The researchers at Gartner recently predicted its top 10 IT trends for 2012 – trends with the potential for a significant impact on the enterprise. These technologies include the pervasiveness of tablet computers, cloud computing, and mobile-centric applications and interfaces.

Another trend cited by Gartner is the strategic use of “Big Data” throughout the enterprise. Other pundits are weighing in on this same topic.

McKinsey and Company recently published an article (available with free online registration at that takes a close look at the emerging use of Big Data as a strategic resource for enhanced competitiveness. McKinsey defines Big Data as real time data that’s easy to access throughout the supply chain.

We in the ERP space know full well that data is a strategic weapon — especially in the management of manufacturing supply chains. Companies that build agile and responsive supply chains and exploit the use of visibility into their real-time operations will reduce costs and provide better customer service than can their competitors. Competitors will either have to do the same or be left behind in terms of sales growth and profitability.

Big Data changes the basis of competition. While information is becoming more readily accessible, the availability of critical IT and analytical skills is a major concern as the demand for data analysts and supply chain professionals becomes more acute.

Inventory, wherever it is in the supply chain, is a buffer against variation and the unknown, in addition to being a decoupling point between supply and demand. More pervasive information and intelligence can reduce variation and uncertainty, changing the dynamics of the replenishment process and reducing the total amount of inventory carried in the supply chain.

Again, data can help as advanced applications provide more capabilities for contingency planning and analysis so companies can be better prepared and react more quickly when the inevitable disruption occurs.

In the years ahead, companies will continue to find new and surprising ways to exploit Big Data for competitive advantage. Companies that don’t lead their industry in the exploitation of Big Data are likely to find themselves unable to compete with their more nimble and well-informed peers.

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