Supply chain planning technology provider ToolsGroup made a significant product announcement this week, one that could lead to other announcements down the road. By its own admission, the company has not previously hyped product release announcements but this announcement in indeed noteworthy. 

The company’s latest release of its flagship supply chain planning SO99+ software now includes a bolstered technology integration with Microsoft, including the leveraging of the of its planning software to the Microsoft Azure platform and its existing machine learning capabilities to Microsoft AI, described as an open artificial intelligence(AI) and cognitive computing platform. Plans call for Microsoft AI to further be enhanced with the use of Microsoft Cortana as a digital agent in user queries.

The new release 8.0 version was designed to provide advanced analytics capabilities to a broader user audience in both larger and mid-market companies. The release includes added enhancements in data modeling, added S&OP, reverse logistics, returns and repair support functionality, along with other enhancements. According to ToolsGroup executives, the new release serves as an important step in productizing machine learning for a wider range of business environments.

Supply Chain Matters views this announcement as significant from two broad perspectives.

In previous blog commentaries we have noted that ToolsGroup was one of the first supply chain technology providers to incorporate machine learning capabilities within its planning capabilities. Today, SO99 includes machine learning support in areas of trade promotion and media forecasting, new product introduction, extreme or complex seasonality of products, and demand or social sensing.  That is a wide machine learning coverage area and the new move to Microsoft AI will likely open-up other areas of business process applications in the not too distant future.

With this move, the SO99 suite makes a significant step in transitioning to a full Cloud based SaaS platform model, perhaps a long overdue step. An important benefit for ToolsGroup customers is that with migration of the SO99 database to the Microsoft Azure PaaS platform, scalability, performance and mobility aspects of the data model become more virtual allowing customers added flexibilities in scaling their supply chain data models without the need for added internal IT hardware or support investments. The newest Cloud based version features an enhanced and streamlined user interface featuring embedded dashboards, which existing SO99 users will likely be impressed with. Version 8 further provides increased data security standards which includes ISO 27001 Certification for information security.

The company is now urging existing customers to transition their on-premise software to the Cloud version, and is offering such customers eligibility to upgrade under the normal migration process. However, the company notes in its announcement that it will continue to offer an on-premise deployment option.

Our readers perhaps noted our market education blog commentaries reflecting on service parts planning as a foundational step toward Internet of Things (IoT) enabled Service Management business models. The movement of SO99 capabilities to the Microsoft Azure platform adds further dimensions to service parts and supply chain planning capabilities as building blocks since Azure serves as one of other preferred IT platforms for broader Cloud hosted IoT deployments. The receipt of operational performance data via the Cloud coupled with planning and machine learning capabilities existing on the same Cloud platform should be an attractive option for existing or prospective customers.

The second important takeaway regarding this latest ToolsGroup announcement pertains to Microsoft itself, which Supply Chain Matters believes will gain some important broader benefits from this partnership. As we noted in prior blog postings, the effect of Amazon is taking on many broader dimensions with retailers, consumer goods manufacturers and others associated with retailing. Protection of customer and product demand data has reached a stage where businesses are opting for decreasing dependence on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a Cloud platform provider in customer fulfillment or supply chain focused IT support. That has opened opportunities for other Cloud platform providers, including Microsoft. We believe that the addition of ToolsGroup supply chain and other planning capabilities including machine learning and AI, particularly in long-tail or complex product demand environments, can provide added attractiveness for Microsoft’s intentions to grow Azure platform adoption in businesses with strong linkages among online commerce, supply chain and service management business process support. The Azure platform serving as a dominant platform in shop-floor and industrial machinery environments adds further dimensions tor leveraging machine learning and AI with supply chain planning and decision-making capabilities.

This week’s announcement, by our lens, will likely lead to other announcements down the road.

Bob Ferrari

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