Last week supply chain planning and execution synchronization technology provider Kinaxis conducted this provider’s annual customer conference. This year’s event took on added significance with the announcement of Kinaxis Maestro® the company’s broadened set of AI infused capabilities which will augment the existing Kinaxis RapidResponse suite capabilities.

Differentiating Approach

With so many enterprise and supply chain focused technology providers announcing what are termed advanced AI capabilities, Kinaxis is taking the time to educate customers and prospects as to why Maestro® provides a somewhat deafferenting approach. We applaud Kinaxis for this effort.

In the product focused keynote, Kinaxis Chief Product Officer Andrew Bell observed that supply chain management teams and respective planners remain in a difficult position.  While organizations have far more data available for analysis and decision making, needed insights remain a challenge, primarily from the various types of data.

When unplanned events occurred, either as a potential disruption, or as a market opportunity, the context and synchronization of decisions among planning and supply chain execution processes is often lost because of information stovepipes and inconsistent data.

Bell explained why the tools of the past are not sufficient, essentially because of the needs for supply planning and logistics execution to be synchronized. He further took the time to address the fact and fiction related to the current hype associated with advanced AI business benefits. Namely, that without having a clearer context to decision to be made, or a flawed learning model, advanced AI can recommend an improper decision. Indeed, some early adopter business users are experiencing such phenomenon. He stressed for the audience that effective decision-making stems from the fusion of various supporting technologies each tailored to a different need.

Kinaxis Maestro Layers

Data Fabric

A top level data fabric architecture has been designed to connect both internal, inside out, and external, outside-in data sources into a digital twin based singular control layer. This includes a described different approach to data management that brings together structured and unstructured data sources along with universal cataloguing of all data providers. The analogy utilized in describing this layer is that being a “one step stop for accessing all data.”

In IT data management parlance, unstructured data is better managed utilizing a data management method that prepares and stores data for analysis and processing by creating a database schema when the data is actually read. The approach is noted as faster than the schema-on-write data management method utilized for storing and retrieving transactional data.

The management of unstructured data is a constant challenge for supply chain decision-making because many supply chain related disruptions stem from outside-in external events that can include external supply network partners and services providers.

Computational Engine

An always-on computational intelligence engine directly linked with a top-level data fabric. CPO Bell explained that this intelligence engine includes a fusion of advanced technologies which when configured can address both data management and various decision-making needs.

Intelligence based capabilities can include heuristic, optimization or execution level data management needs related to operational, tactical or other timing or synchronization windows.

As supply chain planners and data scientists can readily attest, heuristic based models are generally utilized to support large arrays of probability based decision-making. Optimization based models are often utilized for complex, rules-based, deterministic based decision-making.

Generative AI or chabot inquiry methods can be utilized where learning patterns based on the data are utilized. Data can be in the form of text, graphic images, software code or other forms of data.

Narrow AI Has Its Place

Narrow AI, specifically machine-learning based technologies can be readily utilized to both ensure the continuous accuracy of existing data along with identifying specific patterns related to the data. Supply chain focused software applications have been effectively leveraging AI and machine leaning capabilities across planning and execution capabilities for quite some time and in meaningful ways.

As noted in Prediction Five of our 2024 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains, the landscape of business and supply chain related data management will transform in order to pave the way for more cognitive and Generative AI based decision-making over time. This will include the leveraging of narrow AI to automate data harmonization. This effort can further supplement cybersecurity data protection mechanisms.

Avoidance of the Black Box Syndrome

We would be remiss in this commentary without a shoutout to Kinaxis CEO John Sicard on one very important observation. In his opening keynote, Sicard made special mention of the black box phenomena, namely that business executives and especially supply chain teams will often balk on a decision if the causation and logic information related to that decision is not well understood and trusted. We have all likely experienced this.

In the very early days of supply chain planning systems that came with black box type optimizers that provided rather cryptic reasoning, market adoption was quite limited until software developers began to include user-friendly explanations of what actions led to recommended decisions. Black box syndrome is often attributed to the more user-friendly use of spreadsheets by business and supply chain teams to present analysis and to support decision-making. That condition continues.

Noted by Kinaxis product management executives is that with the added capabilities within Maestro®, users will have the ability of “having a dialogue with live structed and unstructured data, heuristics and generative AI chatbot capabilities.”

 

In a subsequent follow-on commentary related to the Kinexions 2024 event, we will share insightful observations brought forward from the various customer led presentations at this year’s event.

 

Bob Ferrari

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Disclosure: Kinaxis is both a client of the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and a named sponsor of the affiliated Supply Chain Matters blog.