This is a guest entry by Frans van Helden, Product Lead at ORTEC Supply Chain Design. As a new writer to this blog, I spent some time to think about what my ‘maiden speech’ should be. I would like to share something about my passions. In my personal life, my true sports passion is bicycling, like your prototype Dutchman. I thought to myself: why do I like it? Cycling, compared to walking, goes at high speed. With sufficient training, you can cover long distances as well. A bicycle is easy to maintain, so if something breaks down, you can repair it yourself. And the best part is: you can spend some time outside, giving your mind some time off, enjoying the countryside.
Steve Jobs also recognized the enhancing capabilities of cycling, as his biography states. Cycling, he thought, can bring you faster where you want to be. He called a computer ‘a bicycle for the mind’. I think that is a remarkable comparison, perhaps because it combines two of my passions – computing and cycling. The analogy is even more compelling when you apply it to software. Let me explain this point a little bit more. Nowadays, software helps professionals work more efficiently, analyze more data in less time, communicate more effectively, and make smarter decisions. When everybody wants to do approximately the same thing (for instance: emailing, or text processing) the software can be the same for everyone – much like a standard city bike. However, when the task of the professional is more specialized, he or she may need a customized bike. When it comes to highly specialized or complex decision making, like in supply chain management, our minds benefit from the best bikes available. Especially if we know how to repair, tune and upgrade the during our quest for the best answers. In my professional life, I am product manager for ORTEC Supply Chain Design (OSCD), a Supply Chain Network Design system built in AIMMS. My work at the ORTEC Consulting Group started as soon as I graduated in Mathematics. To me, mathematics is the most flexible and generic language to describe structure and logic. Today’s society has reached a state where mathematics and its applications are ubiquitous. Math plays a role in almost everything, sometimes its role is obscure and sometimes very explicit. In my view, mathematics drives the wheels of the bike I like to use when I’m struggling with decision-making. The supply chain managers I am working with experience a great deal of different problems. However, when it comes to mathematical modeling, the problem might come down to the same mathematical formulation. From a mathematics perspective, I might want to come up with the same modeling, and therefore, a single modeling tool. However, while mathematics is generic, business problems are very specific. I found the bridge between generic mathematics and specific problems in AIMMS. At ORTEC, we work with what we call ‘template models’, implementations of generic mathematics in AIMMS. When applying our mathematics to a business problem, we bring in the finishing touch, building the specific solution for a business problem. AIMMS allows us to make that finishing touch at any point in the process. Doing so, we start with 80% off-the-shelf, thoroughly tested models, proven technology. In the stage before implementation, we work to add the 20% that makes, for our customers, 80% of the difference. This flexibility and customizability pays off; in the end, tools need to adapt to the best possible business processes, not the other way around. You first need to think about the road to cover, and then take the bike that covers it best. In my upcoming blogs, I would like to discuss what kind of bicycles you need, and how mathematics can make a difference in your decision-making process. I also look forward to engage in a dialogue about what it takes to go from an amateur cyclist with a small bike, to a cycling hero like Bauke Mollema, who can overcome the hardest challenges in no-time. Get a roundup of our best supply chain content every month in your inbox! Sign up for our blog digest here.