Get acquainted with Supply Chain Insights

When everything is going well, details like which route your carrier took to deliver the package to your customer seem completely immaterial. But what happens when a massive storm hits and you realize that all of your carriers are stuck in it, and none of your packages will be delivered on time? You’ve just broken your promise to your customers, and more likely than not, you’ll have to deal with demands for refunds. This is where IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights with Watson™ comes in.

Supply Chain Insights provides your organization with end-to-end visibility throughout all stages of the supply-chain life cycle – from planning and sourcing to delivery and service and everything in between. With its news integration, Supply Chain Insights can inform you, the supply-chain manager, that a massive storm will likely affect many of your shipments, so you can then advise your carriers to alternative routes, as well as let your customers know that delays are possible.

Operations Center – The dashboard

With a dashboard that offers an easy way to visualize your end-to-end supply chain, Supply Chain Insights can help you prioritize the items that require your attention, and give you all the information you need to make an optimal decision in the face of disruptions.


Operations Center – The dashboard, detailed view

What’s really great about the dashboard is that at first, you get a nice high-level picture of your business, but if necessary, you can also get into the details and drill down for the specifics. For example, you can see that there are some problems with the open sales orders. If you click on the Open Sales Orders widget, you can see the exact percentage of orders and the amount of revenue that’s affected. From there, you can see all of the unscheduled sales orders and get a list by sales order number. If you drill down even further and select a sales order number, you can view the order summary and a timeline on the right side of the screen. You can see any concerns with the order, such as if there is no shipping date. This is just a quick example, but you can see how much detail you can get from this platform.


Ask Watson

Another great feature of Supply Chain Insights is the capability to talk to Watson in natural language and get real-time responses. For example, instead of looking for widgets on your dashboard, you can tell Watson to show you all of the open sales orders, and Watson will provide you with links to details on those orders in real time. Not only that, but Watson is trained on a multitude of supply-chain questions, and you can train Watson on your own skills as well — but that’s a topic for a future article.


Resolution Rooms

Supply Chain Insights is a collaboration platform that enables businesses to set up resolution rooms to discuss and take action on problems that inevitably arise during the supply-chain process. Let’s say there is a problem with supply order ZB-PO-0001924. You want to get in a room with all of the stakeholders, so you can easily invite people to discuss the details of the problem and come up with a resolution. The rooms allow you to have all of the details of your order available, take and save notes, and resolve your problem before it’s too late.


Learn more

This is just a high-level overview of some of the features that come out of the box with an IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights trial, but there are many more to explore. You can also learn how to get started uploading data through APIs.

Discover how to build intelligent, self-correcting supply chains

The IBM Sterling suite offers solutions for supply chain and B2B collaboration. For complete product documentation, including information on how to extend the solutions, check out the following product Knowledge Centers.

Supply chain

IBM Sterling Order Management — Enhance cross-channel efficiencies, improve and streamline complex product order management, and fulfillment operations across commerce systems.

IBM Sterling Store Engagement — Extend access and control of store operations to store associates through intuitive mobile applications that enable omni-channel offerings like “buy online, pick up in store” and “ship from store,” as well as managing returns across channels.

IBM Sterling Call Center — Provide solutions to the challenges found in typical customer order management business scenarios.

IBM Sterling Configure, Price, Quote — Present product information throughout all channels and let employees, customers, and partners accurately configure, price, quote, and order products, services, and solution bundles.

IBM Sterling Inventory Visibility — Process extremely high inventory supply-and-demand update activity and present an accurate real-time availability picture across all e-commerce channels.

IBM Sterling Fulfillment Optimizer with Watson — Formerly known as Watson Order Optimizer, this solution provides insight into your business by analyzing big data with the goal of minimizing the total cost to serve your customers using both stores and distribution centers.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Insights with Watson — Provide visibility across your supply chain to help you manage constant change. Quickly detect potential disruptions and collaborate with colleagues and IBM Watson™ to resolve issues.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network — Establish reliable connections with suppliers and business partners. Then, using cognitive technologies, achieve deep visibility into B2B transaction life cycles and partner performance. Depending on the edition, also includes IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence, InFlight, IBM Sterling Delivery Transaction Intelligence, Sterling Information Broker, IBM Sterling e-invoicing, and IBM Sterling Web Forms.

IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Assistant — Use the best techniques to bring AI to your applications. IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Assistant presents a unique and proven model based on modern approaches to machine reasoning.

B2B collaboration

IBM Sterling B2B Integrator — A transaction engine that runs the processes that you define and manages the processes according to your business requirements. Supports high-volume electronic message exchange, complex routing, translation, and flexible interaction with multiple internal systems and external business partners.

IBM Sterling Secure Proxy — An application proxy between nodes or between a client application and a B2B Integrator server. It provides a high level of data protection between external connections and your internal network. Define an inbound node definition for each trading partner connection from outside the company and an outbound node definition for every company server.

IBM Sterling File Gateway — A framework for movement of large and high-volume file transfers, with end-to-end visibility of file movement in a process-oriented and highly scalable framework. This framework alleviates file transfer challenges, such as protocol and file brokering, automation, and data security.

IBM Sterling Connect:Direct — A point-to-point (peer-to-peer) file-based integration middleware meant for round-the-clock unattended operation, which provides ensured delivery and secure high-volume data exchange within and between enterprises.

IBM Sterling Partner Engagement Manager — A system that enables faster onboarding, collaboration, interaction, monitoring, and visibility of activity flows between an enterprise and their partners, customers, and suppliers.

IBM Sterling Transformation Extender — A powerful, transaction-oriented data integration solution that automates the transformation of complex high-volume transactions. Supports EDI, XML, SWIFT, HIPAA, and other standards-based B2B integration, as well as the real-time integration of data from multiple applications, databases, messaging middleware, and communications technologies across the enterprise.

IBM Sterling Control Center — A centralized monitoring and management system that enables operations personnel to continuously monitor business activities across the enterprise. IBM Sterling Control Center also enables the management of Connect:Direct servers configuration and licenses.

Deliver the power of data visualization to every user

As a developer, if your organization is deploying IBM Sterling Order Management software on the cloud or transitioning to the cloud from our on-premises solution, you’re probably wondering how you can help users get the most benefit from the service. Can you help fulfillment and offering managers make the best use of this data for reporting and alerting? Is there a way to enable IT professionals to troubleshoot and triage possible issues, and monitor system performance?

The data collected in the Order Management database is immensely valuable. But as you know, a picture is worth a thousand words. It is easier for the human brain to process information, grasp difficult concepts, and identify emerging patterns in a visual format like a chart or a graph vs. raw data. Data extraction combined with visualization helps users to not only understand the insights from the underlying data in a clear and cohesive fashion but also draw conclusions in a timely manner. And that’s where you have an opportunity to be a hero!

In this blog, we’ll look at the how you can help users tap into the data collected in the Order Management database — which can include thousands of variables — to establish relationships between different data points (including those from other applications) in order to:

  • Identify areas that require immediate attention, such as a store not performing well
  • Clarify what could influence buyer patterns, such as the introduction of a new product
  • Identify needs for different markets (regions)
  • Perform planning around inventory and operations

Below are seven ways that the Order Management cloud-based service allows you to utilize the data, including options to visualize and extract data into an on-premises system.

Event Sourcing — As an order moves through the Order Management system, events are triggered in real time –- create an order, schedule an order for shipment, ship an order, etc. Many users within the system can use this near-real-time data to take immediate action. For example, events may trigger the sending of a series of emails to the customer. Customer service reps can monitor events, like orders and returns, via a dashboard and receive alerts. Product management can track orders for specific products for analysis and reporting.

Event sourcing utilizes the Order Management Events framework to provide a near-real-time data stream to support reactive analysis (short loop) workload or build data visualizations based on near-real-time data. This approach requires some amount of extension, as shown below.


Note: Introduction of IBM MQ and Integration server provides better transaction integrity and reduces the impact of latency for remote communication to prevent long-running transactions.

This option can be used not only with events supplied in the offering but also with other data sets within the Order Management application.

Data Extract Service — This service is a good fit for extracting stable and cold data, including data related to closed orders, time to fulfill orders, number of new orders. In other words, anytime real-time data is not required. The process allows you to extract data from a set of predefined database tables and publish the data in a flat file to an external SFTP site. The extract service can be set up to run at a recurring interval — to support the creation of daily, weekly, or monthly reports, for example. Users can combine the data with data from other systems, such as shipping, or billing, order capture or job scheduling systems and generate reports that include visualization.

The extract service uses the last modified timestamp from the database table to extract data on subsequent execution. This ensures the consistent delivery of data.


Given that this is a separate, dedicated-agent, server-based process that extracts data from the standby/backup database. It does not add any workload to the transactional application ecosystem. Since this is an asynchronous process that runs on its own schedule, this process extracts data in its current state at the execution time. As an example, if order status changed from A to B and B to C, the extract may capture the order with state C because that’s the state at the time of this process. The visibility into states A and B will not be available. If there is a need to track status changes, this can be done using Event Sourcing, as described above.

As a limitation of Db2® read-only database, CLOB and BLOB cannot be extracted. However, custom tables can be created to populate the data in non-CLOB format. These custom tables can then be extracted. However, to ensure optimal performance and dataset size, these tables should be purged.

Order Management API — GET APIs are provided so organizations can perform READ operations. The details of the APIs are provided in the SaaS developer toolkit. API requests are processed synchronously in the application server JVM, and responses are sent back to the client. This option can be used to query data on an ad-hoc basis — to perform triage on what happened with a specific order, for example — but is not recommended for large volumes of queries because it puts additional load on the application and transactional database.


Note: API Input should be examined carefully to avoid retrieving large datasets.

Order Management DB Query Client — This browser-based client, an alternative to using GET APIs, allows you to query the Order Management database securely and on demand. This client should only be used for troubleshooting and not for data extraction or reporting of large datasets. For example, an IT manager may need to quickly query data from an application to understand an issue, such as an order or shipment delay, and perform triage.


Cognos with OM SaaS — This option allows you to create and schedule reports using IBM Cognos®, available as part of the Order Management cloud-based service. The reports are created against the backup/standby copy of the transactional database. Therefore, it does not add any workload to the transactional system. IBM Cognos offers out-of-the-box operational reports and allows users to build their own if they choose. The reports include visualization to quickly see answers to questions regarding order status, inventory, top-selling or most-returned products, and more.


Note: This option allows you to create and schedule reports from the OM database only.

OM Key Performance Indicators — Our new UI provides a view of KPIs around key business objects in Order Management. Customizable dashboards can display fill rate, SLA rate, over-capacity, ship-from-store utilization rate, and pick-up-in-store utilization rate. More KPIs will continue to be added, so check back regularly.

Application Monitoring — Available from OM SaaS Self-Service Tool, these charts provide systems integrators and IT administrators the capability to monitor the health and performance of the Order Management application and collect metrics around how it is being used. Typically, cloud-based services don’t provide this level of visibility, but with Order Management software on the cloud, you can be a hero and provide this to your IT team.

Take advantage of these available IBM Sterling Order Management options to make your life easier and address a wide range of users’ data visualization needs.

Welcome to the IBM Sterling open developer platform

As you work across supply chains, it becomes immediately obvious that no two supply chains are the same. They consist of a system of systems that span value-added network (VAN) services, purpose-built applications, BPMs and RPAs, and myriad data formats with unique data mappings. So, what happens when you are charged with integrating across these unique supply chains to form a network of networks; when data, access, and processes are disjointed; and participants want to keep everything within their four walls?

This is the challenge for developers and system integrators as we enter the era of the multi-enterprise business network. The arrangements made between trading partners now need to be done in a way that unlocks the data to controlled parties so that supply chains can provide end-to-end visibility, allowing corrective actions to be taken before disruption occurs. To craft these unique, self-correcting supply chains, developers need an open platform of purpose-built services. They need access to the right data and AI to solve problems. They need the right tools and technologies to help customize and configure a solution and even reach outside of the supply chain to solve issues connected with other parts of the business. And the platform must be able to take advantage of all the systems and processes they have in place today, while helping them bridge to future technologies.

That is the promise of the IBM Sterling supply chain open platform suite, unveiled today. Here at the IBM Sterling developer hub, you’ll discover:

  • A set of composable and extensible, purpose-built business services that are accessible through various surface areas, such as APIs, graphs, and event systems.
  • Extensible AI, through orchestrated business agents, where you can teach an AI agent how to reason and take action against your unique set of networks and applications that form your supply chain.
  • Foundational services that allow you to manage and govern access to your supply chain.

But it doesn’t stop at IBM Sterling. With an open platform, you can bring in other IBM technologies, such as IBM Cloud Pak™ for Integration to reach any number of systems, including IoT and weather signals, and data for crafting track and trace solutions. Use IBM Cloud Pak for Data to build your own AI pipelines from the IBM Sterling data. And incorporate IBM Blockchain technology to build secure and transparent solutions for trading partners. Coupled with Red Hat® OpenShift®, you can run your supply chain virtually anywhere you choose.

Need to interconnect with other technologies that aren’t IBM? No problem. The IBM Sterling platform is truly open. Your data and insights are yours, so you should be able to use them throughout your business as you see fit.

In the coming months, you will see the IBM Sterling developer hub grow with activity. This area is unique in that you can access code, patterns, articles, and tools that span technologies and industries, so you can build and customize your supply-chain solutions. Check it out and continue to come back as it evolves and expands over time.

Food Waste Virtual Hackathon: Use your code to combat food waste

An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses, and farms about $218 billion.

There’s no single cause of food waste—it happens throughout the food chain, during transport, in stores, and in consumers’ homes. All of this waste is taking an enormous (and growing!) toll on the environment. Not to mention, this amount of food waste feels wrong when 1 in 8 people in the United States experience food insecurity.

The good news is that many grocers and food producers are working to combat this waste and its impact on the environment and consumers. Grocers and food producers including Kroger, Walmart, and others have announced waste-reduction initiatives.

A major hurdle that these companies have to overcome is how they track the food from farm to consumer. As it stands today, it’s hard for a company to visualize data related to a product’s age, origin, and journey. And, because they can’t see the data, grocers can’t optimize how they sell and fulfill each item to guard against waste.

So, what if you could use your coding skills to combat food waste? IBM recently partnered with Angelhack to launch the Food Waste Virtual Hackathon. This challenge asks developers to use their creativity and coding skills to engineer a solution that can reduce food waste at any point in the food chain.

For example, what if you could create an app that use visual recognition to quickly and accurately determine if a food is fresh or spoiled? Is there technology you can build to move unsold produce in one area to food deserts to limit waste? Or, can you think of a way to better connect food producers and retailers to charities near them, so food can be donated before it becomes waste?

The challenge winners will also have the opportunity to showcase their idea with IBM at Groceryshop, a leading food and consumer products trade show. Submit your idea through August 23.

Need some inspiration?

There’s no need to start from scratch with your coding — especially given the short deadline. We created some code patterns using open source, cloud-native technologies, like blockchain, Watson Visual Recognition (and other AI services), and IoT to help you build your waste-reducing solutions.

The ability to organize, analyze and connect this data means that additional tools and techniques, like AI, can be applied to better measure other waste-reducing efforts (like ugly produce education, etc.) and help conceive new strategies, too. With greater visibility into the quantity, condition, and location of products, all members of the food value chain will be armed with the information needed to accelerate their journey to a lower waste world.

How managed service architecture lends itself to multiple cloud platforms

Using managed service architecture to reduce time when moving to other cloud platforms

Our engineering team is happy to announce the launch of the IBM Db2 Warehouse on Cloud Flex offerings for Amazon Web Services (AWS). Two Flex models are included in this new offering: Flex and Flex Performance. The core of IBM Db2 Warehouse on Cloud is BLU acceleration, IBM’s in-memory columnar processing technology, actionable compression and data skipping techniques. The Flex and Flex performance offerings use Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) architectures–where data is spread across multiple partitions and acted upon by multiple resources in parallel. In addition, the same feature set in IBM Cloud, including independent compute and storage scaling, daily backups and high availability characteristics also exist in the AWS offering.

This technical blog talks about how our managed service architecture lends itself to multiple cloud platforms easily, enabling us to move to other cloud platforms in a short span of time. Similar foundation blocks are used in the IBM Cloud Flex offerings.

The Flex offerings are built on Kubernetes as the foundation. The base is an Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (AKS) cluster on the AWS Platform. In this Kubernetes cluster, we provision customer Flex clusters. A single Kubernetes cluster will have multiple Flex clusters. The compute worker nodes that we use are Broadwell based, specifically, r4-16xlarge (64 vCPUs , 488 GB RAM and 20Gbps of N/W bandwidth) for Flex Performance and r4-8xlarge (32 vCPUs, 244 GB RAM and 10 Gbps of N/W bandwidth) for Flex clusters.

When a provisioning request comes in, a cluster configuration is determined based on the customer compute level. Worker nodes are picked from a preexisting pool or provisioned dynamically depending on the request. Storage volumes are dynamically provisioned or picked up from a pool as applicable. A cluster deployment process is completely automated, from the point the customer clicks on “Create” instance in the IBM Cloud Marketplace to the point the customer gets the welcome email. What you effectively get is a Flex cluster (see diagram below) with a bunch of worker nodes constituting your cluster, dedicated storage volumes, and a hostname to connect with. The only ports open in a cluster are the ones necessary to run different applications. Each cluster gets its own set of worker nodes and dedicated storage volumes.

For warehouse storage, we use provisioned IOPS SSDs (io1) elastic block storage for user data, temporary and archive space, and elastic file storage for file systems that need to be shared. Different IOPs tiers are used depending on the offering and performance needs. User data and temporary data use higher IOPs settings per volume. The EBS and EFS volumes are both encrypted for all data at rest and also provide data encryption in transit. In addition to storage level encryption, the Db2 Warehouse engine also provides database level encryption.

The high availability model on the system is multi-prong. First, any pod or node failure is immediately handled by Kubernetes. The EC2 instance spare pool that we maintain allows Kubernetes to move to a new node and get the Flex cluster up and running at the same capacity as before. Node downtime recoveries are in the order of minutes. We also continuously monitor things at a process level internally to ensure all microservice components are running without any issues. Any issue with any microservice components is identified and rectified by our internal high availability layer. Storage resiliency is provided by the EBS volumes themselves. They’re replicated by default across multiple servers in an availability zone to prevent the loss of data from the failure of any single component.

AWS image

For compute scaling on AWS, we create a new deployment template based on the customer scale (up / down), shut the old configuration down, and restart with the new deployment template. There’s no data redistribution on compute scaling. data volumes are moved from one pod/container to another. The new computes get their own volumes for temporary space and archive space, and the engine is restarted with the new configuration. Scale happens within minutes.

Storage scaling is completely online. A customer can pick up the new storage size, and the expansion process kicks in immediately. The full storage availability is dependent on the platform. AWS EBS volume scaling goes through state transitions before the storage is entirely usable. Also, AWS storage expansions cannot be applied twice within a 6 hour period (EBS limitation). Scaling of compute and storage can be done using REST APIs or by going into the IBM Cloud Console.

Backups occur daily by default. The backup is actually a storage level snapshot and gets copied out to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). The whole backup process takes less than a few minutes. Customers can use the IBM Db2 Warehouse on Cloud Console to modify the backup times and restore to a backup that was taken earlier. The restore process will restore the snapshot that was picked and start the Warehouse on cloud with that level of snapshot. Restore times are again in the order of minutes. The offering comes with a default 7 day backup limit–with the ability to tailor this to any number of backups.

Multiple tiers of security are enforced for the offering. In AWS, we’ve used all integral components of the platform to secure customer deployments, VPC (everything is protected by the VPC boundary), security groups at multiple levels (EC2 instances, VPC), and Kubernetes level Network Policies and RBAC rules.

To learn more, visit our web site.