The Digital Supply Chain podcast

AI And Emerging Technologies In Supply Chain - A Chat With Tony Flath

September 10, 2021 Tom Raftery / Tony Flath Season 1 Episode 158
The Digital Supply Chain podcast
AI And Emerging Technologies In Supply Chain - A Chat With Tony Flath
Show Notes Transcript

So, Tony Flath invited me to chat on his The Wave of Change podcast a few months back to talk tech and supply chain. It was a great chat.

Time to return the compliment. Tony and I had a super chat in this episode around AI, Robots, and other emerging technologies, and how they are impacting supply chains globally.

As is often the case, I learned loads, I hope you do too...

If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to leave me a voice message over on my SpeakPipe page or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).

If you want to learn more about how to juggle sustainability and efficiency mandates while recovering from pandemic-induced disruptions, meeting growth targets, and preparing for an uncertain future, check out our Oxford Economics research report here.

And if you want to know more about any of SAP's Digital Supply Chain solutions, head on over to www.sap.com/digitalsupplychain, and if you liked this show, please don't forget to rate and/or review it. It makes a big difference to help new people discover it. Thanks.

And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane! 

Tony Flath:

This AI thing isn't that bad. It's not replacing my job. It's just helping me out a bit. Or, or or ooh, I can pass off some gunk No one likes to do those manual tasks.

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the digital supply chain podcast, the number one podcast focusing on the digitization of supply chain. And I'm your host, global vice president of SAP. Tom Raftery. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the digital supply chain podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, with SAP and with me on the show today I have my special guest, Tony. Tony, would you like to introduce yourself?

Tony Flath:

Sure thing, everyone. Thanks so much, Tom, really appreciate that. So glad to get on a chat with you. It's Tony Flath. And I am from Edmonton, Alberta, up in northern Canada. And you know, do enough different things in technology have a background and telecom cloud cyber security now doing work in AI and interested in emerging technologies. Certainly, I've been doing enough on social media. And that's where I actually got introduced to Tom. And we, you know, we've been chatting back and forth virtually. So it's nice to get on a chat going back and forth this way. So you can catch me there it Matt speaks on Twitter. And then easy enough to find me LinkedIn anywhere like that. But yeah, Tom, really looking forward to today.

Tom Raftery:

Thanks, Tony. And thanks for agreeing to come on the podcast, I'll put those social links into the show notes as well. So people can just click on them and connect with you that way. You I mean, this is the supply digital supply chain podcast, obviously. So the conversation will necessarily skew towards supply chain. But we're seeing in the last 12 months, obviously, because of pandemic a huge shift in the way people have approached technology in general, but you know, supply chain and technology and have applied technology to their supply chains. What have you come across in in this space? I mean, there's all there's everything from blockchain and AI and machine learning, you know, all that kind of stuff. What, what's your experience of this?

Tony Flath:

Oh, absolutely. So I've seen some organizations that certainly have moved a little quicker from a digital standpoint. Right. And, you know, maybe they were on that track before the COVID had happened. And they had had been playing around a little bit with emerging technology, or even had some solutions already play or you know, DevOps cloud back end kind of thing. And they sprung out after COVID or through COVID. Right? Yeah. But the whole world changed overnight, like all of a sudden, you know, everybody was becoming a consumer and getting packaged goods delivered to their house, the whole way that produce was delivered changed quite radically. Like we've also seen some, you know, I've seen some other technologies and some interesting things I've read, you know, when you look at Walmart and how they're doing their pro to produce with blockchain, right, and with total transparency on how that produce gets to the shelf, and what that means to consumers, I think it's highly customer driven, right? The user experience is really important. And you're seeing some solutions break out of the market that way, right? And then it's also to about how is that being monitored, tracked along the along the path, right, like, there's certainly some some interesting things that you're seeing there just in how those things are being, you know, built in design from a sensor perspective, IoT in play, you know, all the things that drive that all the way down the line, and ability to know, you know, within, you know, instant where your good is at or where it's been at at a checkpoint thing like that. Yeah. So it's, it's been interesting from that perspective, and rapid, right, quite rapid. I think, one of the people that I was chatting with on my podcast, you know, he was quite adamant, Justin, you know, you look in a matter of months, how really yours changed, right? So, you know, like a year advancement and months is something we didn't see, and it was poised. So you're kind of seeing two organizations unfold, right, I guess three, those that didn't succeed or haven't succeed are shutting down right just because they didn't have the technology in play. I'll give you an example. And we're hoping to see you know, some rebound from this but it certainly had an impact and they shut the doors I think they're doing some work with with you know, the the entertainers but circus to slay in Canada, which is world renowned.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, yeah, sure.

Tony Flath:

And if if they had had a better plan digitally, right, where they were producing, you know, more video content or for users to be able to enter you know, go on that or quickly at adopted to that. I think you need to have some things in place to make that happen quickly, but in that environment, they just want we're unable to keep up because they couldn't have the live events. Right. And you know, we you see other, like even some gyms that folded but then other ones that do quite well because they do have that Video Interaction or you know that control or they jumped and leapt into that secondary world of quickly adopting some technology on there, right. So it's, it's been interesting for sure, right.

Tom Raftery:

And I've I've on several podcasts before now I've referred to it as kind of a burning platform, a lot of companies to your point, you know, at the start of the pandemic, and in the years leading up to the pandemic, when everyone was talking about digital transformation, but nobody was really making a big step two is lots of proofs of concept out there, maybe one or two projects that, you know, gone full blown for some companies, but the vast majority of companies hadn't taken any big steps, because there was no burning platform. But suddenly, there was, and suddenly, people needed to up their game, and suddenly, they needed to get their supply chain, you know, with more visibility down through the entire supply chain and more resilience in the supply chain. Is that, is that something you're seeing as well?

Tony Flath:

Absolutely, absolutely. I think it's really, you know, it's key just in in, in a consumer to consumer, you look at some businesses that even dropship, or do things like that, and how much transparency they have, and how they've just really quickly adopted some technology, like you look at the burst of Amazon, right? You know, when you when you talk about big Amazon and coming over the market, when Amazon lays out the facts and figures, and you look in Canada, how many saw small businesses evolved and shot up quickly on Amazon alone, right, in just how they're deploying things and how they're using that platform to effectively you know, ship goods to people in a transparent way, right, has been real radical, I think, you know, and help some businesses in you know, become new entities or shift in a different way. So it's interesting to see that perspective. And I agree with your point, like, there definitely was some people toes in the water kind of playing there, right. But then there's been this whole deep dive in, like, even to the point where you're seeing government and public sector that take forever to make decisions glaciers slow, right? All of a sudden, rapidly evolving and saying, No, we've got to get, you know, to a better environment set up and look at a hybrid cloud, at least. And, you know, look at some other things on how to better do storage. And, you know, actually take the tape drive out of the equation, there's a thought right? There. So slowly, slowly, I think these hands that press around, and these server huggers just can't get enough of those, those live servers, I think the fingers are coming off more and more, I think the the way that technology is being consumed, and just the ability of the control of mass nodes, right, with different open source technology and things like that, that you've seen evolve quite quickly, you know, I'm sure you've seen that as well, right? There's been this whole, this whole shift and adoption, like, you know, it's like in a matter of months to a couple of years, Kubernetes became a really big thing, new thing. Now, you know, a lot a lot of real knowledge base required to know that but just the mass control of nodes, right and security, better bulletproof security design, they can have their because there was such a problem with cyber security before the pandemic, it has just bubbled over like it is out of control. Right. And especially with everybody shifting and working so much more from home. And yeah, you know, just how that affects everything. It's been really interesting, but, you know, through it all, and I've watched you know, your your episodes and you know, seeing what you've been doing, it's in definitely agree with you, right, like, there is this whole thing that goes through all of it right is how is it relating to the consumer? And how is transparency people want to know exactly how things are happening? to their house? Yeah. Yeah. Like they'll be, you know, they don't want to have just, you know, lazy Luke and Duke, they're delivering goods with who knows how they get it. They're right. They want to see the whole process, they want to know that things are being done to take people out of the equation as much as possible, right. And you're seeing more I think that really, you're gonna see even more of an evolution and you see more of this like, and there's this combination between human and technology that's becoming more seated in AI. AI is not this robot that's going to take over like sorry, people, the Terminator is not here yet. Like there is some serious things that they can do and you know, developing into actually brainwaves and how that's all working. But that's a whole other episode. Right? But I think just in general AI, right, and in just, you know how individuals are utilizing that, I think you're seeing technology get a lot better at repetitive tasks that maybe a human couldn't do. But a human obviously has better ability to do cognitive skills to say no, in that case, this is actually a vase, it's not an urn, or whatever. And, you know, I see more where there is this, you know, people that are rolling it out, they're better getting to this equation of human plus AI, and that it is a combination of the two, and you see them working in better concert together, right. And I think you're gonna see more of that, I think you'll certainly see that in in just how that evolves around customer support, and some things you're seeing just with chatbots. And just with, you know, different things that are getting quite intelligent are quite focused on on hitting, you know, you know, sentiment and everything in just supporting a customer better, right, through the whole experience was quite interesting. And I think you will see some further advancement where there can be a long the whole, you know, supply chain, more automation of certain things. Sure, I think you'll see, like, you know, when we look at self driving vehicles, you know, there's a lot out there talking about freight is one of the number one places to look at, you know, I kind of see that rolling out, it certainly seems to make sense, less fingers touching, more automation easier to control, really the New World, or just the net new way that we deal with business to business with more transparency, because it's going to be something that's going to be required, as you know, we're coming out of this COVID. You hope, you know, hopes are that we're seeing positive flow with vaccines and everything, which really the supply chain or that alone is a whole topic and how it you know, blockchain and AI and yeah, various technologies globally have really supported that initiative. True. It is, it is quite amazing, right? But but you just look at how is that kind of roll out further, while travel is going to change. Right. And even, like, macro letto, I had on my podcast out of Poland, he's done an AI startup there. And new trick, he's really done a lot. He's getting some awards. But you know, he had kind of said that whole thing, too. It's the whole supply chain is changing, right? And I'm sure you could see this, and I you know, and have some insight on it. But it used to be that, you know, the way beef was done and consumed around the world, the fact that they would move it from such points of different various areas, it just led to having contamination go through, why wouldn't it be more local, like you're seeing a whole shift to local produce, and local infrastructure to ensure that that produce gets, you know, delivered in a way that's, you know, quite fully viewed, right. So that, you know, that, you know, you see more organic, you see more, you know, openness and all that to the whole transparency of it. So, it is going to change anything further just starting on how, you know, things are consumed and transported around the world. Right. I think we're seeing that I'd be curious to see what you've seen from that regard.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah, well, even just anecdotally. Last Friday evening, for example, I was looking at a drone on Amazon, a drone that I was interested in particular model of drone, and I had checked in the morning, and it wasn't available until next Wednesday. I checked in the evening, and it was available tomorrow if I ordered within the next two hours. So obviously, the stock levels are fluctuating and the risk the responding in real time to those fluctuations of stocks. So of course I clicked by No, because, you know, no, no impulse control. I'm there. So I clicked by No. Friday evening, and Saturday afternoon, early afternoon drone arrived. So you know, 12 hours roughly, it took from placing of order to drone in my hands and it came from Hannover because I checked the the the shipping and it was in Hanover on Friday evening when I pressed by now and early Saturday afternoon. It was in my hands and Seville and while I was waiting for it to be delivered, obviously it was doing lots of other stuff. I wasn't sitting at the door waiting for it to be delivered and not that bad. But while I was waiting for it to be delivered, I got an email saying you can track the shipment and as I went in, just clicked, you know, see what's going on. What was it look like? It said your drone is four stops away. So you know, it could tell How close physically it was, to my house. We're not physically but in terms of number of stops, just that visibility and the speed of delivery has changed enormously in the last 12 months. Now, when I go to the door to get to get something from Amazon, a two times out of three, it's a fully electric Amazon vehicle, that has changed completely. So Wow. Have you seen that that's Yeah, 12 months ago, Amazon didn't have branded delivery vehicles here. 12 months ago, you ordered something from Amazon, it came from a third party delivery company. Now, it's not always an Amazon delivery truck. But you know, two or three times it is. And when it is an Amazon delivery truck two or three times it's fully electric truck, it's an E satara, mercedez satara. They also have Citron. The central ones are diesel, I assume they're not electric, but most most of them now seem to be the satara, fully electric ones and their brand that you can see it on the side is not just got the Amazon Prime smile thing on the side. It also has underneath in big letters that it's 100%. Electric, so that that's a change. The other thing I wanted to pick up on on from what you said was the shift to open source and Kubernetes and, and the shift to autonomy. I had an episode of this podcast a few months back, and the episode was with a guy called outed rhetoric and talking about a new open source solution that SAP have released, called warehouse robotics. And what it is, is, like I said, it's open source, it's on GitHub. What it is, is for people who are running, running something like extended warehouse management, to get robots into your warehouse and add them into your extended warehouse management system is a project that can take weeks to months to even years, depending on how many robots how you want to configure them all that kind of thing you're talking, you know, as some projects go up to 18 months, because there's a ridiculous amount of work to be done to do it. And then if you have multiple robot vendors, they all have their own hardware stacks, their own software stacks, that all have to be maintained. And then if you have a slightly different use case, you might need to get another robot again, and maybe you go back to your original supplier, and they don't have them anymore. So maybe you have to get another supplier, you know, the whole thing becomes a logistical nightmare. So warehouse robotics, this solution for SAP, which is open source, and has just been released, solves all that. Because basically, what it does is it uses Kubernetes, to say that each robot is its own server for want of a better expression. And so you just load a Cloud Connector into your extended warehouse management system. And suddenly, the addition of a robot is a matter of minutes, not weeks and months and years. So it means you can suddenly get robots as a service scale up scale down really, really quickly. You know, for times when you hit spikes, like, you know, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday is or any of these kind of things, you know, things are changing so fast in this industry, it's really, really incredible.

Tony Flath:

It is it is it's like 1000s of VMs can be orchestrated in a matter of a few clicks, right? Yeah. Like it is. It is quite powerful. Right? And it does, it really does push that whole decision process more to two ends, right? Like more to the edge and more to the central cloud design. Yeah. So you do really get this barbell effect of technology, right? Where you have big things happening at the edge, you see IoT building, now you see more intelligence happening there? Because it's easy to spin VMs and run that that way. Right, exactly. And then you see more central nucleus control running on, you know, I, you know, high a very high end gear where it's got mass compute mass capability, mass data poll, right? You know, with all the Big Data Tools, things like that. So it is really interesting to see things change radically out there, right, you are seeing some just getting out of the stone age to some that we're adopting it right. So you just wonder how those Stone Age guys are doing that they seem to be adopting, right?

Tom Raftery:

So if, if you were a supply chain manager today, knowing what you know, you know, where would you be looking at to improve your supply chain? What kind of technologies would you get? Would you think give best bang for buck?

Tony Flath:

While honestly I think you got to really have a holistic view of everything, right? Like I think with emerging technology and looking at new technology. You know, a lot of it is you have to look at your process today and say why why are we doing this? Was this something that was more built around design of technology, right? So there's two schools of thought like do you try to build around what you already built or Do you really go in and especially with cloud offerings with you know, really hardware getting so cheap at the edge that it's like real disposable technology is becoming a thing. And if you're quick to adopt certain technology, and take the idea that it's almost like technology as a service, like anything you're putting in is more disposable, you're not so reliant on whether that's going to be right. In five years from now, it obviously gives you a little more flex and design and how that you can utilize that, when you look at some, you know, supply chain, many things that have been put in and heavily ingrained, and, you know, may have some, some controls in there that are feeding back and forth to, you know, monolithic old systems. And where does that break down, right, I think those are real points to look at is to, you know, gauge and gap, what's more happening in the real time. And in the real time, what is my most efficient way to design, you know, applications utilizing current technologies, because you can do so much more pre decision and pre thought, before you even ingest it through a whole data science process, right? Like, you can filter at the edge so much more effectively, right, in a streamlined supply chain, than you can if you let all that huge data flow through to a big blade. And basically, you're just supporting a big, you know, mass flow of nonsense and then filtering it, right, which is, to some degree, you know, where there is some, some design like that today. But I think, really, you're seeing some real positive things happening just in, in how things are rolling out. And I think that's the way to embrace it. But I think the important thing there is, you know, there's a lot of ways you could go, don't go to technology, just for the sake of going into new technology in a supply chain sense. Do something that makes sense for your organization. And, you know, look at it like any kind of DevOps iterations, right, you don't have to chop this whole thing, if it's an eight headed monster, you don't have to get all eight heads at once. You got to kind of scale the beast and make sense where, you know, attack it where it makes sense. But I think that in, you know that deployment, there's certainly ways you can do it to really drive more value out of your data, or clearly add service and add new, you know, functionality. And just like your what you were saying, what you were talking about, where you're getting better visibility to where your packaged goods are. This is something that touches the psychologic psychology of us, they've done studies on this. And when you put just a simple timer that says, you know, when something's going to be done, you're a lot more at ease at it, even if it was a longer time than if you didn't know. So the fact that they're now offering this supply chain of you know, you're able to visually see where things are all the way along, right to the stop is very pleasing to the overall customer service. Right? Because you're like already, you know, ready to charge that damn drone up the second to get the door you got here, Dave land, right. So I think it's the same from you know, our business of supply chain is that of having, you know, so many holes in it, I think you can certainly fill those holes. But I you know, it's an interesting time. And, you know, it's a, it's a real mix of a number, it's a much bigger thing than just the IT departments, it's a much bigger thing than just the production team. It's an everybody thing, right? So I think there's got to be some more ability for those people to flow back and forth. And I think, more importantly to is, people have to be familiar with that technology means from layman's terms, or just from general functionality, because so many people are uncertain, don't even know how these things work when they get some simple knowledge of it. Right? Then they're like, oh, okay, well, this, this AI thing is not bad. It's not replacing my job. It's just helping me out a bit. Yeah. or, or, or boo, I can pass off some gunk, no one likes to do those manual tasks. But I still have better visibility. Like I think that's that's part of it. And I think there's a much bigger broader definition to say that, you know, blockchain is not Bitcoin Bitcoin was really the first application on blockchain. Right? And what are other applications? And what does that mean from a business perspective, right? I mean, it's a much bigger thing how that's tying into FinTech and overall because of the platform side of it, but I still see some really big, you know, steps that are starting to happen and you know, when you see bigger organizations, I'm sure you're tied right into these enough. Yeah, that are utilizing these totally open source totally transparent transaction keys, right. They give you no Total open, you know, trustless suits trust on the system, not each other. Right? You know, it's interesting times to see how that deploys, but it certainly is starting to roll out more for sure. For sure. Now, will quantum computing become a thing? Who knows? That's a whole other topic. It is a change time, right? Yeah,

Tom Raftery:

it is notice on the bus or get off. Yet, we're coming to the end of the podcast. Now, Tony, is there anything I've not asked you that you wish I had any topics we've not talked about, that you think people should be aware of?

Tony Flath:

Yeah, thanks. That's a really great question. You know, one thing I've seen through all this, and, you know, I've had this great opportunity to work with PhDs around the world and in AI, and I've learned so much, that's why I actually got some interest to get some school and, you know, recently did a certificate in MIT in AI. Right, is, you know, there's many things that, like, ai itself is not such a fear, it's how we adopt it, it's really what we do with it. That's the fear, right? You know, when we're seeing things like concern around bias, right, and concern around certain things just being missed altogether. Right? These are things that I think, you know, certainly we need to run to and flesh out and, you know, have better visibility over and control. Right? You know, so I'm certainly a proponent of that, you know, and then, you know, we could get into the whole privacy and all the other issues that have opened up on the public cloud, that's a whole other topic, but I think that there's really a big need in in out there to, to ensure that things are done ethically right and visit more transparency. You can't use the internet rules from the 90s to dictate the 2000 and you know, 21 it's a different era, right? Sure is, you know, so that's certainly that's an open conversation to continue and we'll see what happens right but no, certainly something that's intriguing for sure.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, Tony, if people want to know more about yourself, where would you have me direct them?

Tony Flath:

Sure. You can check me out at ad team and speaks on Twitter, my website team and speaks comm you can catch me there or you can even connect with me there from there there's links to all my other social sites like you can connect with me on LinkedIn just by name my name Tony flat Facebook if you like Instagram at tea man speaks you can certainly reach me there. And then I have a podcast as well at tea man speaks the wave of change so that's on a few different platforms. So Cloud AI iTunes, I heart read radio recently, Spotify few others, so you know the drill there so you can find me there. But yeah, no, certainly enjoyed the chat.

Tom Raftery:

Super, super upturning. It's been great. Thanks again for coming on the show today. You bet on Take care. Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about digital supply chains, head on over to sa p.com slash digital supply chain or, or simply drop me an email to Tom Raftery at sa p.com. If you'd like to show, please don't forget to subscribe to it and your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.