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SCDigest Expert Insight: Supply Chain by Design

About the Author

Dr. Michael Watson, one of the industry’s foremost experts on supply chain network design and advanced analytics, is a columnist and subject matter expert (SME) for Supply Chain Digest.

Dr. Watson, of Northwestern University, was the lead author of the just released book Supply Chain Network Design, co-authored with Sara Lewis, Peter Cacioppi, and Jay Jayaraman, all of IBM. (See Supply Chain Network Design – the Book.)

Prior to his current role at Northwestern, Watson was a key manager in IBM's network optimization group. In addition to his roles at IBM and now at Northwestern, Watson is director of The Optimization and Analytics Group.

By Dr. Michael Watson

April 1, 2014

Should You Extend Your Network Design Capability with a Map Portal?

Sharing the Value in Viewing Your Supply Chain on a Map With the Rest of the Organization

Dr. Watson Says:

...I've been amazed by how much value people get from just seeing their supply chain on a map...
What Do You Say?

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I’ve been involved in 100s of network design projects and have talked to 100s of more people about it over the last 15 years.  While there is a lot of value in running the optimization and getting different solutions, I’ve been amazed by how much value people get from just seeing their supply chain on a map.

To stress the importance of mapping a supply chain in the classes I teach, I often use the following map of a company’s customers and ask the students to tell me about this company.  Even though they don’t know anything about the company, they quickly see their customer base across the US and Canada, they quickly see that there are different types of customers, they quickly see that customers have different demand and so on.  You can learn a lot with just one picture.  If this was your company, and you could drill into the map, you could learn a lot more.

Previous Columns by Dr. Watson

The Three Use Cases for Data Scientists

Learn Python, PuLP, Jupyter Notebooks, and Network Design

EOQ Model and the Hidden Costs of Fixed Costs

CSCMP Edge - Nike Quote: "It is All an Art Project Until you Get it on Someone's Feet"

Supply Chain by Design: Why Business Leaders should think of AI as an Umbrella Term


For many people in companies, a network design project can be the first and only place they see their business displayed on a map. 

And, when people do see it, interesting things happen—they gain a new understanding of their business, they come up with ideas for improvement, and they ask harder questions than they would have otherwise.

Since the mapping in a network design projects leads to so much value, you should considering providing this type of visualization on an on-going basis.  You can get a lot more value if your organization routinely viewed the business with a map and had the ability to interact with the data and ask questions.  This can be a much more powerful than just writing queries from your data warehouse to get a table of information.

This is where map portals come in.  A map portal is a way to extend one of the benefits of network design—seeing your business on a map.  A map portal is better than the maps in a network design tool because it is supported by detailed and live data.   This allows you to drill down into the data, to see more information and new patterns, to more easily compare the actual results to the plan. 

Final Thoughts:

A map portal fits into a larger trend within analytics—better visualization.  As companies collect more data, they realize that one way to unlock the value in the data is to allow people to visualize it.  By being able to better visualize your underlying supply chain data on a map, it will allow you to unlock the value in your data.   

Recent Feedback

You're right. We have heeded this advice from one of our customers (Nestle Purina) and have integrated map representations with our customers' data to show query results and with more sophistication a relationship diagram of multi-tier suppliers, enterprise plants, DCs and customers. But we're not an SCM outfit! We focus on QUALITY and material performance in the supply chain. Something the SCM favs have not considered yet.

John McGlinn
VP Sales/Marketing
EMNS, Inc.
Apr, 04 2014

Who does Dr. Watson recommend for a GIS provider?

Matthew Gunter
General Sales Manager
National Powersport Auctions
Apr, 04 2014

There are so many good open-source GIS systems, for the desktop and in the cloud.  And, if you are looking to develop an enterprise portal, you can contact me directly and I will help point you in the right direction.

Dr. Michael Watson
Adjunct Professor
Northwestern University
Apr, 11 2014