Are You Innovating for Your Customer's Customer

Jamie Lee, CIO, VP of IT, Wabash National Corporation
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Jamie Lee, CIO, VP of IT, Wabash National Corporation

Have you ever played three-dimensional chess? The activity is a bit like thinking through the business of your customer’s customer. In a connected economy where knowledge is “Googled” and insight is delivered fast, a consumer spends little time waiting on the next step in product or service delivery. If the company cannot produce the expected result, the consumer may simply look elsewhere.

To drive increasing quality and value downstream in your supply chain, it’s not enough to only consider innovation for your physical product or service for your immediate customer. Your perspective of the variables that impact the game have to change. You must take your thinking deeper and beyond traditional information sources. The information supply chain can be extensive. This chain should no longer be limited to that which exists in your CRM or ERP software platforms. The chain includes metadata about your product or service, as well as the data describing the product or service. That metadata may be specific to the physical product itself or specific to an event in the delivery timeline. The full and open chain of downstream, situational metadata should be mapped to drive innovative thinking.

Successful innovation requires raising questions never previously asked. To generate questions you have to gather knowledge of original equipment manufacturers, distribution channels, and end-consumer applications of your products or services. Your customer may be an OEM, distributor, retailer, or value-added service provider. Regardless, your product or service may be able to produce value one or more steps down the chain. Downstream value creation may produce “pull through” for your product or service. Additional product features or services can also be “brought to life” from a single innovative idea for your customer’s customer. If you can unlock value downstream, you may find additional opportunities for each of the customers across the information chain that your product or service impacts. Your product or service’s situational metadata may hold the keys to unlocking the solution to a problem your customer’s customer is experiencing. The CIO can be a source of this innovation.

“A product or service’s situational metadata may hold the keys to unlocking the solution to a problem the customer is experiencing”

CIOs can become “Chief Innovation Officers” by applying new technologies. The “Internet of Things (IoT)” has created new areas of exploration for products and services in a connected world. Digital services can be created and markets defined in an electronic-only marketplace. Trade could occur without human intervention. Programmatic exception handling in a product, service, or process can execute real time with autocorrecting algorithms to meet customer expectations. However, we all know that solutions without a problem to solve can be at risk for becoming failed endeavors. Your situational metadata may be able to be captured and exposed to new thinking. The next moment of brilliance may come from a study of just that.

Across logistics and transportation, the use of sensors and the “Internet of Things (IoT)” promise amazing insight through “Big Data” analytics. “Big Data” will help customers across the information supply chain correlate statistics against situational metadata, deriving profit-making or cost saving relationships and defining new opportunities never before considered. While sensors and “IoT” will essentially flood the information supply chain with new data, it will take the listening ear of an introspective opportunity seeker to “connect the dots”.

To innovate, CIOs have to explore conversations downstream with the customer’s customer. Doing so involves taking risk. Much like three-dimensional chess, a CIO needs to think several “moves” ahead.

1) CIOs need to determine where products or services could offer greater value creating more demand for “pull through”.

2) Innovation requires questions, which could come from thorough examination of the end-to-end information supply chain.

3) New information gathered from situational metadata is possible through new technologies like the “Internet of Things (IoT)” and “Big Data” analytics.

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