Supply chain professionals from around the world traveled to Chicago on October 29–31 for the ASUG Experience for Supply Chain and Procurement. They joined peers and industry thought leaders to discuss challenges, innovations, and how to meet customer expectations.

ASUG’s CEO Geoff Scott welcomed the attendees on Tuesday morning, sharing insights ASUG Research had gathered in a 2018 study with the supply chain and procurement industry.

One of the most interesting insights he shared was that most companies (76 percent) feel that their inventory processes need improvement. In fact, the single biggest goal for supply chain and procurement professionals in 2019 is to make process improvements.

Scott did some interactive polling during the keynote where he asked:

  • Why are you here today?
  • What's the most important emerging technology for your company?
  • Does your company believe that supply chain transparency is a key to business success? 

Pinpointing Pain Points

More than half of the attendees in the room participated in the poll and identified education and networking as the main reasons for being at the ASUG Experience event.

“There are 30 sessions here over the next couple of days,” Scott said. “So, there is a fantastic opportunity for you to think about how you want to approach your learning journey.”

Many of the attendees in the room (49 percent) pointed to machine learning as the most important emerging technology for their company, followed by the Internet of Things (28 percent). It’s worth noting that both machine learning and IoT ranked as the top two emerging technologies in the ASUG research study.

Most who participated in the interactive polling (72 percent) answered yes to whether their company believes that supply chain transparency is a key to business success.

Opening the Future with the Right Key

During her keynote address titled “Connect Digitally to a Perfect Reality” on Tuesday evening, Hala Zeine, president of Digital Supply Chain at SAP said, “We cannot solve problems for modern people without modern tools.”

She talked about the need to not only adopt new technologies but to also rethink how the processes behind them work. Zeine pointed to how an intelligent enterprise connects these tools together within a supply chain to better design, manufacture, deliver, and manage products.

“A great customer experience relies on a great product experience,” she said. “To do this, you need to be able to provide customer centricity in every single part of the supply chain, you need to have visibility, and you need to have business innovation,” Zeine said.

Driving Digital Transformation with SAP Ariba

For a supply chain and procurement program to run effectively, it needs a plan and process in place that allows buyers and suppliers to manage everything from contracts, to payments and sourcing without conflicts or slowdowns.

Enter SAP Ariba. Deb Kaplan, who took the stage on day two to deliver a keynote, called herself a “Supply Chain Evangelist for SAP Ariba.” She circled back to what Zeine discussed about customer centricity, total visibility, and innovation and said, “Although SAP Ariba fits into the network and spend management part of the intelligent suite of an SAP S/4HANA solution, from an orchestration perspective, it is connected to customer experience, manufacturing and supply chain, digital core, and people engagement as well.”

During one of the sessions titled, “What you Need to Know About SAP Ariba Supply Chain Collaboration,” presenter Raj Alluri explained SAP Ariba as a prepacked network solution that offers forecast, inventory, quality, and order collaboration.

Representatives from Accenture and Adient talked about their journeys to the SAP Ariba Network. Both stressed the importance of internal communication, data cleansing, and the people behind the work. “You have to understand your process to drive what the technology needs to do,” said Accenture’s Eli Lambert.

Learning About Machine Learning

According to the ASUG Research survey, many companies are planning to, but do not currently take advantage of emerging technologies like machine learning or artificial intelligence.

There was a roundtable discussion, as well as a few sessions dedicated to machine learning and how your company can benefit from it. Participants of the roundtable discussed challenges they face with adopting emerging technologies, including cost and comprehension. “Just because something is new, doesn’t mean I’ll get the value out of it,” one man said. “We haven’t even used all the new stuff in ECC yet.”

Cathy Kenlin, manager of business applications at Zausner, as well as an ASUG volunteer, lead the discussion and pointed participants to openSAP training. “It’s a free resource and a great opportunity to learn about all of these emerging technologies,” she said.

Feed the Machines Data

Patrick Green of SCM Connections defined machine learning simply by saying, “It is based around the idea that we should really just be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.” In his session, attendees learned more about how to use the data they’ve collected in their supply chain, combined with external data, to make better business decisions.

“Let machine learning analyze and test the data inputs to find patterns and to understand the causations that result from them. Let it evaluate, manage, and mitigate supply chain risk,” he said.

Managing Through Collaboration and Integration

Something many of the attendees were asking about was SAP Integrated Business Planning (IBP), which is a cloud-based solution that combines capabilities for sales and operations; demand, response, and supply planning; and inventory optimization.

One of the key points made during the two days at ASUG Experience was the need for supply chains to remain agile and innovative. SAP IBP can be a tool to help organizations do just that. And just like its name suggests, it integrates with other products such as SAP S/4HANA and SAP Ariba.

During his presentation, Patrick Green discussed how SAP’s IBP cloud architecture allows for easy integration of machine learning and artificial intelligence applications, and with this, “companies can balance demand with supply to attain profitable goals.”

The Future Lies in Planning…or Maybe in Twinning

So, what’s the future path for supply chain and procurement companies looking to stay ahead of the curve? Zeine said, “It’s somewhere where the digital world and the physical world are entangled. It’s where you can simulate in one and execute in another.”

By adopting a digital approach and the new tools that come with it, making process improvements doesn’t seem as daunting a task for companies. With the help of emerging technologies, a supply chain can have visibility into all aspects of design, manufacturing, and delivery, as well as customer demand, expectation, and satisfaction.

Linking it All Together

This conference was just what the attendees wanted—a hub for learning and networking. “I’ve learned so many things. All of this was new to me and I’ve made some great connections,” said attendee Tracy Paulus.

Although implementing new technologies was at the forefront of many of the sessions, most attendees learned that they’re all facing similar challenges and journeys.

You can stay connected with the supply chain and procurement community all year long by becoming an ASUG member.