Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ideas for improving your analytics and supply chain skills

Most people see trucks, ships, railroads, and rusty old chains, when they hear the term supply chain.  There is some truth to that as much of supply chain management is about getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time (which involves a lot of trucks, ships, and railroads not to mention planes, trains, automobiles, and the occasional bicycle or pack mule).  But supply chain management has advanced in last decade and practicioners and leaders have the capability to utilize data more than ever before to set strategic direction, design the supply chain network, and guide tactical decisions.  Whether we refer to this as "Big Data" or just plain old managerial analytics, the tools and datasets are becoming ever more accessible to organizations large and small but I fear that most supply chain organizations and individuals are far behind the curve in the skillsets they need be successful in leveraging this opportunity.  I had the pleasure of participating in several educational experiences in 2014 that provided me with some new tools and insight to the required skills for supply chain managers of the future.

I started the year with my first MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) from MITx, The Analytics Edge.  I blogged about this course in April while I was still taking the course and didn't realize that some of the skills I learned during this class would benefit me later in the year.  This course was a great introduction to fundamental data concepts, quite a few of which I used later in the year on other projects.  The first 8 weeks of the class required the use of R, a very popular open source statistical computing tool.  The course did a great job of introducing the capabilities of the tool and walking a novice through the basic functions required to start using the application to build linear regression models and making predictions based on data. The last two weeks of the course focused on optimization.  The optimization exercises were done in Excel using the built-in solver, but the basic principles learned are applicable to advanced optimization.  Later in the year I worked with two advanced optimization applications to solve mixed integer problems and found that the MITx introduction was a fantastic place to have started.  The Analytics Edge is running again in March 2015 so you have an opportunity to participate in this class (for free!)

I closed the year with a course from MITx/edX that was very interesting and directly related to my career, CTL.SC1x Supply Chain and Logistics Fundamentals:

This was the first available supply chain MOOC and it was a smashing success, reaching over 25,000 registered students.  Dr. Chris Caplice, Executive Director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics led this course and it was a great opportunity to learn from a leader in this field.  In addition to his role at MIT Chris serves as the Chief Scientist for Chainalytics so he brings a wealth of practical as well as academic knowledge to the class.  This is essentially the same course as the graduate level 13-week, on-campus course at MIT so it was quite challenging for many of the students (there is an assumption that anyone accepted to MIT as a graduate student has some good math chops already and it was a fast paced course covering a great deal of material in a short period of time).  Still, 2,000+ students from around the world were on track to complete the course with a passing grade which equates to over 20 years of on-campus classes at MIT.  Clearly there is a great desire for rigorous supply chain education and Dr. Caplice and his team are early entrants into what will likely become a more crowded field.

Like most MOOC participants I also registered for my share of courses that I didn't complete - mostly because of lack of time.  These included Discrete and Linear Optimization, and Linear and Integer Programming.  When I have time I may come back to the archived course materials (one of the advantages of MOOCs).

I'm currently working through the Johns Hopkins Data Science specialization on Coursera, a 9-course series that covers a wide range of topics in the area of data science.  I'll be blogging about this as the year progresses.

I'd love to hear from you about what skills and knowledge supply chain managers need and how we can gain the knowledge needed to lead our supply chain organizations in the coming years.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or directly via email.