Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

IBM blockchain and AI smarten supply chain

Steve Rogerson
October 15, 2019
IBM is using blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) in a suite of products to help organisations make their supply chains smarter, more efficient and better able to make decisions to adjust to disruptions and opportunities.
In an era when globalisation has made supplier networks more complex and vulnerable, IBM has introduced an integrated supply chain suite, embedded with Watson AI and blockchain, and open to developers.
The IBM Sterling supply chain suite, built on the foundation of Sterling B2B Network and Order Management, lets manufacturers, retailers and other businesses integrate critical data, business networks and supply chain processes while capitalising on the benefits of technologies such as Watson AI, blockchain and the IoT.
These intelligent, self-correcting supply chains are designed to learn from experience, creating greater reliability, transparency and security while providing competitive advantages.
With this launch, IBM is delivering a secured, open platform with hybrid-cloud support that helps organisations integrate their own data and networks – and the data and networks of their suppliers and customers – with the Sterling suite. This flexibility enables enterprises to update and tailor their supply chain to meet business needs.
The open-architecture capabilities are strengthened by IBM's recent acquisition of Red Hat, a provider of enterprise open-source technology.
"Supply chains are now mission-critical systems for all businesses to drive success and profitability," said Bob Lord, senior vice president at IBM. "Many organisations have risen to the top of their industries by building efficient and agile supply chains. By modernising supply chains on top of open, hybrid-cloud platforms and infusing Watson AI, IBM Blockchain and IoT into their networks, the IBM Sterling supply chain suite can help companies across all industries enter a new era of global competitiveness.''
IBM sees a $50bn market in technologies that will enable global businesses to transform their supply chains digitally.
"IBM," Lord said, "means to be number one in that market."
IBM believes the global economy is becoming more reliant on the interactions of connected companies that can tap into data troves from sources such as the IoT, GPS positioning and continuous weather monitoring. In this data-rich environment, the potential business value of the modern supply chain has never been higher.
And, yet, critical business relationships often hinge on continuous collaboration, transparency and trust to succeed. While some applications and processes must remain safely tucked inside an organisation's four walls, others must find their way to the cloud to take advantage of the benefits of AI-enabled open collaboration by companies, suppliers and customers.
"Optimising individual supply chain functions and processes has helped enterprises progress as far as they can,'' said Simon Ellis, vice president at IDC. ''But the growing complexity of global supply chains continues to increase beyond the capabilities of traditional or legacy systems."
The suite’s open, integrated platform connects to each supply chain's unique supplier ecosystem. Innovations include:

  • Trusted connectivity built to scale, backed by blockchain. The Sterling suite provides frictionless, secured connectivity and collaboration with users, partners and suppliers. Enterprises can leverage Sterling's existing multi-enterprise business network, a community of more than 800,000 pre-connected trading partners executing three billion transactions a year.
  • Real-time intelligence and actionable recommendations. Applications and control towers, embedded with AI and trained in supply chain, provide end-to-end visibility, real-time alerts and recommendations that can be automated for self-correcting actions to drive better business outcomes. Clients using individual Sterling applications, such as the fulfilment optimiser with Watson, in their supply chains today have lowered shipping cost per order by about seven per cent. IBM has deployed these capabilities in its own global supply chain to reduce disruption mitigation time from days to hours, becoming 95 per cent more efficient at tackling recurring supply chain challenges.
  • Open to developers to create tailored outcomes. The suite allows systems integrators and developers to build, extend and integrate tailored supply chain technology that can interoperate with other business networks and applications. It lets clients bring in third party data, so all connected applications and networks can benefit. The suite's developer hub provides a global community of developers, open-source programmes and a library of knowledge resources to help solve unique supply chain problems quickly.
  • Hybrid-cloud integration to extend existing supply chain investments. Instead of requiring time-consuming and expensive migrations, the suite's enterprise-ready containerised software, along with IBM Cloud Paks, allows clients to extend the value and reach of their legacy applications and data. This hybrid approach means they have the freedom to choose where to run their workloads and the ability to link them to value-added services in the suite. For example, once certified, IBM Sterling order management containers for Red Hat OpenShift will allow clients to continue to run their software in their own data centre or in any cloud.