The Avnet Tech Games IX Welcomes the Inaugural JDA Supply Chain Challenge

Saturday, April 12, the University of Advancing Technology campus in Tempe, Arizona will once again serve as the host for the Avnet Tech Games, now in its ninth year.

It was an honor for me to serve as Master of Ceremonies for this event over the last eight years, and see firsthand the way it has grown.

INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF STEM STUDENTS

What started out as an opportunity to inspire the next generation of technology workers has become a cornerstone event of the Arizona SciTech Festival, an annual statewide initiative devoted to getting students of all ages engaged and excited about science, technology, engineering and math, also referred to as “STEM”.

As you might expect, the Avnet Tech Games allows teams of college students to compete head-to-head across a variety of timed events based on real-world technical skills, from building and programming robots to coding Java-based applications.

There’s a lot more than pride on the line in these live and virtual events as well: the winning teams receive scholarship checks to help offset their tuition!

Just as Avnet the company would not exist without our supplier partners, the Avnet Tech Games also would not exist without the generous support of our suppliers and partners that help us create, facilitate and underwrite these events and prizes for the winning teams.

INTRODUCING THE JDA 2014 SUPPLY CHAIN CHALLENGE

This year, I am especially pleased about a new event called the “JDA 2014 Supply Chain Challenge.” This event brought teams of two to four students together to form Littlefield Technologies, a fictitious manufacturer of digital satellite system receivers.

Just as they would in real life, each team had to assemble and solder a kit of loose components onto a motherboard, test the units, tune them, and conduct final testing on them before they ship to the “customer” – our judging panel.

The contest was more than just a technical exercise; it also tested each team’s supply chain skills as they related to forecasting, inventory management, pricing, capacity planning and other real-world materials management challenges.

The event was a great addition to the Avnet Tech Games, as well as a perfect example of how the Games continue to evolve, just as the technology evolves each year.

AND THE WINNER IS…

Three members of "Team Pony Express" from SMU

This particular event actually took place in February – some national events are held prior to the local completion on April 12 here in Phoenix – and I’m pleased to announce the winning team was the “Pony Express” from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas!

The winning team consisted of:

  • Matt Mulholland
  • Tushar Solanki
  • Aaron Barnard
  • Meredith Titus

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL INVOLVED

I’d like to congratulate the SMU “Pony Express” team for winning the inaugural “JDA 2014 Supply Chain Challenge”, and I also want to thank the team at JDA for their active support of this event in particular, and the Avnet Tech Games as a whole.

Last but not least, I want to recognize and thank the many supplier sponsors, as well as the volunteer judges and coordinators – many of whom have been involved from the beginning – that make this wonderful event possible each year.

Congratulations to all the participants and winners to be announced on April 12th at the Avnet Tech Games awards ceremony!

- Steve

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The Internet of Things: Are You Ready?

Here at Avnet, we run a regular series of opinion pieces from our leadership team called Avnet Insights. I had an opportunity to contribute a piece on a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately this year: the Internet of Things.

In my role as CIO, I try to keep a balanced perspective, considering the strengths and opportunities of any new technology or methodology and balancing those with potential weaknesses and threats as well, particularly as it relates to security. It’s clear the Internet of Things offers plenty of upside in every facet of our personal and professional lives, but we can’t overlook the potential for misuse either.

I’ve included the first few paragraphs of the article below, and I’d encourage you to click the button at the end to view the rest of the piece.

- Steve

When the news broke in January that Google was buying Nest Labs, Inc. for $3.2 billion, the eye-popping valuation indicated the acquisition was about more than just pretty thermostats and smoke detectors. While speculation about Google’s intentions has run rampant since then, in my mind it’s a clear sign: the Internet of Things (IoT) is finally upon us.

Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” With humans making up less than half the world’s Internet traffic today—according to one estimate, we only accounted for 38.5 percent of traffic in 2013, down from 49 percent in 2012—it’s clear that the world’s information will increasingly be created by machine, not humans….

 * CLICK TO CONTINUE

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Seeing and Achieving the Future with New Data Analytics

We’ve had a chance to look at Avnet’s big data initiative from an IT perspective on multiple occasions (see HERE, HERE and HERE) but big data is far from just an IT project.

So I’ve asked Rusty Murdaugh, Avnet’s vice president of Financial Planning & Analysis, to discuss data analytics from a financial perspective as well. Give it a read and let me know what you think in the comments below.
– Steve

Rusty Murdaugh Vice President of Financial Analytics | Avnet, Inc.

With Avnet’s recent adoption of SAP HANA (High-Performance Analytic Appliance) at the core of our data analytics initiative, it has been reaffirming to learn how many people across Avnet are eager to take advantage of this new business intelligence capability. As we meet with business leaders, country leaders, and regional leaders worldwide, we are hearing the excitement for new insights into finances and operations that transcend our current analytics and span all of Avnet’s business units across the world.

BEGINNINGS

Despite being a $27-billion company, in some respects Avnet is in the early stages of our big data/data analytics journey. As we begin our next growth cycle, we have an opportunity to invest in initiatives like data analytics that can help us be more disciplined and strike the right balance between top line and bottom line growth.

For the last several years, we knew that we needed to have common financials across the global organization, based on broader metrics and benchmarks. We also needed greater speed in our analytics capabilities. HANA was the right solution at the right time.

For example, instead of reacting to the business quarter-to-quarter, we want to be able to see trends taking shape earlier and be able to take action on them in days and weeks, not months.

CHALLENGES

Part of the challenge of implementing a big data solution is in knowing what the quality of our data is—with HANA we can get data faster, and we can correlate it and sort it more quickly, but the quality of the data remains highly important.

Moving to a business intelligence platform with a global common chart of accounts allows us to measure performance consistency across all regions and sub-groups. But keeping the data current and accurate, sorting the data, and maintaining rules, definitions, and discipline behind the data is an essential part of our data analytics journey.

EVOLUTION

The current focus of Avnet’s data analytics initiative is to roll out HANA everywhere across the enterprise, gaining the immediate speed, storage and insights that platform offers.

The next phase is to establish common metrics and communicate these financials at a greater level of detail —what we call “one version of the truth”.

Once we’re able to do that financially, we can improve upon our operational metrics. Managing supplier, commodity, and customer data will enable us to monitor the business at a more detailed level and stack the performance of each sub-group relative to the others and their long-range planning targets (LRPTs).

EXECUTING BEYOND EXPECTATIONS

Ultimately, it’s the journey as much as the results. As we gain the ability to reference our big data and develop strategic benchmarks using our investments in HANA and enabling tools, it will inevitably take some time to realize what we can truly do with such information and get the full benefits from our financial and operational analytics.

I get nervous when people say, “Predict the future for me.” We can’t do that yet, and won’t be able to with any accuracy for a while. But leveraging Avnet’s big data and harnessing it with a tool like HANA means we’re moving the right direction for predictability and actionable intelligence.

And while setting expectations is a challenge, we aspire to exceed those expectations rather than simply meet them as our data analytics capabilities expand.

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Balancing Business Enablement & IT Security in 2014

As 2013 wound to a close, the business world was hit with several high-profile personal data thefts including Adobe.com (38 million+ logins and passwords) and the retail point-of-sale attacks on Target, Neiman-Marcus and the TJ Maxx companies (110 million+ customer records and credit/debit cards).

As CIO of Avnet, my role sits at the crossroads of business enablement and IT security, and it’s clear that in 2014 striking the right balance between the two will only increase in importance.

The Business & IT Security Balancing Act

In October of 2013 I spoke with security editor George Hulme for a write-up on security spending that appeared in CSO Magazine , and one of his comments from the piece stood out to me. He said:

One of the best ways to ensure that enterprise technology doesn’t rush past IT’s ability to secure it is to keep business management and IT security management aligned.
Something as seemingly simple as determining what low, medium and high levels of risk means can in reality be incredibly complicated, because ‘acceptable risk’ means different things to different people depending on their experience and personality.

To me, cloud is a perfect example of that alignment between the needs of the business and the need for security. I’ve talked about Avnet’s approach to embracing the cloud before, and the advantages cloud offers our business units in certain situations.

However, I also stand behind my comments in the piece about the importance of not simply outsourcing risk or reputation damage to a cloud vendor. That’s where the need for IT Security comes in.

To ensure that IT and cloud service providers live up to their claims, we put our prospective cloud vendors through a thorough vetting process which I outlined in my blog post “Five Keys to Choosing the Right Cloud Vendor“.

Teaching Self-Defense

Cloud isn’t the only crossroads between business enablement and IT security, however. Workforce mobility is another, as more Avnet employees perform some or all of their work duties away from an Avnet office.

As data migrates from the network’s core out to the edge across a variety of mobile devices and secure and unsecure networks, it exposes Avnet employees and data to a host of new vulnerabilities in the process.

For that reason, it’s more important than ever to ingrain an IT security mindset throughout the organization, beginning with your front-line employees.

I discussed this a bit with George in a December 2013 ComputerWorld article, where I mentioned how Avnet has begun sending realistic – yet discernibly fake – phishing emails to our global employees on a regular basis.

Our security team keeps track of how many people click on the socially-engineered phishing email as if it were legitimate, as well as who discloses personal information versus who simply deleted the email.

By tracking the click-through rates — and counseling those who fall for them — we have significantly raised awareness of the human element in attacks, and made sure our organization is talking about security in an open and real way, from top to bottom.

As the needs of Avnet’s businesses evolve to serve their customers and suppliers, the methods malicious hackers use to get companies like ours to part with their sensitive information are evolving rapidly as well.

Striking the right balance between the two highly-dynamic environments of security and business enablement is essential, and growing more important as each new data breach hits the news.

- Steve

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Guest Post: How Established B2B Companies Keep the eCommerce Wolves at Bay

Dave Bent joined the Avnet team in September of last year as senior vice president of information technology, where he is working directly with our global Electronics Marketing business.

I’ve asked him to share some of his perspectives on what it takes for any legacy offline business-to-business (B2B) company to complete against eCommerce “pure plays” in a global economy.

Dave Bent, Senior Vice President of Information Technology, Avnet Electronics Marketing

When a 90+ year old business like Avnet started, there was only one way to do business: face-to-face. Widespread adoption of the telephone disrupted this model, creating mail-order and catalog companies, along with a new category of “inside” salespeople that only conducted business over the phone.

As the Internet has since proven, we are more than willing to sacrifice the value of an interpersonal relationship for the convenience and (potentially) lower price of online ordering in many areas of our daily lives.

This has certainly shown to be the case in the consumer world as former industry leaders were quickly toppled by internet-only upstarts: think Blockbuster and Netflix, Borders and Amazon, and even esurance and your local insurance agent.

B2B CASE STUDY: OFFICE PRODUCTS

In the B2B world where Avnet lives, the change has been no less dramatic. Take office products, an industry I know from experience. 15 years ago, retailers like OfficeMax and Office Depot were expanding nationwide and mail-order companies like Boise Cascade distributed thick catalogs that sold everything from paperclips to leather executive chairs.

Today, that market is dominated by one player: Staples.com, the second-largest online retailer behind Amazon with $24.4 billion in total sales. In response to this dominance, Staples physical locations – as well as their competitors – are working to become “multichannel stores”. These concepts blend the advantages of experiencing products in real life with the convenience and low-prices of shopping online, embracing a behavior known as “showrooming” in the retail industry.

A NEW APPROACH TO “WHO IS MY CUSTOMER?”

How does this apply to a global technology supply chain company like Avnet that lacks a physical retail presence? Perhaps Monica Luechtefeld , executive vice president of global e-commerce for Staples-competitor Office Depot, says it best:

Instead of looking at you as an online shopper, [we want] to think of you as the customer of Office Depot. The more we look at you horizontally and look at the multiple ways you engage us and the multiple tools that you use to buy − one day a store, one day online, one day a call center − the better we’ll be able to serve you.

In my mind, the approach here at Avnet is no different, whether you are a first-time customer ordering product with a credit card through our website, a contract manufacturer placing large global orders with our inside sales teams, or an OEM collaborating with our technical teams to leverage a reference design.

It is my firm belief that the winning company, regardless of the industry or business model, is the one that:
1. Knows the needs of their industry’s customers and prospects the best.
2. Can quickly adapt to meet those needs better than the competition.

B2B CASE STUDY: GRAINGER.COM

I will give you an example from the B2B world.

Broadline industrial supplies distributor Grainger – founded in 1927 – moved its 4,000 page catalog online to grainger.com, where it complements the ongoing activities of more than 715 physical offices worldwide.

In 2005, Grainger.com supported 15% of the company’s global sales, according to their 2013 Fact Book. In 2012, the website had risen to become the #12 eCommerce site in North America according to the Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, contributing 30% of Grainger’s top-line revenue.

By 2015, the company expects its web presence to drive 40-50% of global sales, which totaled more than $9 billion last fiscal year. Grainger clearly understand the needs of their customers, and has aligned all of their online and offline resources to meet these needs.

Whether they order through a catalog, off a website or through a sales consultant, a customer is a customer.

REDEFINING THE ROLE OF IT

As an IT professional, supporting this new standard of what it means to be a “customer” means accepting a new set of perspectives and responsibilities, including:
  1. Thinking like a salesperson, not a just technologist.
  2. Thinking and acting proactively, rather than reactively.
  3. Considering IT to be a competitive differentiator, not just a utility.
  4. Accepting that you and your team play a direct and vital role in the customer experience.

These four rules apply whether you are at Grainger, Avnet, or any other established company looking to compete globally in today’s business world against online-only upstarts.

Just as today’s marketing executive has to be fluent in technology to be successful, so too the successful IT executive must be fluent in the ways of sales and marketing.

Only then can an established company hope to compete with the new generation of online-only competitors, by knowing the needs of the customer and ensuring that the customer’s needs are met seamlessly and consistently across a variety of online and offline touch points.

Do you agree with Dave’s viewpoints? Do you have any other successful B2B examples to add? Please let us know in the comments.

- Steve

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