In recent years we have been witnessing a tsunami of changes in the information age and the fastest rate of change every aspect of social life and business. A few observations:
- iPADs are now common in Kindergartens
- Intelligent cell phones are widespread and social media is connecting people in real-time
- Information companies have been replacing not just brick and mortar companies such as Blockbusters, but are not replacing the traditional Taxi cab companies and transportation companies
- Speech and visual recognition is commonly used
- E-commerce is now 5% of the $4.3 Trillion in total US retail sales. For clothing and footwear, almost 20% goes to eCommerce
- Intelligent devices are in people’s homes from Washing machines to vacuum cleaners and refrigerators
- Personal shopping assistants in the form of robots in a number of stores and people’s avatar’s help shoppers online to pick the right makeup and clothing items.
- 6 Billion hours of video are watched every month
- A one-year-old can play with iPad while expecting a magazine picture to change the size the same way as if it is a computer!
What has brought these changes to our lives is a combination of scientific approaches that have become mature enough to allow this. Of course, the speed and memory capability of computing devices has enabled this revolution that continues to evolve. Collectively, we refer to these scientific advances as Information Technology. But this is not just progress, what is going on is a revolution in the way we live, work, relate to each other, communicate, collaborate and even go to war with each other. The objective is to make the devices as close to humans as possible. Even facial expressions of feelings are now being detected and used for decision making. Intelligence in every aspect of our lives can be guided by machines from the right amount of water in our washer to how many shipments of an item to a location for storage or sale.
The stock market is a good example of such intelligence. As data becomes so available in real-time then systems are needed to make sense of it all. Every morning the same data is available to everyone everywhere. People who have the best decisions made the fastest are the winners in the financial markets. They do this by highly optimized algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques. The rate of incoming information in this age doubles every 5 minutes. 70 years ago it doubled every decade. As human beings, the only way we can cope with this is to have intelligent systems to decipher the data and recommend what can be done or should be done. Currently, the total amount of data is 44 Zettabyte of which 13 ZB is useful data and our current capacity is to hold the only 7ZB.
Areas that have been instrumental in this information technology revolution are:
- Computer Vision and Speech Recognition
- AI Techniques, especially machine learning and inference techniques
- Optimization algorithms, including planning and scheduling
- Pattern recognition in Big data and techniques to uncover hidden information that may not be obvious
Our interest at Adexa has to do with methods that can be used to make businesses better and faster and more profitable. In particular, our findings are that items 2-4 above can have a significant impact on supply chain planning systems and optimization of operations.
As an example, Starbucks is connecting every coffee machine to its IoT system to collect the data so that there is no latency in the information needed as to what to buy and what to distribute. In fact, by doing so this data collection might reveal different habits of different regions in the type of coffee preferred as well as what people buy with their coffee. As soon as we are aware of such information, the next step is to plan to get what is needed and to schedule, to source it, make it and deliver it and do it in an optimized manner in the least amount of time and cost. Now you can see how the 3 latter items are related to one another and necessary steps.
Learning systems in AI are intended to make software more and more intelligent by learning from its environment. As an example, given a model of the supply chain of a company, it must have the capability to constantly change since the supply chain is dynamic and the company is dynamic and it changes. In some cases, the changes are subtle, such as demand falling slowly or more obvious, such as losing a customer or a supplier. How would the models of the supply chain understand these changes and relate to them is done with a lot of help form their users and expected events.
However, we feel that systems are capable of changing themselves by understanding the changes in the environments in which they operate. Assume a supplier is late by 3-5 days most of the time or a customer is generally over forecasts 10% of the time. Systems are capable of picking up this kind of behavior and confirm it and then build it into the future models automatically. Thus the supply chain model is constantly adapting itself to its surroundings and changing as the business changes. By using the techniques in big data analysis, models are constantly corrected and represent an accurate view of what is actually going on, and then optimization techniques can yield a much better results of what needs to be done using the planning engines.
Of course, none of the above is possible unless we tap into techniques which make the systems more human, i.e. ease of use, safety and reassurance and of course emotional connection. Much like video conferencing, that became popular by showing people’s faces and emotions, social media can also play a role in business. For example, the purchasers and vendors can see each other while sending messages back and forth or at least can see a picture of the other, much like Facebook so that a more personal connection is made resulting in better business practices.
In summary, the systems used in businesses over the next 2 decades or so will be very different from your average ERP system much the same as the changes that took us from the “green screens” to the “Apple” like interfaces except that this time it will be much more than just a change in the user interface. The generation of users of enterprise apps in business are the same as the one-year-old child who can work with iPad but cannot recognize a magazine! Messaging, social media, collaboration and communication, as well as speed and intelligence, are the ingredients and central to every business system. It will lead to making “personal assistants” available to everyone in every aspect of life, affordable with the use of intelligent systems which can also understand emotions not just your words and your commands!