The pandemic showcased just how supply chain disruptions can bring industries to their knees. And even today, the push to fully restore the chain is far from over. In the meantime, Microsoft has announced the Supply Chain Platform and the Supply Chain Center to at least make managing it a little bit easier.
The Supply Chain Platform is designed as the foundation for supply chain data orchestration, while the Supply Chain Centre provides a “command centre” experience for users and is a part of the Supply Chain Platform.
The two new solutions aim to provide an easier way for buyers to manage their order progress and inform them of any disruptions. Together, they consolidate supply chain data and connect them to produce insights and action recommendations. This unification of data and management is what the entire platform is all about.
Ray Smith, vice president of supply chain at Microsoft’s business applications and platform group, underscored that viewing supply chains as simple starting and endpoints simply won’t work anymore.
“I think in the last couple of years, we’ve realized that the old way is effectively inadequate to handle all these disruptions,” said Smith. “It’s kind of too linear: how we do our picking, how we do our manufacturing, how we do our fulfillment, and how we do our distribution, they’re all disconnected silos, and they usually each have their own systems. So bringing those systems together is really at the core of the supply chain centers, like bringing the data across all these existing investments, even legacy investments, to help businesses get that end-to-end visibility, and to be collaborative in the process.”
When asked for which industries Supply Chain Center is most applicable, Smith said it’s designed to be industry agnostic.
“I think the big ones [industries] that are supply chain heavy are probably manufacturing, retail and consumer product goods,” said Smith. “So they’re kind of the three big ones that most people think of when they think of supply chains. But it is truly a horizontal use case across all industries.”
The two parts of Microsoft’s new offering work in tandem. The first part is the Supply Chain Platform that provides the supply chain data connectors across Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365 and Teams. The second is the Supply Chain Center which generates insights using existing supply chain data and applications. The Supply Chain Center is designed to work natively with existing supply chain systems, and harmonizes data from various enterprise resource planning (ERP) providers like Dynamics 365, SAP, Oracle, and other standalone supply chain systems.
In a hypothetical scenario, Microsoft showcased how Supply Chain Center can help a store maintain its inventory when a cyber attack on a trucking company impacted product deliveries. The dashboard outlined which orders or which suppliers were affected and sent recommendations to mitigate the issue, plus how they could affect business outcomes. And using updates from suppliers and other data points, the platform can predict potential stockouts, overstocking and other metrics, almost in real-time.
For future stock planning, the Order Dashboard provides historical order data so users can tweak their supply chains to operate more effectively.
Additionally, the platform has Teams built in to allow suppliers and buyers to communicate directly. Microsoft notes that a direct line of communication reduces delays from emails and missed voicemails.
Smith explained that through years of making gathering and processing data from different systems, Microsoft has developed a unique connector framework for data mapping.
“Microsoft has been investing in this space for over a decade, with Power BI connecting to multiple data sources, with Power Automate, with over 800 connectors to a lot of these systems already,” said Smith. “It’s a part of the Supply Chain Platform, and the productization of that in the Supply Chain Center is really allowing a connector framework or connector system into these systems, and allows a mapping capability that says, hey, field, A, B, and C maps to D, E, and F over here. And we even use AI to do some auto-mapping between different systems. Every customer will say they have unique supply chains. So that simplification of the connector and mapping is a huge differentiation.”
The Microsoft Supply Chain Center is now available in preview. Existing Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management customers will automatically gain access to the Supply Chain Center.