On Wednesday, I attended the Endeca 2009 Manufacturing Summit meeting.  If you are not familiar with Endeca, they are an up and coming provider of information search capabilities, and their technology goes much further than just search.


This was, to my knowledge, Endeca’s first event focused specifically on manufacturing and supply chain strategy.  The overall theme of the conference, discovery in daily decisions, was rather appropriate, since I believe that this notion of information discovery will morph to be a key capability in supply chain analytics, and an ever more critical skill set for tomorrow’s supply chain professional.


There were many interesting presentations and demonstrations of the potential of this technology.  Think of this type of application as the ability to perform a Google-like search on the information spectrum of the extended value chain.  This would include typical structured information found in relational based ERP and supply chain specialty applications, as well as various forms of unstructured information such as spreadsheets, word documents, PDF’s or product-related content. Instead of a structured queery on data, where one has to have knowledge of the data relationships, this new technology provides the user the ability to “discover” relationships among key information.  .


The two morning keynote presentations really stimulated my thinking about supply chain and supporting IT strategies, and what direction many industries are headed . 


Dr. Michael Porter, noted author and professor of strategy at the Harvard Business School, shared his insights on the changing role of IT in supporting competitive advantage.  Dr. Porter also addressed the changing role of strategy enablement across a firm’s value-chain.  The key takeaways for me were that in too many industry settings today, IT strategy may have provided a higher level of rigidity, which has led to homogenization or zero-sum competitive positioning.  In other words, if two companies that compete with one another manage their overall value-chain on the same IT platform, competitive difference tends to converge on finite differences in execution.  Further, industry professionals tend to measure operational effectiveness in terms of benchmarking against some other industry-related or best-in-class value-chain.  Dr. Porter’s message was that value-chain strategy is really linked to the overall business strategy, which may determine that a value-chain may need to have different or unique capabilities than other industry competitors. Since information and IT now permeate just about every activity within an extended value-chain, competitive strategy is really about the uniqueness that one value-chain has over any other.  His argument reflects that competitive strategy is built on creating tailored processes, allowing for spontaneous process change and fostering IT tools that facilitate process flexibility and information mining.  


You can view Dr. Porter’s as well as other presentations from this event at the following link.


The second presentation from Paul Sonderegger, Chief Strategist at Endeca, provided the conclusion that in the landscape of IT that has been fostered by ERP and other functionally-driven applications, the re-purposing of existing information for other uses is a much more expensive proposition.  In Paul’s view, process-centric IT tends to trade-off flexibility for information efficiency.  In supply chain parlance, there is an excess supply in data, but a shortage in the ability of users to make more insightful use of that information in their day-to-day decision making.  Endeca purposely utilizes the “discovery” word to connote an ability to empower a user to be able to gather insightful information, even though he or she is not aware of the sources of that information. The user builds his /her own information construct.


These are rather interesting concepts, providing some food for thought for considering decision-support needs in manufacturing, planning, procurement and services support..  The team at Endeca realizes that the full benefits of this technology needs further market education, and this conference was a successful first step in that direction. 


An ability to search an “information market” may well be a more efficient means toward fostering supply chain analytical and intelligence capabilities.  I can think of many viable business cases including supply chain disruption and risk mitigation.  When advanced panning systems (APS) first came to market several years ago, market education and functional process solution development helped foster market adoption.


 I believe this is a technology area upon which to keep your lens focused upon, since this type of technology may be a better means to harvest all that information that’s been gathering within the extended supply chain.


What’s your view?  How can this type of technology provide value in your current or future analytics and value-chain decision-making processes? 


Bob Ferrari

Disclosure Statement: This author has received no financial consideration from Endeca Inc.,  or its investors, in relation to influencing the content or providing the above posting.