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Amazon Web Services Inc. said at AWS re:Invent today it’s making a foray into the supply chain management space with the launch of a new, machine-learning powered, cloud application that provides enterprises with a unified view of their suppliers, logistics, inventory and more.

The move is yet another sign that AWS is shifting away from its roots and moving up the stack to focus more on industry-specific applications powered by its cloud infrastructure.

As if to emphasize that point, the launch of AWS Supply Chain was followed by the debut of yet another application called AWS Clean Rooms, which is a collaborative analytics service that helps companies to securely work together on combined datasets.

AWS Supply Chain is being made available to customers at a time when the world continues to struggle with myriad supply chain issues resulting from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and runaway inflation. It’s no wonder then that supply chain management is one of the fastest growing segments in enterprise application software, with Gartner Inc. estimating it will generate sales of more than $20 billion this year.

Amazon clearly wants a piece of that pie, with the company saying AWS Supply Chain can connect to existing enterprise resource planning software and supply chain management systems through its built-in connectors. Then, customers will be able to unify all of their supply-related data into one big data lake, from where they can more easily generate actionable insights, AWS explained. The data connectors rely on machine learning models honed on Amazon.com Inc.’s own supply chain data, meaning they’re well suited for extracting and aggregating the right kind of information from ERP and supply chain management systems.

Diego Pantoja-Navajas, vice president of AWS Supply Chain, said most companies today rely on disparate systems to handle their supply chain operations. According to him, that often results in confusion and delays in identifying possible supply chain disruptions.

On the other hand, AWS Supply Chain enables superior visibility by providing a visual representation of a company’s unified supply chain data in a real-time map, complete with additional contextual information. From there, inventory managers and demand planners can easily spot shortages or delays, and take action to solve any possible supply chain disruptions. In addition to setting alerts for any problems, AWS Supply Chain will offer recommendations on how to solve supply chain issues. For instance, it could recommend shifting inventory among locations, taking into consideration the impact that might have on sustainability.

“AWS is addressing the challenge that many customers have with their supply chains, namely a lack of insights, due to the number of different platforms, suppliers, their use of multiple vendors and lack of vendor innovation, specifically on the insights and big data side,” said Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. “This is the pain point that AWS is addressing, offering one big data lake for everything with insights and analytics baked in.”

The service, which is priced on a pay-as-you-go basis and is available in Amazon’s US East (North Virginia), US West (Oregon), and Europe (Frankfurt) regions, is not entirely without controversy. Cloud computing economist Corey Quinn noted that some may question the wisdom of entrusting Amazon with their supply chain data. That’s especially true for other retailers, for example.

Despite the skepticism, Dilip Kumar, vice president of AWS Applications, told SiliconANGLE that the company is pushing ahead with its move up the stack due to customer demand. “Customers have been coming to us and saying they need help creating applications,” he said.

In cases where AWS sees that a specific application demand is becoming a broader trend, rather than a request for a customized application, the company will investigate to see if it’s being done well by others, and whether or not in can be a “needle mover” for AWS, Kumar said. With regards to supply chain management, Kumar said AWS realized that most of its customers were using disparate solutions and could benefit from a single pane of glass.

“So AWS’ efforts to develop applications are aimed at what’s not being managed well,” Kumar explained.

That helps to explain why the company has also seen fit to go ahead with its new AWS Clean Rooms offering, which was announced shortly afterwards. AWS Clean Rooms is all about fostering collaboration, enabling customers to create secure data clean rooms in a few clicks, from where they can share and collaborate on data with partners, without revealing that information. With AWS Clean Rooms, companies get built-in data access controls to protect sensitive data, such as query controls, query output restrictions, query logging and cryptographic computing tools.

Amazon said it expects demand for AWS Clean Rooms because business collaboration is incredibly common. In the advertising industry, for instance, media publishers and brands often want to collaborate on datasets to improve the relevance of their ad campaigns. However, they also need to protect what is often very sensitive information. Data clean rooms are commonly used to share such sensitive data within a protected environment, but they are very difficult and costly to create, requiring complex privacy controls and specialized tools to protect each participant’s data. With AWS Clean Rooms, Amazon provides everything its customers need at the click of a button.

“With the launch of AWS Clean Rooms, we are making it easier, simpler, and more secure for multiple companies to share and analyze combined datasets to generate new insights that they could not do on their own,” Kumar said in a statement. “Using AWS Clean Rooms, customers can collaborate on a range of tasks, such as more effectively generating advertising campaign insights and analyzing investment data while improving data security.”

AWS Clean Rooms is available as a standalone service, or for customers using the AWS for Advertising and Marketing service. It will launch in early 2023 in the US East (Ohio), US East (N. Virginia), US West (Oregon), Asia Pacific (Seoul), Asia Pacific (Singapore), Asia Pacific (Sydney), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), Europe (Frankfurt), Europe (Ireland), Europe (London), and Europe (Stockholm) regions.

Photo: onlyyouqj/freepik

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