduced by the pandemic. That brings a need for seamless collaboration between remote teams and frontline workers who need to be on site. Solutions like the Microsoft Viva employee experience platform and the Loop flexible canvas app bring that capability, supporting the workforce while enabling remote management of operations.”  

As they establish new ways of working, companies must also identify skills gaps and reskill their workforce. “As new digital technologies are introduced, frontline workers need tools that help them to work more effectively,” Sircar says. “Companies are supporting this development with cloud-based capabilities like Microsoft 365 for Frontline Workers, virtual reality and mixed reality training tools, and AI-based knowledge management and bot capabilities that assist their people. Microsoft Power Platform allows end users to build apps in a low-code/no-code environment, and that’s empowering worker across the supply chain. And tools like Dynamics 365 HR and LinkedIn are helping companies to attract and manage new talent.”   

People, planning, analysis, risk management, intelligence – today’s supply chains must integrate all these areas and more if they are to provide the agility and resilience for competitive business. Microsoft’s continued investment in the industry’s transformation continues to accelerate the shift towards that connected ecosystem. It’s an investment in a community of industry expertise, as well as a suite of technology solutions.  

“With a vast cloud-native partner ecosystem covering the spectrum of supply chain management functionality, Microsoft can provide the widest choice of capabilities to its customers,” Sircar says. “Our customers are making long-term investments in a platform that will support their business today and in the future. We’re already seeing digitally connected supply chains with real-time insights contributing to sustainability requirements like carbon reduction, for instance. As companies seek to develop circular economy models across design, manufacturing, distribution and reuse of materials, these capabilities will have an even bigger part to play.”   

Partner perspectives 

Cloud capabilities are enabling manufacturers to transform their supply chain strategy and develop vital workforce skills. We asked a selection of Microsoft partners and analysts how cloud technologies are helping companies to grow competitive and resilient supply chains. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 112 of the digital edition of the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record.  

Syed Fahad, vice president of Industry Solutions at Quisitive, said: “Quisitive’s Mazik Things MED solution leverages Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to bring digital transformation to manufacturing companies through a secure, scalable and connected solution. This technology integrates seamlessly to other business applications to connect data, machines and people to promote an intelligent order management system.” 

Sharada Prahladrao, editor and public relations manager at ARC Advisory Group, said: “The cloud enables companies to process huge amounts of data quickly and accurately from multiple sources across the entire supply chain. This data can be analysed to generate valuable business insights, facilitating informed decision-making.” 

Xavier Mesrobian, vice president of sales and marketing at Skkynet Cloud Systems, said: “Skkynet DataHub service for Microsoft Azure enables organisations to monetise their industrial data by leveraging third party analytical, key performance indicator and dashboard applications securely and easily.” 

Zhi Wei Li, director of innovation and engineering at ICONICS, said: “The Microsoft cloud is ICONICS’ preferred platform to build and provide supply chain solutions that enable tracking of materials globally. ” 

Michael Loveless, CEO of RAAD360, said: “RAAD delivers end-to-end risk awareness across the organisational value chain network by ingesting, mapping and visualising bill of materials and related master data in the Microsoft Azure supply chain platform. .” 

Terry Simpson, senior solutions engineer at Nintex, said: “Having automation software that easily connects cloud technologies is critical. Process automation from Nintex will integrate these departmental processes, track the status or stage, and result in an agile operating model.” 

Leslie Paulson, general manager for Servigistics Business Unit at PTC, said: “Leaning heavily on digital thread and service innovation is a proven pathway to success creating better products, faster, and optimising service delivery.” 

Greg Crandall, practice director of ERP at JourneyTEAM, said: “Microsoft cloud technologies have allowed tighter integration with the sales and production facilities by having complete connection between customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning (Dynamics 365).” 

Chris Dobbrow, vice president of strategic partnerships at Augury, said: “To achieve more predicatble production, Augury customers can combine mechanical machine data from Augury’s Machine Health solution with recipe data from the manufacturer’s Azure DL instance in order to determine which facilities production lines are best suited to produce a particular recipe at high quality and with minimal waste.” 

This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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