By using revolutionary decision-support systems, you can seize advantage in your sector — but it’s important to keep the proper perspective.
Decision support. Automated intelligence. Process automation. Everybody’s talking about them. Everyone wants them. But how do you make strategically sound decisions on the enabling technologies that are meant to help you make strategically sound decisions?
Take blockchain, for instance. It’s one of the major “hot buzz” emerging technologies today. But while other Industry 4.0-enabling technologies are enhanced iterations of earlier technologies, blockchain is something entirely new: a hybrid technology created by unique combinations of previously isolated technologies, i.e., databases and cryptography.
Where we are with blockchain is where we were with the internet in the ’90s: blank slate. So, if you are considering blockchain as a critical component of your decision-support infrastructure, what do you need to know if you want to get in on the ground floor?
It’s really a technology for an ecosystem
Blockchain is a trusted “smart connected business” technology. It’s for businesses that are moving from centralized to decentralized operations, with information-sharing across the ecosystem. In other words, it’s a technology to accompany a transformation in how you do business, not simply a quicker, more automated way of doing what you’ve always done. If you decide you want a supply chain that’s a holistic, fully connected system, blockchain enables that kind of digitally driven operation.
Blockchain isn’t a better way of doing supply chain — it’s a new way
You don’t start with the question, “How do I improve my supply chain by using blockchain?” Instead, you ask, “How can I make my supply chain work more effectively — and can blockchain be applied?” This is not a subtle distinction. Blockchain is an enabler, but you have to decide what you want to enable: in what ways do you see your supply chain working differently?
Working slightly faster, at slightly less cost, is not the goal. Working in thoroughly different ways that provide quantum leaps in enhancing confidence in transaction integrity, providing strategic decision-support analytics, establishing trusted information-sharing and disrupting the industry-practice template for your sector — that’s your goal. It provides major wins on multiple levels.
But you’ll feel the impacts all the way down to staffing. You’ll need new types of employees, not just new types of training: a hybrid “human-digital” workforce, capable of working with artificial intelligence and in virtual worlds. This will require new hiring strategies for a new organizational structure — you aren’t just hiring entry-level people with some data skills.
Among the new ways of working will be new ways of approaching internal disruption — specifically, disrupt quickly and fail fast. This is about ripping off the bandage, not slowly peeling it off. But you can minimize risk by starting with a minimally disruptive application, like a back-office function, rather than a revenue driver.
Start with your challenge, not with the solution
There are no silver-bullet solutions. These emerging technologies are all enablers, a means to an end rather than the end itself. So, what problem do you want to solve? What metric do you want to hit — in speed, in customer responsiveness, in performance? Part of answering those questions involves identifying the root causes of the problem and how they might be addressed. Only then can we figure out which (combination of) technologies need to be applied.
But as unique as your company may be, your target objectives aren’t likely to be in entirely uncharted waters. EY member firms, for example, have built several blockchain platforms, from end-to-end supply chain, to digital rights and royalties management, to fractional ownership of cars and heavy assets.