Hi OpenLMIS Governance colleagues,
Last week I attended the APICS 2018 supply chain conference. There are a few take-aways I want to share with this group, and I have a full Trip Report linked below.
- Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence (ML & AI): These were hot topics mentioned by most speakers and at most vendor expo booths. That said, I sensed a general agreement that they were talked about a lot but rarely put into practice currently. Presenter Pradipa Karbhari, from Microsoft, asked her audience, “Raise your hand if you are using ML or Blockchain,” and in a room of 50 people there was 1 hand raised. It’s definitely an area to watch, but it may be some time until OpenLMIS has sufficient volumes of data that would benefit from ML and AI.
- Blockchain: Similarly, many presenters and a few vendors talked about Blockchain. My opinion is that Blockchain is more bleeding-edge than ML and AI. It is similar to self-driving cars, where lots of companies are working on it, and there are lots of corporate acquisitions and publicity. That said, blockchain is not widely adopted in supply chains in OECD countries, and even less so for global health supply chains. Chris Richard from Deloitte also surmised that “People talk about blockchain for end-to-end visibility a lot, but blockchain has more potential for smart contracts to speed up payments.” It’s clear that the benefit of blockchain for supply chains–and applicability to global health supply chains–is an unsolved area that we need to watch.
- **LMIS? What’s that? **In conversations at APICS, I was surprised to learn that LMIS–Logistics Management Information System–means nothing in the supply chain world. Nobody I’ve met knows what an LMIS or e-LMIS is, except the few Gates and USAID folks here. Furthermore, the Requisition process is a requirement that is unique to global health and does not match the processes in supply chains outside of global health. I have not seen any commercial tool that does all of what OpenLMIS does, particularly the Requisition features. On the other hand, leading supply chain systems support re-supply through different means using different terminology that we need to learn about and understand. One example: supply chain tools for the “middle” of the supply chain, from a national warehouse to service delivery point, would use a DRP, Distribution Resource Planning feature set. (See an APICS article about how DRP fits into “push” and “pull” supply chains.)
- **Offline support? No. **The software/solution vendors at the APICS expo do not have any software for offline transactions. Many of the tools are going to the cloud, and all of them require users to be online. Most of the tools are desktop and there are not many solutions here showcasing tablet or mobile capability (other than for drivers). The ERP solutions seem to target business workers sitting in an office at a desktop/laptop computer using dashboards and clunky UIs. When I explain that we need to serve offline health facilities, every salesperson here says we can’t use their product. OpenLMIS’s offline support is a unique value proposition which will be needed for as many years as the target market has health clinics and facilities without solid internet.
- **User-friendly? No. **Many attendees complained about the usability of leading ERP solutions from SAP and Oracle. They reported that they were clunky, not user-friendly, and slow. Based on the software demonstrations in the expo hall and the demos shown during presentations, the software systems on display at APICS 2018 are generally very clunky, full of huge grids and tables, and visually overwhelming. Many attendees here say they use Tableau to make charts and graphs look good. OpenLMIS currently has a UI that seems better designed than some of the user interfaces I see here. OpenLMIS users also have unique UI needs–language/translation needs, low-English skills, offline interface needs, and particular workflows in global health supply chains that we optimize for. This is another unique value proposition of OpenLMIS.
- Control Towers: At APICS, many people talk about Control Towers–this seems to be the mainstream industry language similar to VAN, Visibility and Analytics Networks. Joseph Roussel noted at the subsequent Gates Supply Chain event that, “There was some confusion about the terms VAN and Control Tower which cover analytics and data visualization on the one hand and demand/supply planning/collaborative planning (E2Open’s sweet spot) on the other hand.” The Control Tower model also appears to be a more centralized model where the focus is one central view of everything happening in the supply chain. In global health VANs, it seems that our work is predominantly decentralized, because we need each actor in remote reaches of the supply chain to have a view to take action in their “neighborhood”. To meet that need, it may be possible to use off-the-shelf solutions (such as OneNetwork or E2Open) or to apply the new OpenLMIS reporting and analytics stack or other solutions. More research and analysis is needed.
- Interoperability & EDI. Are people using electronic data interchange (EDI) of any sort? What standards are leading? How mature is it? How widely adopted? What EDI applies to supply chains in global health? Based on many conversations at APICS, it appears that EDI is considered antiquated and is not widely adopted. One presenter said, “We only use EDI with a supplier when we make 1000+ orders to them a year.” EDI takes a lot of custom work to set up each time. Another presenter said, “EDI takes 6 weeks and $50,000 to establish and is surprisingly immature.” He suggested we look at OneNetwork for a “new Facebook like model of how you interact with suppliers.” Another suggested we look at Coupa Pay. Also, all of the conversations about EDI were for making orders to suppliers electronically. I did not hear about people implementing EDI for inventory reports from warehouses. (Mostly it seems people have an ERP for all of their own warehouses or Distribution Centers, so their ERP already knows what they have in each location they control. And they don’t get a lot of automated information about what their ‘customers’ downstream have in their facilities.) One presenter did suggest we should look at the X12.852 Product Activity Data standard and 867 Product Transfer and Resale Report (see X12 Document List). I did not hear any discussion of GS1 EDI (see the GS1 EDI site also).
- GS1. Most people I talked to at APICS had heard of GS1, and understood its importance, especially for barcoding at point of sale. However, whether it is adopted and supported well in MIS systems was not as clear. Standards such as GS1 SSCC (the serial shipping container code) were not mentioned either. Moreover, it sounds like many of the supply chain products that integrate with each other have messy data mapping between systems–similar to my note above on why EDI setup costs $50,000 each time you need it. OpenLMIS may be ahead of the curve in MIS systems for supply chain in terms of having a data model to effectively support GS1. More research and analysis is needed, and obviously there is a drive to implement GS1 in global health supply chains for end-to-end visibility and for preventing sub-standard and falsified products.
- **APICS has launched ASCM. **APICS is launching a new organization called ASCM, the Association for Supply Chain Management. ASCM will focus on organizations while APICS will remain focused on individuals and their professional development. They are also announcing a 3-year Gates Foundation grant to allow ASCM to support public health supply chain strengthening. The team from APICS says there is new hiring for this project, plus collaboration with the Africa Resource Center (including Azuka Okeke), and Glenda Maitlin based in South Africa along with SAPICS (the South Africa APICS chapter), but the details are still getting worked out. The project starts with 3 countries including Kenya.
Here is a full Trip Report including presentations posted to our wiki:
Overall, I came away feeling that OpenLMIS has a unique value proposition, and that it has benefits such as GS1 or Offline capability that may apply to other sectors beyond only Ministry of Health supply chains. This will be very helpful for me as we begin the OpenLMIS Sustainability conversations.
Let me know if you have any questions or if we should discuss any of this further on our next Governance Meeting. Thanks,