The Digital World – Competing with Silicon Valley Startups

Kristen Daihes Partner
Read Time: 5 minutes apprx.
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There was a fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal recently – Wall Street to CEOs: Disrupt Your Industry, or Else. A key message from the article, when Ford’s CEO got fired for not acting fast enough or bold enough in fighting all the Silicon Valley start-ups. “To make things worse for established players, investors aren’t comparing them to their traditional rivals, but to quick-moving Silicon Valley startups that are poised to make them irrelevant.”

I’ve been thinking about this article a lot over the last few weeks. In May, I attended the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference and one of the Keynotes highlighted the need to transform in a disrupted world. It is difficult to create a vision for possibility in the future while dealing with the realities of today, but this is critical for established companies to be able to compete with the Silicon Valley start-ups. If they are not already on a journey to disrupt themselves, they need to identify opportunities to accelerate this journey.

Andrew Ng, the former Chief Scientist of Baidu, has talked about how electricity changed how the world operated. It upended transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and health care. He talks about how AI (artificial intelligence) is poised to have a similar impact.
The Gartner conference confirmed just how much the role of AI is already playing in changing the competitive landscape in supply chain operations. Of course, there are a few companies like Amazon who seem to be out-innovating everyone when it comes to AI, but for the most part, those leading the pack have taken bold bets to experiment with AI in a few distinct areas. Those most at risk are the ones not yet taking the leap, planning to quickly follow. It’s those late adopters who will likely find themselves made irrelevant by the Silicon Valley startups.

While at the Gartner conference, there were lots of movie clips from Star Wars and Iron Man, among others – and lots of buzz words flashing on big screens like “Big Data”, “AI”, and “Algorithmic Planning”. As I asked my fellow attendees what they were thinking, I heard “I’m scared” more than a few times. Hearing some examples of in-store robotics and drone deliveries in the retail channel left them feeling behind in their own digital journey. The message they were getting was they were behind and needed to move fast, but they weren’t sure where to start. When I shared some use cases I have seen across companies that might be relevant for them to consider, they would lean forward a bit wanting to hear more.

People want to make a positive impact. Conferences should have some shock factor to them, making it glaringly obvious just how far ahead some companies are innovating. This is a necessity to disrupt their acceptance of the status quo. But these forums also have a responsibility to educate participants across a broad range of maturity. If companies haven’t yet started experimenting with Artificial Intelligence in operations, where do they start? Who has paved a way for them to learn from? How do they fight off the Silicon Valley start-ups? The priority is not on having the perfect plan figured out, but starting on this journey to explore how AI can add value to an organization to compete in this new landscape.

At Opex Analytics, education fuels possibility. We are always excited to share use cases across industries that might be of interest for you. We are passionate about bringing the smartest ideas from Silicon Valley into supply chain operations across industries. We even host a monthly Analytics Academy that covers topics like: understanding and building analytics capabilities, what business leaders need to know about machine learning, the power of storytelling, to even selecting the “right” analytics technology for your business. (Sign up for the series at

No matter where you are in your journey, you have a responsibility to keep abreast of advancements that can bring new value to your enterprise. Artificial Intelligence is at the core of digital supply chain transformation. You should not irresponsibly build an experimentation journey off buzzwords flashing on a screen. You should educate yourself on use cases that have added value to other enterprises with an intellectual curiosity for whether there is application in your organization. You should find the right partner to take a few big bets with to discover new use cases within your own organization. This is an exciting time of change – and possibility for leapfrogging your competition.

Be bold in fighting all the Silicon Valley start-ups. The most irresponsible thing you can do is do nothing. If you want to learn about some use cases in your industry and explore whether they could apply to your organization, we would be happy to brainstorm with you.