Microsoft’s Supply Chain Platform Goes Live, Joining a Competitive Market of Solutions Seeking to Tackle Supply Chain Fragmentation

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By Ryan Wiggin | 4Q 2022 | IN-6757

Microsoft’s Supply Chain Platform adds a big name to the supply chain control tower market, offering a low-code, adaptable solution to end users. Regulation and deeper analytics will be key drivers to the platform’s adoption, but vendors of such solutions need to ensure they are accessible and scalable to individual company requirements.

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Driven by a Strong Partner Ecosystem


On Monday, November 21st, Microsoft announced their Supply Chain Platform, an offering that looks to harmonize data and organizations from across the supply chain into a single control tower application. The platform combines the use of Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365, the Power Platform, and Microsoft Teams, leveraging the Microsoft Cloud to create one place for customers to manage their supply chain. As part of this announcement, the company have also previewed the Microsoft Supply Chain Center, defined as a single ‘command center’ that helps connect data from existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and third-party supply chain management solutions, such as Oracle and SAP. Existing customers of the Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management solution will gain automatic access to the Center as part of their current arrangements.

Underpinning the platform, a network of Microsoft partners including Accenture, Avanade, EY, KPMG, PwC, and TCS are acting as advisors and implementors, and to help customers find the right applications for their needs, the platform connects seamlessly into solutions from the likes of Blue Yonder, Experlogix, InVia Robotics, K3, SAS, and Sonata Software. With launch partners including C.H. Robinson, FedEx, FourKites, and Overhaul as well as successful early-stage rollouts to preview customers including Kraft-Heinz, iFit, and Daimler Trucks, the platform is well positioned to hit the ground running in the competitive market.

Growing Supply Chain Control Tower Market


Upon adoption of the new Supply Chain Center, customers will have access to both pre-built modules and partner modules, synchronized together with the use of the Dataverse to keep data across applications consistent. The four flagship features of the platform have been outlined as follows:

  • Supply and Demand Insights Module: Taking both an up and downstream view of the supply chain with Azure Artificial Intelligence (AI) models to predict supply constraints and anticipate demand changes, companies can perform simulations to aid operational decision making and get ahead of potential stock issues.
  • Order Management Module: Using a rule-based fulfilment orchestration with real time inventory and AI capabilities, users can optimize their order fulfilment processes and help overcome disruptions.
  • Built-in Teams Integration: Allows instant communication with suppliers, customers, and third-party logistics (3PL) providers to troubleshoot issues and communicate changes effectively.
  • Partner Modules: Users can integrate other solutions of their choice into the Supply Chain Center, such as freight visibility from Overhaul, allowing users to tailor the platform to their specific needs.

In a bid to connect disconnected and complex supply chains, simplicity appears to be a key goal for the platform. Rather than overload users with modules and functions that won’t be necessary for most operations, Microsoft have focused on adaptability, operating a low-code environment where users can develop their own custom workflows.

While Microsoft’s offering is nothing new, it does add a big name into the control tower market. The platform joins the likes of IBM’s Supply Chain Intelligence Suite and Palantir’s Supply Chain Control Tower, offering similar AI-driven orchestration tools attempting to provide highly sought-after cohesion and visibility to global stock flows.

The demand for such solutions is not just driven by private companies seeking optimization as governments are also weighing in to help modernize their approach and drive regulatory compliance. On 25th of October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an expansion to its work with Palantir through the 21 FORWARD Initiative, a blueprint that seeks to bring together data from multiple government agencies to proactively monitor food supply chain disruption and enhance food safety. Palantir’s service was selected to act as the central operating platform for the initiative in a contract worth US$22 million.

Accessibility and Scalability Needed to Standout


The disconnect between stakeholders along the supply chain is a continued challenge and Microsoft’s new platform has joined a competitive market of providers seeking to offer companies a way to harmonize and coordinate their systems and stakeholders. Offering supply chain platforms is a challenging venture for software vendors given the variability of end users. What a small, single product manufacturer may be looking for in a management tool will be very different to a large end retailer, for example, with both seeking visibility and control but in different areas and with different partners. Offering generalized platforms with a myriad of pre-built services and limited scalability can be alienating to end users and potentially hinder future growth. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have followed this route, marketing fewer pre-built applications and focusing more on the ability to integrate solutions selected by the user.

As regulatory pressure grows particularly for end-to-end visibility, take FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) Rule 204 in the USA as a key example, companies will be looking to supply chain control towers as a tool to encapsulate their siloed data and simplify the reporting process to authorities. It is therefore imperative for vendors to monitor growing regulation requirements and position their offerings accordingly to ensure platforms are accessible for companies seeking tools for regulatory compliance.

On top of this, users will be looking to set up alerts to develop their reaction speed to supply and demand shocks, as well as leverage the data they have consolidated for advanced analytics. With these additional capabilities, companies will then be positioned to incorporate deeper forecasting tools and prescriptive solutions, automating supply responses to demand changes and avoid communication errors. Companies will adopt and follow this solution development at very different rates, making it imperative for vendors to facilitate a scalable approach.

For end users, it is important to consider that harnessing control tower capabilities is not just about visibility and control, but also a way to increase competitiveness, particularly in unstable environments. The impact of sudden changes in the supply chain can cause a ripple effect, adjusting where stock is purchased from and how it is transported. Companies that can pinpoint issues and respond faster will have much more choice in the market and often secure lower costs, ultimately securing stronger availability for consumers and maintaining final price points.

In trying to simplify complex supply chains, the growing number of control tower platforms to choose from may be confusing companies even more. Standout providers will be positioning themselves as accessible tools to meet growing regulatory pressure, offer simplified integration processes with existing systems, and facilitate a scalable strategy with integration into key solutions providers.