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Elevating your performance with data-driven, optimized decisions

Author: Maarten Baltussen

Outside of my business career, I’m an avid and accomplished competitive glider pilot. I am very serious about the sport of gliding, and have competed at the highest levels in the Dutch National circuit.

As with many activities in life, I think it is possible to draw some interesting parallels between competitive gliding and business operations and extract some important lessons from the former, which we can apply to the latter. To do this, I want to recount my experience competing during one of the ten contest days at the 2014 Dutch National Championship at the National Gliding Center at the Terlet airfield near Arnhem in the Netherlands.

That day’s championship race was 701 kilometers and the winner – as always – was the glider who clocked the highest average speed over that distance. My objective was, of course, to win the entire competition of 10 days and be crowned the Dutch National Gliding Champion.

The importance of data in preparation

In the sport of gliding and the world of business, preparation is one of the most important keys to success.

My preparation for the Dutch National Championship competition began by studying a ton of different types of data including navigation data (so I could program my flight computer), weather data (to find out the latest forecasts and adjust my flight strategy accordingly), safety data (to identify the location of the nearest glider airports to divert to in the event of an emergency and also check that my parachute and transponder settings were correct), and operational data (on air traffic control frequencies and glider pre-flight checks).

All of this data needed to be collected and studied and all the related variables and constraints needed to be taken into account before take off.

Similarly, in today’s supply chain industry, every successful operation starts by analyzing the massive amount of data that is collected through back office systems, IoT devices, and other sources. Before launching an operation, businesses must first of all assess if their data is accurate and correct, and then process that data into business intelligence – which will help them devise their plans and determine which variables and constraints need to be considered. Indeed, good preparation using correct and clean data will put you on path to success in the business world and beyond.

Using data to drive decisions

My next step in preparing for the Dutch National Gliding Championship was to use the intelligence and insights that I had gleaned from the data I had collected to make the best possible decisions on numerous important issues including:

-The type of glider I should use for the competition.

-The routes of the specific training flights I should take to practice – taking into account weather conditions.

-The best route to follow during the championship, by studying the thermal plots of the geographic areas where the competition would take place.

For each of these issues and scenarios, I had to make the best possible preflight decisions, using the intelligence I had gained from the data I had collected.

This approach also applies to various business processes in supply chain companies. To make optimized decisions regarding any given process, key stakeholders in the organization must first be able to process and analyze real-time data and then – utilizing algorithm-based solutions – transform this data into optimal calculations and projections.

These calculations and scenario-based projections – along with organizational input ­– can then be used as the basis to make optimized decisions. So, to be able to make optimized decisions, you must have four key elements: the right data, the right algorithms, the right business intelligence and projections, and the right people (who are capable of making the right decisions) in your organization.

Flying higher with optimized decisions

Needless to say, I was well prepared when the Dutch National Championship arrived. Armed with the right data and intelligence, I was able to make the best possible inflight decisions when I was in the cockpit on that fateful day.

I am proud to say that I was one of only three (out of a total ten) competitors who succeeded in completing the 701-kilometer race. The other two finished with higher average speeds and faster overall flying times than I did – and thus they took first and second place. But still, a third-place finish in this historic Dutch National Championship competition was quite an achievement!

After the competition, I studied the flight data collected by the GPS logger in my cockpit and compared it with the data of the winning pilot’s flight. Through this analysis, I was able to see (in hindsight) the impact of my decisions throughout the competition, and gain valuable insights that I could use to elevate my performance in future flights.

For businesses as well, there is great value in analyzing data from past performance, as it can lead to improved future results. But sadly the majority of businesses don’t invest the time and effort in investigating their impact of their strategic, tactical, and operational decisions on their overall productivity and profitability – and this, it seems to me, is a missed opportunity to gain valuable insights and drive improvement.

Many organizations, however, simply lack the necessary tools that are required to conduct such an analysis. With ICRON, businesses have the capability to not only transform their real-time data into optimized decisions, but also to review the impact of their past decisions and gain “hindsight insights”, which they can use to inspire better decisions in the future.


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