Category Archives: Supply Chain Visibility

What is visibility? In supply chains? and what is visibility cloud?

Instance Phenomenon

Happy Year 2016!!

Another hour or so, CA (or other States in that time zone) will be bidding goodbye to 2015. That instance of counting down to 2016 will be recorded and shared among many.

Yes, I am still chasing that illusive concept of ‘visibility.’ Along the way, a few brews were made, not getting any better in understanding the elements that affect the taste outcome of the brew. Was it the weather? Was it the water amount I used in the wort? Or the typical yeast that was recommended by the shop? No clue.

We are moving towards the instance phenomenon unknowingly to most of us. Instance visibility is one of the phenomena; so is that instance when the first firework shot up the Australia skyline. We are not looking for instant phenomenon, but only that instance. In supply chains, that instance is being defined by the person who is looking for that phenomenon. We argue ( in a paper presentation in ICEB 2015) that a duality in visibility demands a more investigative study in a supply chain environment. A consequential presentation with respect to that paper was a ‘visibility cloud’ view that I allured to earlier in the posts.

I hope to detail a bit more our thinking on supply chain visibility, with big data!! here in a more regular fashion. My excuse is that to keep up with the term ‘big data’ and what have been discussed out there takes up much time to filter the lint off the topic fabrics.

vCloud Update (original post: April 4, 2013)

A lot of efforts has been put into the development and justification for the vCloud project. With many unfortunate requests from the granting governmental agencies, we managed to reach a state that only final supporting documents were needed to submit to complete the process and project should begin soon after. The surprise came when the key sponsor backed out of the project, comfortably covered their behinds and left the project dead not even on arrival!! Anyway, equity has been created by the team. We will document the idea here.

I will move on to other interests so this blog will have a mix of topics that you will find appearing with different tags. The website will also be re-layout to show the change in focus. Let me know if you have any comments.

Invisible Weakness (original post: October 9, 2012)

The Visibility Cloud (VC) project is still broiled in misplaced save-my-own-ass bureaucracy of a government agency. Instead of waiting and getting into the finger-pointing room, I become invisible to save my own sanity. On the flight from Madison, WI to Las Vegas, NV, I read the Lee Child’s Bad Luck & Trouble, a question was asked of one’s weaknesses and strengths. Weaknesses are many, but what matters in a two party dealing, the weaknesses of the other party are most important. Quite often than not, the weaknesses, if any, of the other party, are not apparent; even some are invisible to both parties. VC is an IT innovation that is most effective when the invisible weaknesses of a supply chain (or supply chains) are discovered. Using SCOR to establish a common baseline (of the supply chain in question) is a start of the discovery process (yet to be documented, discussed and improved if it is a viable tool). With the invisible weaknesses identified, (RFID-enabled) hotspots are mapped, then the VC comes into play with a short deployment period (I would say 3 months) for the supply chain parties to gain Supply Chain Visibility (SCV) to immediately put the invisible weaknesses now visible in check. Sound exciting? It is to me!! During my cooling period, I must re-align my priority, reduce my spread and concentrate on a few areas of interests. It is likely that I will complete my effort to ‘define’ SCV, and do some programming on the side (it is a pain now since GoDaddy is pulling Java off my hosting site – basically killing what I have done so far!!) for fun. To de-stress once in a while with gardening and cooking!! Oh, I read A Wanted Man and it was not good as the unknowns at the beginning become too tangled and illogical at end later half of the book.

Visible Super Moon (original post: May 7, 2012)

Yesterday (May 5, 2012) was the super moon day. The moon was bright and larger (see this news article). Can we say the moon was ‘very visible?’ And because of that, we probably comment on ‘marks’ that we may not see on the moon every day (and night) before. Visibility raises our level of curiosity to a heightened state – in every aspect of our life, professionally or personally. The desert dust gathered on the front door was aptly reflected by the late morning sun when I opened the door to receive the landscape gentleman – unacceptable, I immediately rushed and wiped the door clean. Some telltale signs of aberration in supply chain operations, when visible, should garner the attentions of those responsible (SC) parties for corrective actions – on hindsight, one would wish that such signs should be ‘visible’ as soon as they manifested in the supply chains. The visibility cloud project is to prototype not just visibility but on-demand on-target push visibility that is enabled in the cloud. I will be at the Interop 2012 in Las Vegas to see where are we in the cloud computing business and what are the topics in discussion and issues at hands.

I was told the ‘invisibility” notion was too philosophical. Now, how could I explain it better?

Visibility & Invisibility (original post: April 9 2012)

I was invisible to the general public. No one in the public knows where I am now (ok, ok, I did turn off my ‘Latitude’ apps on the Android phone – even Google, I believe, is not tracking me by my WiFi spot and/or my GPS position). My social invisibility remains even I step into the land of the Great Britain with those CCTV cameras ‘looking’ at you! Right, ‘looking’ at you as in the generic you as Person X. You are only visible until perfect facial recognition software picks X up with identity. With that, my tracks are available, tracing me is another matter. Privacy issues come up when my tracks are looked at for no apparent (legal) reasons and without my consent.

Anyhow, my invisibility is eroding for sure if I carry my Android phone everywhere with some tracking apps on. In supply chains, tracks by default are created at all operational points, such as receiving, put away, pick-n-pack and shipping. With supply chain business transactional data and third-party information agents, tracing of the goods (raw materials, WIPs, products, etc.) could be constructed, and thus, visibility of the supply chain is available to some extent. Yet, we are still talking about how to gain SCV. Why?

In the field of visibility, supply chain invisibility is created by, at least, two main culprits. First, the ‘boundaries’ drawn up inherently in a supply chain!! We speak of supply chain management from the perspective of a number of echelons working together by adding values to goods in transit from upstream to downstream. The boundaries are walls that create discontinuities resulting in discussion such as supply chain integration, and daringly the classic bullwhip effects. The discontinuity renders invisibility. The second culprit is ‘thresholds.’ At this time, I would collectively label that as ‘entitlement threshold.’ What threshold would one (supply chain partner) tolerate without sacrificing data and information that adversely affect its competitiveness and sovereignty, among other sustainability characteristics. How much of one’s operations is your partner entitled to be seen? Yes, in the field of (SC) visibility, we must consider both seeing and to be seen – purely seeing has minimal value (like the CCTV). Whom to be seen and what to be seen are the entitlement consideration.

The man-made supply chain invisibility calls for supply chain visibility. We might have a solution with RFID.

Clouding the Issues (original post: December 24, 2011)

Cloud computing did raise attentions to some colleagues in the technology field. I have been struggling with a number of issues in VC (Visibility Cloud) and the clouding cold weather is not helping. Let’s look at the following picture I dreamed up while in Pattaya doing nothing:
Supply Chain Visibility Clouds

What’s on my mind: 1) not sure if ‘cloud services’ are fully in business here in Hong Kong. Was told that Singapore has most of the data centers of the big (US) players. One conversation on if ezTrack was deployed in a cloud, the discussion ended up in the efficiency of the so called provider P and the technical know-how remained to be seen. The database giant O was currently only at the partnership level with the local telecom H. No publishable cloud services were available. Please, someone sends in the clouds to Hong Kong!! 2) not sure if Android 4.0 apps development is fully entrenched in the local software companies here in Hong Kong. Few mentioned that they were capable and had the manpower, and one suggested that they did know some good Android apps developers here in Hong Kong. Could an Android app, not from the Market, once deployed in a mobile device, be able to deployed another in that device OTA? This is an important trait of our cloud-based intelligent apps. Still looking for answer – but first have to find out where to look first, and 3) not sure if a ‘dual’ inlays are at all not possible both technically and is engineering challenged – putting a NFC RFID inlay (ISO-14443) and a UHF RFID inlay (ISO-18000-6C) on one tag? The source tagging, say, of a pair of jeans at the manufacturer should demand a UHF tag for ease of handling, up until at the display shelf of a retailer. Current NFC phones would require upgrade (protocol-wise at least) before an UHF tag could be read, thus, pointing to a straightforward solution to ‘re-tag’ the jeans with a NFC/HF tag and/or a QR code.

Well, too many ‘not sure’ already!! Will have to read more to get an idea how to tackle these issues. At the same time, will read about a ‘traceability implementation case study’ from GS1 to design the plan to a GTC take on a garment supply chain. Back to work. Happy holidays.

Supply Chain Visibility Service in the Cloud (original post: October 29, 2011)

Wow, anyone wants to touch on that topic? Let’s just say having ‘in the Cloud’ means that the IPSaaS (Infrastructure, Platform & Software) are all in the cloud for all the supply chain parties. Given that, how do we provide the visibility service in the cloud? In a service economy, knowledge is exchanged together (and applied) via a service to co-create value. If we take this line of service-dominant logic marketing thinking, then the service is accomplished by the existing of a visibility platform (VP) and the on-demand need of a supply chain party to gain a current snapshot of the supply chain. The knowledge of what to see is beneficial (the user) and the knowledge of how to gain that view (the technology) are being exchanged and visibility is created. Obviously, the user can access SaaS in the cloud to ‘express’ (as we have a drag-and-drop interface in the VP) the view needed, and the app that composes the accesible data and information in the RFID-IS and ERP-IS (please see previous posts) can exist also in the cloud. MapReduce may play a role in accessing the RFID-IS as it is likely to be a pool of distributed data sets (not necessary all database – or there could be NoSQL databases). I am not sure if ‘in the cloud’ requirement imposes any design issue on the visibility service? Will see once I know how to characterized the visibility service. For example, would ‘perishability’ be a characteristic? That is, a visibility service can be reused if the perishability can be tweeted. More later.

Quality – data, information & visibility (original post: August 28, 2011)

I am struggling with how to make a clear distinction between data quality, information quality and visibility quality. Oh, maybe there should not be any distinction – the quality is all have the same underpinning attributes such as accuracy, timeliness, completeness, currency, etc. The distinction rests only in the context – data, information and visibility. Of course, some of you may ask why not data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Well, I am trying to get there but at this point, without a collective thinking that is firm and normative. Hopefully, I will reach that point. Let’s get back to the context.

The context points back why quality matters and in what way. With data quality, we are talking about if the data becomes information, how accurate would the information be in the context it is being used? There are two views: Is there a one-to-one mapping with some degree of degradation, from data to information? does the quality of one data contributes to the overall information quality when the information is based on multiple data sources? Because we assume here the attribute ‘accuracy’ is used to describe both the quality of data and information – accurate data implies accurate information. If so, I am done here. To gain accurate visibility quality, I need to ensure data quality is accurate – with the assumption data leads to information to visibility.

Yet, we would not use the word ‘visibility’ to talk about information completeness within a corporation. We are biased in that we view ‘visibility quality’ is affected by information from multiple sources and these sources are not singular. I believe information quality affects visibility quality. Yet the effect is measured based on the value of the visibility. The visibility in a supply chain includes information from more than one party. The value of the visibility lies with who is viewing and what information (not quality yet) is available. Oh, now I use the word ‘value’ not ‘quality’. Are they interchangeable in our discussion?and

Push Visibility (original post: June 28, 2011)

Push Visibility refers to supply chain visibility (SCV) that is ‘pushed’ to the user’s web browser. The supply chain in question is RFID-enabled. For this discussion, SCV is the visibility of business processes across the supply chain, and it is argued with that visibility, performance in general improves. Data made available by these processes are somehow available in some form for the construction of a visibility template on the fly. Visibility delivered as the user would like to ‘see’ (e.g., out-the-door data of all parties are now visible – pushed). Yet, in certain situation, the raw data should not be made available to protect privacy. Yet, the determination of how the raw data should be ‘shown’ depends on who the user is with respect to the privacy domain of the supply chain. Thus, the raw data must be ‘massaged’ before it is delivered to the user on the fly. The article ‘AjaxScore: A Platform for Remotely Monitoring the Client-Side Behavior of Web 2.0 Application’ by E. Kiciman & B. Livshits of Microsoft Research in ACM Transactions on The Web 4 (4), 2010, discusses on the fly instrumentation of code sent to a user for monitoring purposes would fit the bill on how, in one instance, that privacy can be protected without the omission of a piece of data (reducing the clarity of visibility). The raw data will be ‘morphed’/’changed’ to a certain characteristics to protect the privacy of the data owner and yet the resulting visibility is only ‘gracefully degraded’ (from fault tolerant computing!!). What do you think?

There are new concepts and terms that require further clarification. Would a visibility ontology do? or ‘killing a chicken with a big bad butcher chopper’? Disclaimer: Ok, the word ‘bad’ has no implication.

Supply Chain Visibility Entitlement 101 (original post: September 2, 2011)

Allow me to put some perspective on SCVE (Supply Chain Visibility Entitlement). This is a new thinking – away from access control.

Take the one academic view of supply chain visibility (SCV) is (there are not many and they do not converge in the conceptual level), and as a result, SCV can be defined as that a firm has the ability to track the flow of goods, inventory, and information in the supply chain in a timely manner. We translate this ‘ability’ to be achieved by a technology artifact such as the ‘visibility platform’ at where information obtained by the firm clearly shows both the physical and information flows of the supply chain. We further assume such physical flow is now converted to information flow with RFID adoption at strategic hotspots of the supply chain. That is, such ability is the knowing of “the issuing of an ASN and where exactly the (supply chain) items, or SCEs are presently”. With RFID, the timely manner requirement can now be achieved with information delivered in a real-time manner with respect to the hotspots. As such information must be gathered from different data sources in the supply chain. The issue of access control amplifies in the context of supply chain, and in addition, with differing requirements when RFID-enabled physical movement data are now available.

Access control polices who can access what. The ‘who’ and the ‘what’ requires refinement in our context. ‘What’ is the raw data and it could assume different facets such that this ‘who X1’ can access this facet A and that ‘who X2’ can access that facet B of the same raw data. What differentiate that A and B facets? Privacy. What distinguish the who’s (they are the same who as in ‘a doctor’ or ‘a supplier’) – privacy also. The relationship of X1 and X2 defines the level of privacy must be enforced, and in terms, defines which facet fits that privacy level. The access, or security in allowing access to the what, now involves multiple locations. Thus, SCV must be entitled for “clarity and fidelity” (otherwise, it would be static, linear/single dimension, limited and blind-sided.

Entitlement for SCV has four dimensions. The first dimension is the who – indicated by the neighbour index. The second dimension is the relationship with the who and vice versa – indicated by the business partnership. The third dimension is the where to entitle – indicated by the data locations. The last dimension is the currency to entitle – indicated by the freshness of the data. These four dimensions define what we call the entitlement token, as such, the visibility will be rendered by the visibility platform using the token to obtain all necessary data as specified in the visibility template created on-demand by the participant.

Ok, let me work on this more and come back to you. The above has been accumulating for the past two months in my head…before I could spill it out now.