While attending the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in Phoenix, Supply Chain Matters had the opportunity to sit–down and catch-up with CEO’s of supply chain software and services providers who were attending this conference.

We had the opportunity to speak with Irfan Khan, President and CEO of specialized supply chain and analytics business advisory and system integrator Bristlecone. Irfan also introduced Ramesh Siva a new arrival to Bristlecone in the role of Vice President, Solutions and Innovation. Siva’s prior role was Senior Vice President, Global Services and Head of Innovation Portfolio at SAP.

We have had a busy few weeks of traveling and attending various industry conferences.  At PTC’s Internet of Things (IoT) focused LiveWorx 2015 conference, Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, declared the emergence of a whole new part of a manufacturer’s or service provider’s value-chain, namely a single point of data integration that is overseen by a unified group of data experts utilizing advanced data analytics. We found that conclusion profound, especially since it has evolved as a strategy among leading-edge supply chain organizations.

We note the above reference point since we felt they would provide a timely conversation starter theme for our discussion with Irfan.  And indeed it was.

Irfan observed that upwards of 10 percent of Bristlecone’s current client activities are currently focused in the area of smarter supply chain analytics directed at solving particular business problems. He confirmed that innovative high-tech, consumer product goods and pharmaceutical manufacturers are now seeking methods to leverage analytics capabilities beyond S&OP, extending to the end-to-end value-chain of products. Similarly leading-edge retailers are actively pursuing methods for anticipating consumer needs while providing more reliable indicators of specific consumer interests in certain products. Bristlecone is engaged with big retail companies to help in developing accurate product demand capabilities in a two year horizon.

Because more and more customers are looking for specialized partners to serve as an advisor to business process needs, help select right fit solution platforms, and then bring in technology experts to implement –Irfan views significant growth potential for Bristlecone in the coming years. He views Bristlecone’s differentiation as being the unique positioning of platform agnostic consulting in extended supply chain areas with niche capabilities to advise and then implement – where most competing firms are single platform focus system integrators.

However Irfan opined that mainstream acceptance of the full spectrum of smarter analytics (Descriptive, Prescriptive and Cognitive) applied to supply chain and manufacturing capabilities will take additional time for most organizations to be fully prepared to leverage. He confirmed organizational change management readiness and client skill impacts that take time to work through.  Irfan anticipates the next two years for descriptive and prescriptive analytics to be more widely embraced while the cognitive analytics may take upwards of 2 plus years. However, in each of these strategy windows, the implications will be profound across many industries and supply chain teams will be leading the innovation.

Our discussion brought a powerful analogy – namely that data and information are the new “oil”.  There are concentrated and intelligent exploration efforts in the discovery of oil. (data) There are then efforts directed at refining crude oil into various grades of energy focused products based on market and individual business needs. Some grades require minimal refining while other, more sophisticated grades require more precise refining methods. This is the analogy for value-chain related information, as data streams are refined into insightful information to power the various forms of advanced analytics needs.

Irfan’s vision of supply chain analytics as the next generation growth driver for most industries – and how Bristlecone is helping customers with its largest pool of specialized supply chain consultant pool globally –provided a noteworthy approach to the notion of singular value-chain data integration capability. This is indeed an area that supply chain teams should be focused in their technology deployment efforts. .

We had an enjoyable and insightful conversation, one of many others to come.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: Bristlecone is a current client of the Ferrari Consulting and Research group.