January 25, 2021

Benefits of Big Data Analytics for Supply Chain Management

Discover the relevance of classifying structured vs unstructured data in supply chain data analysis and how it leads to operational efficiencies

Role of Big Data Analytics in the Supply Chain

Big data broadly pertains to extensive amounts of data that may be classified into structured and unstructured. It aids organizations to leverage the information leading to enhanced business strategies and operational efficiencies.  

At the same time, big data analytics serves as key in optimizing supply chain management by improving delivery lead times and minimizing information asymmetry between manufacturers and suppliers. Data analytics allows businesses to keep up with relevant metrics, information, and updates that influence decision-making leading to efficiencies such as cost reductions and service level upgrades.

With the advent of technological advancements in the supply chain and logistics industry, it is imperative that businesses continue to evolve and adapt to simplify and optimize workflows by leveraging on Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Machine Learning (ML).

Structured vs Unstructured Data: What’s the Difference? 

Structured data pertains to highly systematized data found in a fixed field within reports and documentations.It is usually kept in a data warehouse or relational database (RDBMS) creating patterns that make relevant information easily searchable. These types of data are quantitative in nature. 

On the other hand, unstructured data are unrefined, unfiltered and lacks a pre-defined format generated from qualitative sources or elements kept on data lakes. As such, unstructured data tend to pose more challenges in terms of data collection, processing and analysis.

How to Classify Data: Structured vs Unstructured  

Classifying big data into unstructured and structured are definitely relevant in the supply chain and logistics industry. But how can businesses start classifying and sorting these data?

As we look at the end to end supply chain or the order to cash cycles, Jack Chang, Managing Director, JUSDA USA suggests to first having a good sense of what your process is from order to cash cycle. This is the best way to start figuring out what your current state is, have that mapped out, identify gaps, classify which are structured and unstructured data, and start to tackle those unstructured ones that impact more parts of the organization, not just the customs broker or supply chain. Analyzing how these unstructured data impact the finance, sales, and operations teams is the quickest place to start in finding the biggest issue for all parts of the organization for priority resolution.  

It is imperative that businesses deep dive and really understand their organization, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and analyze capabilities. Jack Chang believes that most organizations would probably know the problems they need to fix but struggle with whether or not they have management support or executive buy-in.Hence, it first starts by being able to state the problems of having that order to cash cycle mapped out and then put in the personas of the different people within the organization, understand the challenges, reporting requirements, and then look at the supply chain partners that you work with. 

How & Where to Start the Digital Supply Chain: Structured vs Unstructured Data

Where is that information today? Is it offline? Is it unstructured or structured? Meaning if it's captured in a way, it will require some work from the community to be able to put these requirements upfront, to then expect the freight forwarder or the customs broker to ask where they can get the information or how they do structure that information together.

The process of how to start the digital supply chain begins with first understanding the business processes even if you may not know all of it.There are organizations that range from hundreds of people to tens of thousands and the larger the organization, the more siloed and harder it is to get that information. 

Jack Chang encourages to start the process by just writing down the people who are in the finance organization, and have a conversation by the coffee table or now over Zoom or Skype or any chatting platform to ask them,"Hey, how does your day work and how do you get that information or who gives you this information?" More times than not, you'll find it's unstructured data that someone didn't capture, fat-fingered into their ERP system or failed to feed into the ERP system correctly that lead them to resort to manual reports to correct the wrongs.

As the future of supply chain and logistics gears more towards digitization, the imperative first step is to start understanding how Big Data affects process workflows, the relevance of classifying data under structured or unstructured, and working on gaps to solve data collection, processing, and analysis issues. These are relevant factors in ensuring the efficacy of digital solutions in optimizing operational and market efficiencies.

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