Telstra is using cognitive technology from IBM to decide how and where to distribute spares and other materials needed to build and maintain its network.
Supply chain executive Jon Young told IBM’s Think 2020 conference that the telco is “nine months into a 12-plus month journey” deploying a cognitive “supply chain control tower”.
IBM describes a control tower as a connected hub that “collects and coalesces supply chain information and analyses the structured data for deep insights that stakeholders might otherwise miss.”
“The insights gleaned help to eliminate misinformation and close information gaps that lead to over- or under reactions and product excess or shortages,” IBM said late last year.
For Telstra, the combination of a cognitive supply chain control tower; existing processes implemented through an integrated business planning (IBP) platform; and agile ways of work; has enabled it to navigate challenges caused firstly by the bushfires and now COVID-19.
“It's been a pretty interesting calendar year,” Young said.
“You cannot plan for this. You'd have to go back 100-plus years to be able to find anything that would impact supply or demand the way that this has.
“More importantly, COVID-19 has happened so quickly. In a matter of weeks, things that were not as important for us such as face masks or sanitising gel became an all-encompassing, most important thing that we needed to fix now.”
Young said COVID-19 exposed some single points of failure in Telstra’s network supply chain that the telco is now addressing.
“A few of the things that have really jumped out at us at the moment is we've got many single points of failure across the end-to-end in our supply chain,” he said.
“The weakest link is going to get exposed in times like these.
“This situation has really helped us apply a very high level of focus on those single points of failure, and we're now actively working on leveraging the tools, the data and the processes that we have in place that we know work to quickly try to address those points of failure.”
Telstra’s Agile ways of working - the adaptability of staff - also emerged as an important aspect of Telstra being able to meet the challenges of COVID-19.
“At the core we're an operations group, and an operations group would struggle to go fully Agile, but we've identified pockets within the group that can apply Agile ways of working,” Young said.
“That can allow them to leverage the tools and technologies that we have, such as the control tower, to make really quick decisions that can get us to the outcome in a much quicker way than we would have been able to without it.
“When you sandwich it all up, you end up with this really good outcome that means that, yes every day is a new challenge [under COVID-19] and some days are better than others, but through and through we've been on this journey now for five or six weeks.
"While it's definitely not business-as-usual, we think that the processes, the Agile ways of working and leveraging the tools such as the cognitive control tower are helping us to stay ahead of the problems rather than reacting to them.”