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About the Authors

Dr. Syamala Srinivasan
Senior Fellow of CGN Global Business Analytics Team & Adjunct Faculty in the MSPA program of Northwestern University


Syamala Srinivasan has over 30 years of industrial and academic experience in creative applications of analytics to solve complex business problems. Currently, Syamala is an Adjunct Faculty in the MSPA program of Northwestern University and a Senior Fellow of CGN Global Business Analytics Team. Previously, she worked at Caterpillar Inc., at various technical and management positions for 22 years. She started and developed the Department of Analytics and was the director of analytics before retiring from Caterpillar. She was focusing on developing and deploying analytical solutions to complex business problems in the entire value chain of product development, manufacturing, supply chain, marketing, and sales. Her prior academic appointments include National Louis University, Bradley University, Chicago State University, Northern Illinois University, and Colorado State University. Srinivasan has a PhD in statistics and a MS in statistics from Colorado State University. She has several management and leadership certifications from Wharton & Kellogg’s school of business.


Seshadri Guha
Chairman & Managing Partner
CGN Global

Seshadri Guha is the Chairman & Managing Partner of CGN Global, a Business Transformation Consulting Firm with operations across the United States, Europe, China, and India. Guha has over 20 years of experience in innovating complex business and defining unique approaches to strategy. Before CGN, Guha was the director of the Advanced Computing Technologies Group at Automated Analysis Corporation (AAC), which became one of the more successful technology practices in the engineering domain. Guha co-founded CGN in 1995, as a business and technology consulting company. He has led the development of CGN into a prominent business performance consulting firm. Today CGN’s expertise spans strategy, finance, marketing, supply-chain, operations, and technology with Fortune 500 clients across manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, retail, healthcare and financial services. Guha earned his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and his MS in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Iowa State University. Guha is also an alumnus of the Kellogg Management Institute.

Supply Chain Comment

By Dr. Syamala Srinivasan, Senior Fellow of CGN Global Business Analytics Team & Adjunct Faculty in the MSPA program of Northwestern University

Seshadri Guha, Chairman & Managing Partner of CGN Global

April 9, 2015

Taming Supply Chain Networks

Role of Analytics in the Evolution of Future Industrial Supply Chains - A Perspective

Srinivasan & Guha Say:

As different analytical and data technologies emerge and mature over time, the innovations ranging from real time visibility to operational analytics, supply-chain modeling to predictive analytics, or advanced visualization to simulation will all provide the key ingredients for success.
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Industrial supply chain networks are complex organisms with a multitude of interdependent factors and functions that can drive or derail business performance. Like a wild horse, each supply chain has its own unique and often irascible personality that is influenced by the particular firm’s culture, behaviors, and operations. For businesses’ that have the courage to map them, manage them, master them, and finally tame them, this enigma can turn into a unique competitive advantage.

The complexity and scope of supply chains are fertile ground to deploy analytics.  However, a deep understanding of the structure, dynamics, and behavior of these supply chain networks are required to create sustainable advantage.

To better understand the potential of modern supply chains, it is beneficial to compare them to the functioning of the human body.


  The Autonomous Function: The human body operates as an integrated autonomous system. The different functional organs like the heart, the lungs, and the kidneys operate as one system. They operate independently, yet work together to coordinate the flow and function of the human body without conscious effort. They constantly analyze feedback from different internal systems to regulate the functioning of the body.

Supply chains are very similar. The coordination of a multitude of functions that make up the supply chain need to be embedded within the structure. As supply chain architects and managers, we need to develop the operational feedback, analytics, and well-designed autonomous functions and integrate them seamlessly into the structure.

Technologies from RFID to visibility and IOT to collaboration, need to be utilized to identify sources of variability. Basic analytics will help us to quickly diagnose variability such as emerging shortage of material, disruption in supply, and changes in demand and effectively communicate to other internal functions. By piecing together information, the supply chains can then automatically recognize changes and adapt.
  The Reflex Function: The body also responds to both internal and external stimulus. It demonstrates fight or flight response to perceived threat. For example, if we recognize an external threat we may utilize resources around us to protect or distance ourselves. The body has the innate ability to synthesize external information quickly, recognize threats efficiently, and respond swiftly to protect itself instinctively.

As supply chains evolve, we will need access to timely information from end to end. Filters, computations, and analytics will swiftly identify changes in the extended ecosystem. Reflexes that quickly operate levers and adjust operating conditions will need to be integrated into policies and behaviors that will protect the supply-chain and the business.

This can be achieved by integrating real time sensors, analytics, and responders across the extended enterprise. Processes within the business from S&OP to logistics, and planning to receiving will need to be instrumented to identify risks and opportunities. Analytical models will need to be flexible to recognize, respond, and escalate critical triggers.
  The Cognitive Function: Humans continually learn, analyze implications, evaluate, and plan to generate a coordinated response. They synthesize external information, apply reason and judgment, evaluate scenarios, and predict potential sources of opportunity and challenge, all in all, key cognitive functions. Human endeavor encompasses thinking, forecasting, and strategy. The ability to look ahead, think ahead, plan ahead, and execute differentiates the high achievers among us.

Supply chains need to aggregate data and utilize advanced analytics to recognize emergent patterns in time, by segment, by region or the like. Some of these patterns may not be readily apparent or recognizable to us as individuals. The role of analytics will be to effectively and efficiently inform our decisions. Recognizing comprehensive and discriminating patterns will allow us as supply chain architects to strategically change structure, behavior, and capability of the supply chain to future proof and protect our business. Knowing something and doing the “right thing” are two completely different notions. Analytics helps provide comprehension and understanding of a situation.

By combining industrial science, data science, and execution science, this biological model may reveal both the future opportunities and possible direction of industrial supply chain evolution.   

In addition, taming either a supply chain or a wild horse requires the deft use of a rope, but also necessitates a soft touch to garner trust and respect.  As practitioners and operators—or supply chain whisperers—it would be unrealistic to expect acquiescence overnight.

As different analytical and data technologies emerge and mature over time, the innovations ranging from real time visibility to operational analytics, supply-chain modeling to predictive analytics, or advanced visualization to simulation will all provide the key ingredients for success.  The ability to identify these technological opportunities and quickly, efficiently and continually integrate them into operations, while unleashing the creative and competitive potential within the organization, will eventually tame even the most unruly supply chains.

For as Socrates once said, “If you want to be a good saddler, saddle the worst horse; for if you can tame one, you can tame all.”

Final Thoughts

Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies has been leading efforts to change the industry by working closely with thought leaders.  It helps propagate best in class ideas from industry that deal with practical business challenges. Its faculty come directly from the working world with knowledge and experience.

Seshadri Guha is an Alumna of the Kellogg School of Business, and Dr. Syamala Srinivasan is a Senior Fellow of the CGN Global Business Analytics Team and an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies; both are practitioners from the industry (

In its ongoing efforts to contribute to transformation and change in industries due to big data, Northwestern University launched its Master of Science in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) program in 2011. The online program equips students with skills in machine learning methods, statistical modeling techniques, forecasting, network and market simulation, mathematical programming, and optimization techniques. Plus, the online format allows working professionals already in the industry the flexibility to enroll in the program, complete it in their own time, and go on to integrate these tools into their work. The program incorporates tested industry practices and trends into the curriculum, thus preparing the students to be leaders in their respective domains. 

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