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Blue Yonder’s ICON Event: Virtual, But Still A Chance To Learn

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Most years, we at RSR attend JDA’s user group conference. Last year, what had long been called Focus became ICON. Earlier this year, JDA become Blue Yonder. And then, just to make things all that much more interesting, the intrusion of COVID-19 introduced the need for the event to go fully virtual.

Unfortunately, ICON will not be the last big retail event we attend in this format, but it did have the distinction of being the first. And as anyone might expect, some technical issues arose as a result. Can such things be frustrating? Absolutely – for all involved. But it is important to remember that this is not Hollywood: this is the retail technology industry, and no one was quite prepared to bring a fully-baked, multi-track agenda – intended for thousands, in person, in a convention center – completely online in just four weeks. Not to mention: more than 5,000 people around the world were able to attend, instead of the usual 2,000 at I applaud them for how well it turned out despite such a challenge.

If you read our newsletter last week, partner Brian Kilcourse shared some of the things we discovered in the keynote of this replacement event – just as it was happening in real time. But just a few days later, the analysts at RSR were given a one-on-one briefing with members of the Blue Yonder retail team about their Luminate Planning product, just as we would have at the in-person version of ICON had it taken place as planned in Orlando. As a result, we got to poke, prod, and gain a greater understanding of the company’s vision for retail supply chain planning. And as it turns out, it’s pretty focused.

For starters, Blue Yonder sees itself at an inflection point: with a new management team in place since 2017, the vendor has been steadily been moving from its legacy on-premise-based solution set to a software-as-a-service model – and in a committed way, at that. SaaS-based revenues were up 78% year- over-year last quarter, continuing rapid growth that is becoming status quo over the vendor’s past several quarters.

The company’s newest planning offering is broken into four quadrants: a reimagined user interface, what it calls “boundryless, always-on planning”, the ability to “predict and pivot” rather than simply react to disruptions, and integrated planning and execution, all of which leverage the company’s AI/ML engine to deliver insights and automate decisions. I took particular interest in the new UI as the company has prioritized this as more than just a layout. In order for the user experience to flow in a logical way across various parts of the retail enterprise, retailers are able to set up “situation rooms”, enabling multiple people from across varying departments to collaborate effectively. I am really looking forward to seeing this (a demo is still forthcoming), as any workflow that can help break down the interdepartmental idiosyncrasies that exist within retail is a welcome addition. It is often very highly ranked among the organizational inhibitors retailers cite in our benchmark research – and commonly the number one roadblock. Blue Yonder is taking this opportunity seriously, having hired a Chief Design Officer (Joerg Beringer) last year, who is overseeing development of the company’s reimagined user experience and consistent usability, as well as look and feel, across its solutions portfolio. To quote them: “This isn’t just about layout – it’s an important area of investment for how our technology is going to work in the future.”

At the same time, all of the tech stack you’d come to expect in a formerly-JDA roadmap demo sits atop the Luminate Platform. In the short-term, Control Tower is designed to provide inventory visibility and disruption management. Above that (in the mid-term), production planning and scheduling serve as a bridge between those responsible for supply and those charged with channel management, and inventory optimization represents the long-term skills necessary to provide what Blue Yonder calls the “Luminate Experience”. It’s a bit techy/jargon to follow, but the company has a lot of quotes from happy retail clients to back it up. Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury’s, is betting big on his company’s recent adoption of Blue Yonder to help navigate “the new normal” in a post COVID-19 world, one where no one could have predicted how upside down the world of grocery would be right now even just a few short months ago. With an unimaginably strained supply chain, and a growing number of customers demanding their groceries be delivered (seriously, who could have predicted that last year?), his decision to “strengthen and modernize our supply chain going forward” with the addition of AI and ML technology technology originally developed at CERN (where the original Blue Yonder was founded) is starting to look pretty smart right about now.

Of course I’m disappointed that we were not able to receive this content in its intended format. And while our conversation included the chance for both companies to share opinions over what the current COVID-19 crisis means for retail long term, suffice it to say neither RSR nor the folks at Blue Yonder anticipate anything resembling “normal” in the foreseeable future. That said, with so much riding on today’s demand chain, there’s likely never been a better time to be a “supply chain company.”

I sincerely hope we can all get together at next year’s show.

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Articles & Opinions May 12, 2020
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