Meet the cool, new autonomous supply chain

Girish Rishi, the CEO of JDA Software Group

Shopper expectations of a seamless interaction with retailers’ digital and physical presence has created new operational challenges and brought more complexity to already intricate business models. The burden of satisfying heightened expectations today, and in an uncertain future, will fall to a supply chain that is autonomous, self-learning and generates prescriptive solutions.

That’s the future envisioned by Girish Rishi, the CEO of JDA Software Group. The former Tyco, Motorola and Symbol Technologies executive joined JDA in February 2017 to drive the supply chain software provider’s innovation agenda. He spoke with Retail Leader at the company’s annual Focus conference about moon shots, a new developer conference and a philosophy of co-creation that comes to life at the company’s new 13,200-sq.-ft. Customer Experience Center at JDA’s Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters.


Retail Leader: Take me back to early 2017 and what your thoughts were about joining JDA. What was appealing about the company and the supply chain world?

Girish Rishi: In the supply chain space, with everything happening from omnichannel, redesigning of networks, AI and machine learning and applications running on the edge, I was seeing that the space was only going to grow. The advent of technology was very attractive. Another reason is the JDA brand is very trusted and many years ago committed to an end-to-end supply chain transformation. It was an honor to receive a call to consider JDA and help build the company for the next decade.

RL: How does this year’s Focus compare to last year?

GR: These things should get better sequentially. I have worked with the team and deployed my fingerprints to the strategy. We have built internally a significant customer first culture. The number one value is an obsession to deliver customer value. We have evolved our field organization with a theme around customer first. Responsiveness to customers is now more empowered in the field for go to market teams to respond to customers. The other big changes are the presence of more attendees from the partner community and a more coherent product roadmap, which was something our community asked for.

RL: You took a different approach with your opening remarks this year.

GR: It was not a typical general session where we stood up and gave speeches. We had seven leaders involved and we called out autonomous suppy chain as our moon shot. We followed that up with details of our product roadmap and an ecosystem of partners demonstrating live applications. We concluded with an emphasis around customer first and how we are living that value.

RL: Let’s talk about moon shots. The autonomous supply chain sounds intriguing. What is it?

GR: If you look at how supply chain is run today it is primarily run on internal data such as pricing, historical and trend data. Increasingly the proportion of external data coming in and influence pricing, promotion, planning, forecasting deliveries and the categories offered will influence your supply chain. The autonomous supply chain as you look ahead will incorporate digital data and we will go from an analog world to a digital world. What that means is machine learning and IOT data will drive more visibility. There will be a predictive aspect to it and there will be a prescriptive aspect to it. Eventually it will become a self-learning supply chain and that will allow supply chain professionals to focus more on higher value added activities.

RL: And those would be what?

GR: Focusing on things like driving better quality top line results, responding to externalities like traffic disruptions and overseas shipment delays, areas where they can apply judgement like strategic planning, where to deploy workforce and which suppliers to work with and where to open stores.

RL: Co-innovation is another area you are talking a lot about. Is that another name for collaboration?

GR: The world is changing so much when it comes to how shoppers decide what to buy. And manufacturers and retailers want to identify opportunities and problems with a technology partner and go to work on solutions. It could be the length of lead times, lost sales and slow moving inventory. Manufacturers and retailers are working with JDA and coming up with new solutions and additional capabilities in new products that can be deployed in a very agile way in two to four to six weeks and see results. All of us in the digital age have so little patience and expect instant gratification, so how do companies respond to that? Those solutions are not off-the shelf so you work together to co-innovate. Sometimes it will require software and sometimes it will require data science as a service.

RL: Is co-innovation a new phenomenon?

GR: I have used co-innovation with customers for two decades. The best way to understand an opportunity or a problem is sit with a customer and envision what the solution looks like. It is more pervasive and agile now, but not by everyone. In our space, we are offering it as a capability to our customers.

RL: You also recently opened customer experience centers in London and more recently at your headquarters in Scottsdale. Why did JDA need to invest in those facilities?

GR: The model has been we travel to see customers and that is great. But, we wanted to create a platform that would be a magnet for customer to come in and sit with cross-functional teams. If we can attract customers to this platform that is conducive to collaboration but has experts from JDA available to go to work on their problems that can be very productive. The centers are conducive for collaboration and teams to become one team, go to work on things and potentially write applications together. It is a very vibrant, inspiring collaborative model to go solve problems.

RL: If customers are relying on JDA to help them win in a future that is being disrupted, isn’t it incumbent on you as a solution provider, the enabler of customers’ future success, to peer further into the future than they are able to do on their own?

GR: It is a trust-based model where we work together to drive outcomes. Also, understand that companies are sitting on reams and reams of data and they have been sitting on it for years. If data is the new currency what can we go do with that to drive immediate impact.

RL: Companies have been saying they have too much data since the advent of scanning.

GR: But the realization of data as a competitive advantage is recent. Some of that credit can go to Amazon, which is driving an anticipatory model where they know before you or I do what we will buy. Shoppers will go to where the product is available, and where the product isn’t available there is a failure of the supply chain.

RL: There is a lot of buzz at Focus about Luminate, the new branding for your portfolio of solutions and core product enhancements. Sound like a good name for a set of solutions that enhance visibility.

GR: We are literally lighting up the shelves and pallets and providing visibility, and AI and machine learning are providing all these insights that drive outcomes. As soon as I heard the name I thought it was so intuitive.  We drive supply chain use case optimization but we are using contemporary technologies that enable illumination.

RL: It’s great that JDA provides insights as long as the customer is able to take action on those insights, but sometimes a retailer can have more data than they know what to do with it.

GR: hat’s where the autonomous supply chain comes in. If you are running a retail store or a manufacturing company and I’m a technology provider, am I going to give you more data and 16 more screens to look at? What are you going to do with that? You don’t want to have to keep hiring people, but the predictable, repetitive decisions and tasks you want to drive through a predictive and prescriptive methodology. If you are looking at running four different promotions, you want a prescriptive algorithm that tells you that number three will generate the most volume, the most revenue and the most margin.

RL: Supply chain historically was always very important but it was very linear. Now it is so much more complicated with e-commerce and goods flowing all different directions.

GR: We come at supply chain from a unique end-to-end vantage point. We do planning, execution and retail. When you are collecting consumer insights you want those signals to connect through your entire supply chain. If the data is in silos and disjointed there will be latency in the response. Our promise is that because we are end to end we are supply chain platform company.

RL: What does being a platform company mean to customers?

GR: It tells the customers that you will bring in an ecosystem of partners that will write to your platform. That’s why we also announced that starting next year at Focus we are going to add a developer conference. There is euphoria from the user community because there is no developer conference in the world of supply chain.

RL: That’s interesting because companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have done developer conferences for a long time.

GR: We are taking that mantle of responsibility so that next year we will have partners coming together with customers and writing applications.

RL: Your bio says you read voraciously. Does that mean the latest bestseller or are you reading code?

GR: I haven’t read fiction for years. I read three newspapers every morning – The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and I try to read The Guardian during the day. At any given time I am reading two or three books. Inherently, I am an introvert. I like to read, think and then engage.   

RL: Introvert and leading a big company and getting on stage at an event in front of a couple thousand people don’t always go together.

GR: They don’t, but I’ve done it for a very long time. I’m conscious, not nervous and I’ve trained myself to do it.

RL: You said during your opening presentation that supply chain is cool again. It wasn’t cool before?

GR: Supply chain people used to operate in the back room and merchandising people were the cool people looking at fashion. Now the merchandisers are waking up and seeing the supply chain people know more about the customer. You are seeing the merchandising left hand side of the house work with the right hand supply chain side of the house because the supply chain people are touching the customer more than the merchants. It is very interesting the meetings we are having with good, forward looking retailers. RL