eNews • August 31, 2017
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IBM's Watson coming to a supply chain near you

IBM has been working since last fall on teaching the supercomputer Watson the ins and outs of the gloabl supply chain, IBM Supply Chain Analytics Global Lead Rob Allan said at this year’s Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit at USC.

Watson, the super intelligent computer system that has appeared on the television game show Jeopardy!, as well as in commercials with tennis star Serena Williams, may be coming to a supply chain near you.

IBM supply chain analytics global lead Rob Allan said at this year’s Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit on Aug. 10 that IBM has been working since last fall on teaching the supercomputer the ins and outs of the global supply chain.

“It was November 2016, we were sharing some ideas, which I thought was a good time to get out in front of the curve," said Allan. "We’re thinking Watson’s like a kid in a candy store with supply chain, with all the data, unstructured, structured data, building correlations. We were pretty excited about it. Now we’re sitting here 10 months later and I’m pretty excited to be able to tell you specific ideas we have and things we’re trying out in the supply chain.”

“We’re teaching Watson some general information,” he said. “It’s simple things like ‘Watson, how do you calculate inventory turnover? What are the alternatives to drive inventory down at specific ports? What happens if a supplier decommits? What are potential options?'”

Allan said the famous computer, which can read PDFs and tables, has been working with companies that are early trial adopters of the software. The interface is currently set up in a Q&A format, where questions are asked of the computer and it replies to the best of its ability.

He cautioned, however, that users won’t be able to expect the machine to hold intelligent conversations or answer complex questions initially. That piece won't come until Watson's "digital playbook," where the AI acts and responds based on humans’ reactions, is fully realized.

“You’re not going to see the Watson that’s sitting next to Serena Williams in a television commercial a week after your purchase Watson for you supply chain; it’s a process,” he said, adding that Watson is currently being taught industry-specific information.

“We’re good [at IBM] at manufacturing. We think Watson knows a lot about the manufacturing industry, but we want to partner with folks to help it learn CPG, retail, food & beverage. We don’t Watson to answer the question from the perspective of manufacturing,” he explained.

Allan said the early adopters will help with that, and that those users all have proprietary versions of the information, so that each company’s info is separate and private from that of its competitors.

“A lot of what we’ve done the past 10 months is explain and show examples of how IBM has benefitted and how some of our early adopters have benefited from trying out Watson,” he said. “We’re pulling data into this cognitive analytics cloud and then we’re merging it with a whole set of unstructured data and starting to look for correlations. Things that you never would have predicted before, we’re starting to merge all this external data, internal data into the cloud and an artificial intelligence engine and start looking at the correlations, and then help score the importance.”

Among the things IBM is looking at, he said, is the effect weather has on the gloabl supply chain.

“We’re finding that we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg of all the things," said Allan. "Simple things like thunder will shut down an airport for three hours, and that may impact that shipment. So we’re looking at anticipating thunder, ground [shipping] stops, traffic congestion.”

Allan’s remarks came during the second and final day of the summit, an annual gathering at the University of Southern California dedicated to bringing together industry experts and students in USC’s Marshall Center for Global Supply Chain Management.

Source: American Shipper

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