Supply chain technology vendor Kinaxis had its annual user conference in Nashville last week. Kinaxis is a Canadian supply chain technology firm that was founded in 1984. The company is based in Ottawa, Canada and has been a publicly-traded firm since 1984.
The conference had some 700+ in-person attendees and another 3500 or so connecting virtually.
Before I get into the big announcements at the show, let me comment first on the customers. These representatives/executives came from some of the biggest companies globally. These firms have long, multiple tiered supply chains that are global in nature. The logistical and production issues these companies confront on a daily basis are quite significant.
Some of the customers present included: Honeywell, Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, Subaru, Mars, MillerKnoll, Cardinal Health, Unilever and more. Many of these firm touched on matters like:
- Dealing with post-pandemic and other disruptions to their supply chains
- Sending zero waste to landfills
- ESG reporting challenges
- Retiring ineffective and inefficient spreadsheets
What was also great was that Kinaxis let many of these firms present alone. It’s so refreshing to go to a conference where the vendor isn’t orchestrating every word coming out of its showcase customers. Attendees didn’t get those overly rehearsed infomercial sessions with a vendor person asking a customer “So, how did you come to select our award-winning, industry-leading application software?” Kinaxis also let these customers do longer presentations and some had multiple speakers from the same customer. That really speaks to the confidence Kinaxis has in its solutions and the value customers are getting from them.
Align plans and execution for better business outcomes
Kinaxis executives talked about the need for ‘concurrent orchestration and synchronicity’. That concept describes how Kinaxis customers need to marry their supply chain plans with execution data. If the data could come in real-time, the result of this would trigger a number of timely adjustments to one’s plans, orders, etc.
This new capability appears to the result of Kinaxis’ recent acquisition of MPO. According to a Kinaxis press release from late last year:
The combination of Kinaxis Rapid Response® planning and MPO’s Multi Party Orchestration execution will uniquely deliver a complete real-time picture of every order across the lifecycle – from planned commitment through ultimate delivery. Instead of treating these areas as separated teams, planners will be able to react to disruptions in transportation and dynamically respond, and logistics teams will be able to incorporate the strategic impacts of their execution activities. This full digitization will unlock supply chain agility and resiliency to improve the end-to-end customer experience, sustainability and financial outcomes for manufacturers and brand owners as well as logistics service providers.
The MPO solution has been rebranded as Kinaxis SC Execution. As one Kinaxis executive explained, the new capability allows supply chain professionals to know “where raw materials are, where key hiccups in the supply chain are occurring, and, help make on-the-fly adjustments to avoid disruptions.”
ESG product announcement
Kinaxis executives shifted gears to announce their new ESG solution. It’s definitely new and it took some doing for me to get a glimpse of it.
This application is designed to help customers capture and interrogate Scope 3 emissions from their suppliers. (Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions triggered by suppliers on your firm’s behalf.) The new software can graphically display the differences in emission profiles from various suppliers across a company’s supply chain. With this tool, customers can make smarter environmentally-friendly decisions re: its suppliers so that the customer’s own products can have a smaller total emissions footprint, too. Alternatively, the software can also display a heat map that shows what parts of the world your suppliers are generating high or low levels of emissions.
Please note that ESG reporting requires firms to address environmental (which includes greenhouse gas emissions), social and governance activities. It also needs to address three scope areas (Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from a company’s own operations. Scope 2 mostly captures purchased energy from third parties, and, Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions and other elements from your firm’s suppliers). This initial solution from Kinaxis is focused only on Scope 3 emissions for now. Support for other ESG data may come later.
The new software will be tested by beta customers this summer. Exactly when this goes GA is not known now.
Key intellectual property from Climatiq is helping to provide critical emissions data re: suppliers and is being tightly embedded within the Kinaxis ESG tool.
Smart customers will definitely get value from this tool.
Kinaxis and AI
Another announcement involved Kinaxis’ plans for generative AI. The company’s narrative here was pretty quiet. Kinaxis hinted at some potential use cases for generative AI in its products but did not commit to anything definite.
That coyness is actually okay as the market for AI solutions today is overhyped and full of questions about security, ethics, privacy, etc. Smart vendors are all studying, testing and readying new solutions and keeping customer expectations in check. Manic hype is not helpful.
Kinaxis wants to use AI to “amplify intelligence” that will help its customers empower their people and present better supply chain alternatives for consideration. AI can also help with customer training and other knowledge-based issues. Kinaxis executives believe generative AI can be used for code generation, better executive briefing data, help functions, training, etc.
Not to be overlooked, Kinaxis launched an AI planning tool last year: Planning.AI. This year, Kinaxis has added a Demand.AI solution to complement it.
The last announcement area was around empowering people. I got a brief insight into this. This announcement covered continuing enhancements around Kinaxis’ UX (user experience) and its no-code tools. These capabilities are intended to help end-users be more productive and tailor how and what they use in the solution.
Large systems integrators concentrate around technology solutions that solve complex problems for larger customers. They do so as it costs them the same selling cost to win a big implementation project as it does a smaller one. One analyst firm calculates the services ecosystem around one ERP product line to be around $100 billion annually today. That’s not immaterial. I pay attention to when I see a number of larger systems integrators concentrating around a given vendor.
At this user conference, I ran into numerous big implementation firms like CapGemini. Some were presenters (e.g., Deloitte). Many were exhibitors and some, including my old alma mater, Accenture, and Genpact were noted in a keynote as long-time implementation partners of Kinaxis.
The presence of so many large integrators confirmed for me that Kinaxis solutions are indeed targeted for large, complex companies that have large, complex supply chains to optimize. Based on the presenters and from the conversations I had with top customer executives, that observation was correct.
The business need for this type of solution is clear. And, the idea of tying plans to actual execution data is an absolute business necessity.
The concept of collecting and analyzing Scope 3 ESG data via a supply chain tool is also a great idea. Given the growing regulatory requirements and the hastening of ESG reporting deadlines, Kinaxis customers will be looking for new solutions in the near-term. Kinaxis’ timing on this new functionality is good.
Customers should explain more clarity from Kinaxis on all of its announcements in subsequent months. For example, the AI discussion could be much richer as I suspect Kinaxis will have a point of view as to how it will secure and protect customer data when using Generative AI technology. Kinaxis might want to draw a bright line and identify what is with be doing regarding private and public AI technologies and why this matters for its customers. New AI capabilities will also affect Kinaxis software functionality and pricing. Of course, customers will want clarity around this.
Customers will also want more re: ESG. The current offering plays to Kinaxis’ supply chain strengths. But a solution limited to Scope 3 emissions is too limiting. There are still Scope 1 and 2 emissions to be accounted for in addition to a number of non-emission related items in the Social and Governance domains.
Kinaxis, by dint of its large, global customers, is used to dealing with complexity. I would expect they’d handle the challenges above just fine.