In a momentous week for, we celebrated our fifth anniversary and introduced a new category of business software, Flow Operations (FlowOps). We hosted a fireside chat entitled, “Creating Perfect Flow in Supply Chains,” with introductory remarks by Garry Kasparov, renowned chess grandmaster, followed by a conversation between leaders and four of our best supply chain customers:

Check out the video highlights from our riveting one-hour discussion and let me share some essential quotes from our panelists. These two comments sum up the sentiment expressed during the hour:

So, in our experience, everyone agrees that AI is the most consequential technology for supply chains in this century. – Jay K., Estee Lauder Companies

We want to get our planners into a state of flow, and we want them to feel supported. And we want them to believe that we have confidence in what their recommendations are. – Danielle M.A., RB

Garry Kasparov: AI’s positive future

“How can we get the most not just from AI, but also from the rapidly increasing number of people who work with it? That is the key: how to center people in the equation. Otherwise, we will fail at the one thing only humans can do: to set priorities to know what matters most; what counts! Artificial Intelligence, or augmented intelligence, as I strongly prefer to call it, is not independent of us. Like all of our technologies throughout history, AI is neither good nor evil. It is not a harbinger of utopia or dystopia. Instead, think of AI as a mirror, reflecting its creators, us. And since we cannot take our needs and biases out, we have to look at the big picture from the very start to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.”

“What interested me so much when I heard about is the principle of using these incredible AI tools to solve problems that are damaging our quality of life, not just damaging the bottom line of our businesses. This is the positive future for AI, and of the human/machine relationship. It is a future of data crunching and pattern finding by machines. It is a future of creativity and strategic leadership by us, the humans. That is the future.”

Observations from 2020…

George C., Kellogg Company –

“We were in a desperate situation. We made many rapid-fire decisions to enable production to ship directly to customers, either from our DCs, where we normally ship, or directly from our plants. And we fought to make sure that we had a secure supply of raw materials coming in. The insight was we needed to structurally improve our rapid decision-making all the time. We were very good at it in Q2 when the big push of COVID-19 surge of volume shifted. The real issue is: how do we make rapid decision-making the new normal? I think that’s our big takeaway from last year.”

Danielle M.A., RB –

“The demand was just unprecedented. So, I think this notion that supply was a strategic differentiator in 2020 raised the question of how do we develop the building blocks to make that true and to be able to deliver on the promise that we’re going to be best in class and that we’re going to put the consumer needs front and center? What do consumers need now? What is their expected channel? It’s the speed at which you can make those judgments. Where we saw the opportunity was to move out of some of the legacy systems and into more modern tools providing the visibility to make very action-oriented choices.

Jay K., Estee Lauder Companies –

“We have inherent complexity in our portfolio. One thing is very clear: when you have a large data set and a lot of micro-outliers, human intelligence needs a lot of augmentation; it’s tough to look at all the factors coming and their impact. I think one thing is clear. Without this technology which can prioritize and augment human intelligence, 2020 could have been much worse. We’re glad to have made those investments prior to COVID-19 so we could leverage them during COVID-19.”

What’s changed since was implemented? What’s the Impact?

George K., Kellogg Company –

“A rules-based system is only as good as the rules or constraints that you embed in those in those decision-making outcomes. What we found was we needed to do something different. I like to use a football analogy, which I think is appropriate here.”

“The supply chain typically is like the offense trying to drive the ball and deliver it to the customer in the end zone and score a touchdown. The problem is you have a defense standing between you and your objective. The defense represents volatility, either in supply or demand. Many pro football teams will have a standard set of 15 to 20 plays already scripted to start the game. That’s the forecast. The problem is those never withstand the first contact with the enemy. So, the best teams have Tom Brady as their quarterback, and he is outstanding at reading the defense and understanding the variability that’s going to be coming his team’s way.”

“The artificial intelligence that we’ve employed from Noodle does precisely that. Although instead of being Tom Brady, which would have been cool to have on our team, the artificial intelligence is whispering in the planners’ ear and making a recommendation on what to do. We’ve been excited with the progress that we’ve seen improving service, even while running with minimal inventory levels. We’ve seen significantly higher service levels at low weeks’ supply that we’ve never been able to achieve in the past.

Danielle M.A., RB –

“The ability to gather multiple data sources needed for (the system) to become intelligent, and then to shift into the predictive mode to help drive different decisions and scenarios is not possible from a purely human perspective. So, it’s the blend of the two to get the sense and the prediction.

George C., Kellogg Company –

“What we’re trying to do is improve business outcomes. And so, while service in and of itself is a great thing, it’s more important to focus on how you deliver cash flow or a lower cost structure. Then service becomes a complimentary justification for whatever you’re doing. So, to me, focusing on those hard benefits overcomes the barriers will where people will say, well, what’s 1% more case fill worth? You need sales to agree to the added target of 1%; it becomes a very complicated discussion to justify the initiative. My recommendation would be to focus (internally) on those hard benefits.”

Mark M., Transplace –

“2020. Other than the global pandemic, I’m not sure there’s a hotter topic than (Wal-Mart’s) OTIF. In 2020, we delivered 400,000 shipments to Walmart for many global iconic brands – Kellogg and RB being two of them. There are lots of ways we try to approach that collaboration. There is no quick fix – it takes collaboration across multiple functional teams. One of the first things we did with Noodle was take all the data that we sit on – and over time, we have found lots of opportunities in our network of 11 billion freight under management to tackle capacity together. So previously, you would have a lane going from Atlanta to Chicago, and then we would lose visibility of that truck. Now using, we are tying those together in a big way. We call that dynamic continuous moves.

Danielle M.A., RB –

“This idea that collaboration has heightened during the crisis, and sales and supply and technology have been all joined up has been an incredible opportunity that we’re going to keep building on, from the point of view of the planner, working under these stressful conditions, feeling all that pressure day in and day out. We want to get our planners into a state of flow, and we want them to feel supported. And we want them to believe that we have confidence in what their recommendations are.”

George C., Kellogg Company –

“We went from contract to engagement in late 2019. Usually, when you do an SAP or Oracle implementation, it takes 18 months. That’s typically the time it takes to execute. With, we were ready to go in April. In four months, we were ready to engage the AI engines. When you look at the speed of delivering value, that was very exciting versus a traditional rules-based implementation.”

“I don’t know much about AI other than it beat Garry. But I see, when applied, what it does to take our junior planners and turn them into advanced planners at a rapid rate. It gives everyone the insight that a 20-year employee who’s done this a long time has been able to achieve – that’s kind of exciting. It’s eye-opening to some of our planners, leading to significant adoption.”

Mark M., Transplace –

“Supply chain has been a relatively dull space for decades. We’re in the midst of a technology renaissance (in supply chain). I think a lot about the renaissance we’re in. I would just encourage people to embrace it and innovate.”

While you wait for the video recording to be released, learn more about Flow Operations by using our FlowOps Maturity Curve for Supply Chains to learn: “What’s blocking flow in your Supply Chain?”