I interviewed Jonah McIntire who discussed Trends in Supply Chain Software.
Can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure, Dustin. Thanks again for the invite. Really been looking forward to talking with you about this.So, by way of introduction, I'm a supply chain technologist. My career has been at the confluence of running operations and software. So, on the operations side, I helped to run major retail supply chains. And on the software side, I've worked with solution providers as a consultant and product manager and so forth. And then the last five years, I've been orientating really towards entrepreneurship.
Andin 2013, I was able to sell a company I started, a fast transportation planning business to [inaudible 00:00:50] Kinaxsis. And now I'm currently launching a new business in the supply chain space.
What trends do you see that are happening in the supply chain software space?
Well, there's a lot. I think advances in computer engineering and software are, and almost always have been, driven from outside of our field, outside of supply chain. So, if you look at the last 20 years, supply chain software has basically been riding the incredible advance of computing power and know-how that's going on from outside of those fields. So, that's not changing.
But there are some important trends that I see in supply chain that are kind of well on their way in consumer tech or in other spaces that I think are going to crossover pretty soon. So, I guess, a couple of them I would mention. One of them is this mindset around mobile first.
So, if you look at consumer tech businesses such as Uber, they really start from day one with the mobile app and the mobile device as the primary touchpoint [inaudible 00:02:00]. And so, that changes not just the look and feel of the device, but also assumptions about how much time is being spent training the user and what the user might be doing besides using that software. Are they in a busy environment? Do they have a lot of time to focus on the task, or does it have to be very simple and short?
I think supply chain software really traditionally has come from the other direction. It's come from the assumption that the user works in the company and they're kind of dedicated to that software, and they can be trained, and they use a big-screened computer. So, they don't even have a... Most of them don't have a mobile touch phone at all or if they do, it's been added as an afterthought.
I expect that we're going to see a lot of supply chain software tools that get launched now or in the near future that have mobile app as their primary or only touchpoint. I think one of the people to watch in this space is Elementum. They are kind of the hot... [end of first audio file]
My next question is what trends to you see in the supply chain software space?
Yeah, I see a few that might be of interest. Over the last 20 years, I see supply chain software as being pushed ahead by this sort of wave of advanced computing power and know-how and engineering talent that comes from outside the field. So, I'm thinking still the advances in computer engineering and software will mostly be driven outside the supply chain. And that supply chain just gets to pick and choose and borrow from those.
I think the most important trends to watch for are always in supply chain software are going to be the ones that are starting and proven in other places.
Just a few that I would mention. One is first, this idea that you're going to build your solution, your software application with a basis of a mobile user and a mobile app as the starting point. So, I think if you see consumer tech businesses, such as Uber, that they begin with this assumption that my user is out moving around. They don't have a lot of time. They need quick, highly usable applications on their phone that are easy to learn. You don't have a lot of time to train the user.
And supply chain softwares traditionally come from the other side where there's this assumption that the software is in a company. Therefore, they have lots of time to train all the users. And the users can get setup, and they're using a desktop computer and all that goes along with that.
I expect that in the very near future, we're going to see more and more software tools that are launched, probably mostly by new-coming participants, not incumbents, which take mobile first seriously so that as a primary or only touchpoint of the user is their mobile device. I think Elementum, which is the sort of hot new startup in the supply chain visibility space is really embracing this strategy. They've started mobile first mostly.
I think a second place to look for that's an interesting trend is micro services. So, again, if you look in consumer tech but also infrastructure and service, if you look in those categories, the mindset has been switching from building monolithic software that can do everything, but also have to do everything, to building these little micro services that get [inaudible 00:02:46] together using open APIs to form a bespoke solution as needed and can be started, killed, sort of minute by minute or hour by hour.
When I look at that... I think Amazon and Docker and Swagger, these are kind of all examples of this technology in play. But then look at supply chain software. It really seems to be in the last throws of this drive to build cohesive single-provider platforms. So, it's really the mindset is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from micro services. But I think that's going to change. I suspect it's going to be a shift in focus. So, instead of having one big solution which can kind of do everything for your supply chain—and not just for yours, but maybe for everyone's supply chain. I think there's going to be a shift over to a lot of small solutions that could be easily and obviously integrated.
As an example, instead of having a TMS or WMS that has tons of capabilities inside of it, you'd have a lot of selections of little capabilities which are easy to put together, and therefore you can stitch them together, make your own kind of super system in a really intuitive way.
And I think the last trend I mentioned is—I know it sounds a bit crazy to talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning, but we have Siri on our phones now and our iPhones. We have driverless cars that are going into mass production.
Something I would think that's important for supply chain software as [inaudible 00:00:07] would be machine learning. And I know it sounds a bit crazy when people talk about machine learning, artificial intelligence, but if you look at other spaces... So, if you look at mobile phones that have things like Siri for iPhone, if you look at driverless cars which are going into mass production, it just seems obvious that supply chain as a space can benefit from machine learning.
To give an example, if you look at most supply chain software, one of the challenges that they have is bringing the user's attention to the things that are exceptional so that they focus kind of their time and energy on what needs to be, what's not routine, what needs their attention. And not spend too much time just on the flood of transactions which is going through the small chain. Well, that's actually pretty similar to something like a Facebook feed or a news aggregator, where you've got this flood of signal, you've got this flood of transactions, and you need some intelligence to adaptively figure out what's most important to that user and get it up in front of them, sort of at the top of their feed.
So, I think...that's just an example. People don't realize it's machine learning, but it is. It's adaptive. It's taking in a lot of data and coming up with a sort of hypothesis of how to act on it. And then looking at the results of that hypothesis once it takes action.
So, I think those three, just to recap them, the mobile first approach, the micro services, and machine learning. Those are probably the three most important trends I see in supply chain software states in the medium term, anyway.
And what are some of the related other near term moves of interest?
The three I described, I think, are interesting in the, let's say, five to ten year range, which is important for people who are making... I think there are a lot of decisions that people are making in that five to ten year range where they need to be aware of this.
But if you look more from zero to have years, I think there's going to be... I guess the most important trend I see would be a general crossover of consumer tech expertise over to supply chain. And so, I think consumer tech... I meet people leaving companies like Google and Yahoo and Apple and Airbnb and Uber and going towards supply chain. And they may approach it... They may go to supply chain in any of the subfields underneath it. So, that might be international trade, compliance. It might be sourcing. It might be production planning, whatever.
But, I think that there's a lot of expertise coming from consumer tech that has low-hanging fruit applicability in supply chain. So, things like design, engineering, and also just generally the management style of a software company and how do you manage a software company and the financing for startups. Those are all things that are better done in consumer tech than in supply chain software. And therefore, there's a lot of room for people who have the capabilities in that space and move over to our space.
If you look at... Let me just sort of back this up. If you look at Y Combinator, a famous incubator called Y Combinator, published some data earlier this year, and among other things, they show what are the keywords of things that are being funded or incoming startup concepts by year over the last ten years. Then you can see that things like logistics and transportation were just not present ten years ago. And now they are.
I think there's another reason why this is particularly attractive for consumer tech companies to move into supply chain and other enterprise spaces, is because they're seeing companies like Workday and the success that they have by applying basic software design principles to enterprise software, because to enterprise software, the users are just always dealing with these antiquated screens that are not very fun to use, not very easy to use.And so, just a little bit of the consumer tech thinking there goes a long way.
And finally, enterprise spaces, like supply chain software spaces, they are not as large as consumer tech in terms of overall spending. They don't have the “winner take all” mentality, or “winner take all” dynamics that consumer tech has. So, you can be number two or three in supply chain software and still make good money. Whereas, in consumer tech, there's a pretty steep cliff between being number one and number two. So, I think there's more willingness to fund software startups in the supply chain space.
So, I think in the near term, and the zero to have years term, the answer would be it's an inflow of consumer tech expertise over to supply chain. And it really is going to only take one of those kind of companies to succeed at the levels like an Uber or Twitter, Airbnb, to alter the industry to its core. Because as soon as you have one example of success, that draws in all the other hungry fish who want to take a stab at getting their own market territory there.
So, I imagine first one that succeeds totally changes the industry.
Thanks for sharing today, Jonah, on the trends in supply chain software.
No problem, Dustin. I really appreciated the invitation to speak with you and to get this out to your listeners.
About Jonah McIntire
Co-Founder at an Undisclosed Start-Up