First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  February 26, 2009  
  Xbox Live is the Supply Chain of the Future  

Xbox Live is the supply chain of the future. I’m not kidding.

Not that Microsoft itself runs the next generation supply chain for Xbox. It might, but I sort of doubt it, given the continued issues with the “red rings of death,” a condition well known by hundreds of thousands of Xbox users (including our household). I am talking about the game system itself.

Just to make sure everyone is up to speed, Xbox of course is a home gaming system that competes with Sony’s Playstation series and Nintendo’s Wei. I am not much into games, though our sales VP Jason Stegent is; he is literally a world class NCAA football competitor – on Xbox Live.

Gilmore Says:

You would simply click on a button on your PC and you could both start talking or chatting about a problem or issue.

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There is Xbox, which uses a traditional game approach where you buy a game on CD/DVD and play it at home with family and friends. Then there is Xbox Live, and this, I am quite convinced, is in some fashion where we are headed.

I made this connection in part from the thinking I have done since we ran our review of the book “Start Pulling Your Chain,” by Nick LaHowchic and Dr. Don Bowersox last year. (See Time to Start Pulling Your Supply Chain?)

Those two laid out a vision for a supply chain that was increasingly real-time, with multi-level visibility tied directly to demand and supply. Such a world would have dramatic impacts on the supply chain processes and even how we organized companies themselves, they said.

I wrote at the time that I knew they were right, yet at the same time, I couldn’t quite grasp where things were really headed.

I have a bit more clarity now, thanks to Xbox Live.

Here is how Xbox Live works:

It is by definition a networked game. Plug an Ethernet cable in, and you are ready to go, connected to a vast community.

Create a “profile” – you can share a lot or a little information. The choice is yours.

You have rights to play different games. Some games are available just from being a subscriber. Others must be purchased.

Players can literally “see” everyone around the globe who is on the network or in a particular game.

Some players are selected as “friends.” At the start, they are likely only people you know now. You can add friends over time, many of whom may start out as strangers, but whom you get to know from playing the games.

You can see at any time who is on-line. You can filter that in various ways (e.g., friends, local, global). You can also see how good they are at different games based on scoring systems for each game (the results of your play over time), as well as their profiles.

You can invite people anywhere across the globe to join you in a game. Some games are meant to be one-on-one (e.g., football or basketball). Others are played as teams games. The team leader can ask players to join their team. Or players can ask to join a game.

There is incredible real time communication. Players wear headsets, and are linked to what amounts to a global telephone network. Everyone playing the game can talk to each other instantly, if they want. You can also have “private chat” one-on-one if you want. In other words, as the game is proceeding, you can talk with team members individually or collectively about what is transpiring. The “game” and the communication are tightly linked.

Players who demonstrate unacceptable behavior can be booted from the game.

There is more, and I may not even have all of this exactly right, but close enough. All I know is that when we added the Xbox Live subscription and my kids showed me how it worked, the supply chain potential for the basic concept hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Imagine a supply chain with that level of real time visibility. The “game” of course would be supply chain execution. It could be a long-term game – general supply chain operations in a given area. It could also be a short-term game – expediting a part from China to the US, for example.

You would have your “friends” of course – your existing supply chain partners. In some cases, it would be a team game. In other cases, it would be a one-on-one process.

Based on special needs, you might decide to invite others to play. You would use various filters to find what you need based on geography, capabilities as found in a company’s profile, and the company’s score – how well they have performed in the “game” over time. Real-time “capacities” of your “team” would also be visible.

In some ways, what the score is in any particular supply chain “game” would be visible too, as measured by things like in-stock and overall inventory levels, costs, on-time delivery, and other metrics.

Perhaps the most exciting possibility to me is the real-time communications. Yes, we have email, phone, EDI, etc., now, but are you really connected to your supply chain? At an individual level, the people who make the supply chain work?

Imagine, for the supply chain processes you manage, if you could see which peers within your own company and in key trading partners were on-line – and most of them were usually on-line. And that you would simply click on a button on your PC and you could both start talking or chatting about a problem or issue. Or a supplier, carrier and customer could all quickly start talking about a given problem – the people who can actually make decisions?

We all complain that we can never seem to get to a meaningful level of collaboration in the supply chain. Just think what that type of real-time connectivity and communication would do to collaboration – especially if there was a real-time scorecard that showed how the supply chain was performing. The “plan” and execution realities could also be instantly visible.

There are challenges of course, beyond just the technology to do this. One that occurs to me is that a inventory planner at a given supplier, for example, may be part of numerous customer supply chains. He or she may have several of those trading partners that want to talk at any given time.

But I think that could be worked out.

As for the technology, many of the pieces in fact are already here. Microsoft has shown how you can add other capabilities that would turbocharge the existing visibility and other supply chain applications that we already have.

I doubt Microsoft is interested in using the Xbox Live platform to build a supply chain community, and things are going pretty well for us here at SCDigest, but if Steve Ballmer wants to give it a shot, I might just be interested.

Do you play Xbox Live? Regardless, do you see how this type of networked community model could be applied to the supply chain? Do you think it will really be possible to get there? Or is this not a good paradigm? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below?

Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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