More Than 270 Business Leaders Attend Supply Chain Conference

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – More than 270 business leaders representing over 50 companies attended the 13th annual Supply Chain Management Research Center spring conference April 23 at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development. 

The Analytics Driving Supply Chain Transformation conference, presented by the research center at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, focused on how big data and predictive analytics can drive supply chain transformation. 

Speakers included Mickey Mericle, vice president for global consumer insights and analytics at Walmart, and Keith Mercier, global retail transformation leader at IBM for the Watson project.  Breakout sessions included presentations by executives from Nestle, Procter & Gamble, J. B. Hunt Transport Inc., and many others. The opening speaker was Dhiraj Rajaram; founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Mu Sigma; who challenged the attendees to put big data in context. "Big data is a helpful shorthand for many things,” Rajaram said, “but we are not interested in big data, we are interested in big decisions!"  

Mericle discussed how Walmart and other retailers have tremendous amounts of structured operational data such as inventory, transportation and cost data. Mericle said the challenge is to merge this with unstructured consumer data, such as Twitter and Pinterest feeds, in order to ask “the right questions!” She shared one example where Walmart learned from customers during Black Friday that out-of-stock product in one store was available in a nearby store. The adjacent stores quickly worked with each other to remedy the situation. Mericle summed it up by suggesting this combination of agility, speed and flexibility define the supply chain necessary to support the new connected consumer.

Mercier provided a personal example for the conference audience. While recently en route to the airport for an overseas trip, he connected to an online doctor, received a prescription and picked it up all inside of 20 minutes. That is an agile supply chain. How does one use technology and information for such transformational thinking? He suggested Watson, a cognitive computer that understands natural language and gets smarter the more it interacts with humans, might be such a tool. Watson played and won Jeopardy in 2011. Today’s consumers place themselves in the middle of the supply chain and want to be known, engaged and empowered. Technology such as Watson can provide “disruptive innovations” for future supply chains.

In addition to three keynote speakers, the conference featured ten breakout sessions which focused on the science, technology and application of analytics.   

Space Time Insight was the industry sponsor of this year’s conference. The Supply Chain Management Research Center operates with the support of an executive board of more than 36 companies.  For more information about the center and the conference, visit


David Speer, director of communications
Sam M. Walton College of Business


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