December 2016 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Joanne Wright: Turning Data Into Insight

Tags: Cloud Computing, Logistics, Technology , Big Data, Supply Chain

Joanne Wright is IBM's vice president of supply chain. She has held this position since 2013.

Responsibilities: Strategy, execution, and business results for IBM's manufacturing, engineering, procurement, logistics, fulfillment, and client solutions across more than 170 countries. Leveraging big data, analytics, and social media to create a world-class supply network.

Experience: Numerous senior leadership positions across supply chain in procurement, client fulfillment, manufacturing, and enterprise transformation within IBM.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in business and marketing, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland, 1991. Diploma, procurement management, Strathclyde University, Scotland, 1994.


As a supply chain team, we've decided to take the wonderful capabilities of Watson, IBM's cognitive technology, and the cloud platform to find how we can predict demand upsides and downsides faster and more accurately.

For instance, we linked The Weather Company with Watson's capabilities, turning data into insight—and into action.

IBM maintains sites throughout the world where we monitor supply chain movements. For instance, in 2015, Hurricane Patricia picked up steam so quickly it left the Mexican coastline unprepared. We used The Weather Company data, along with a Watson API, to predict where and when the storm would hit our Guadalajara facility. We then held products in Miami and delivered them the next day. We continued production and client shipments with minimal interruptions.

Another area we focus on is the opportunity to use structured data, such as order backlog and client purchasing patterns, along with unstructured data from social media and news feeds to gain insights on other risk factors. Then, we can make faster decisions on the actions we need to take.

The biggest challenge? The volume of data exceeds the human capacity to analyze it and make quick decisions. We've seen a huge advantage in being able to utilize Watson to capture the incredible volume of information and come up with a few key recommendations to make more informed and speedy decisions.

My passion for supply chain came from my grandpa, who owned bakeries and stores in Glasgow, Scotland, and local Ayrshire towns. I was intrigued by balancing demand and supply with transportation, getting everything where it needed to be in time, and not having too much of products that weren't going to sell.

When I graduated university, I was hired as a trainee buyer on the personal computing side of IBM's business. Our global operations had suppliers spread across five continents, and I quickly learned how we manage our business in a global way. It also introduced me to the fact that there's a lot of detail in the world of supply chain. We were doing analyses on where to source, how to source, the right cost point, the right quality points, and where to locate.

I moved into manufacturing and took a leadership role running our x86 Intel business. I had the opportunity to grow my business skills leading the storage team in San Jose, Calif.

Today, IBM's supply chain extended family is about 3,000 to 4,000 people. It's great being engaged with all the teams in incredibly innovative and agile ways to transform this wonderful business.

I reflect on how fast we change and how strong leadership is about being able to transform and make good—sometimes bold—decisions, and execute with certainty. It's also using the capabilities that the cognitive world will bring to us, and that will allow us to feel more certain.

In challenging times, you learn so much about yourself and your team's capabilities, endurance, and perseverance. When it's past, you realize what an incredible opportunity a challenge can be.

The Big Questions

If you were going to learn a new language, which would it be?

Italian. I love opera and classical music, and it's a very passionate language. Maybe Watson [IBM's cognitive technology] could teach me.

Who are your mentors?

I have two: My grandpa, who set up one shop that grew to several shops and bakeries across the United Kingdom, and my mom. She spent most of her career as a special needs teacher. She is insightful into how people can be different and how you can help them.

If you could have dinner with any people in the world, who would you choose?

My husband, my twins, and my mom. We don't get together as often as I would like, as my mom lives in Scotland.






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