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Up Close: In Conversation with Boardwalktech’s JB Kuppe

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, JB Kuppe, senior vice president of marketing at enterprise application firm Boardwalktech, discusses what apparel can learn from Apple and Amazon and how to centralize hard-to-digest data.

JB Kuppe Boardwalktech
JB Kuppe, senior vice president of marketing, Boardwalktech Courtesy

Name: JB Kuppe

Title: Senior vice president of marketing

Company: Boardwalktech

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

I think the consumer electronics (CE) folks—for example, Apple—have a great handle on their supply chain, although I think the success to-date is somewhat benefitted by their narrow product ranges across a few key top-level suppliers who then keep all the sub-tier suppliers in line. But, Apple and others in the CE industry are working hard to gain a more granular, deeper and more timely insight into the layers of their supply chain, which is where Boardwalktech offers unique capabilities with our Digital Ledger.

This is a lesson apparel can learn from and strive for as [deepening] the visibility, to a more granular level, on a more timely basis will finally enable apparel manufacturers and retailers to remove buffers, get products to market faster, and with better margins. This also will enable them to “consumerize” their offering—meaning react sooner to consumer interest and/or offer customized products that interest a specific segment—all very profitable and a way to differentiate from competitors

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Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?

I believe so, but only for my demographic. Sadly, I still like the same styles that I did 10-15 years ago and I see my male contemporaries doing the same—likely, we’re all boring. Although, I would argue some of the classics do not go out of style, they just continue to appeal to a next generation of buyers.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Good products, fair price and, very importantly now, customer service. If I need something, especially during a purchase interaction on a website, I want to be able to chat with someone. I think that’s the ultimate test and what many consumers go into a store for, human interaction during any transaction. You can do as much as possible with FAQs—how many times have you heard five levels of “options” but none of them are what you want?—but it’s hard to do this well. Those who do customer service well win my loyalty.

What’s your typical work uniform?

Kinda like the State Farm guys, Jake: khakis and a nice shirt—OK, dress shirt for the office. Or, maybe that’s Jim Harbaugh [head football coach for the Michigan Wolverines].

Which fashion era is your favorite?

The mature, later stage preppy.

Who’s your style icon?

Ralph Lauren.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

We’ve been working on bringing unstructured data into the mix for our customers as 85 percent of the information is unstructured and is hard to digest into traditional data environments—namely SQL. But this same information and data is very important for driving a business that predicts rather than reacts. We’re doing this with apparel clients, electronics, food and beverage, across the CPG space. Shifting focus to this has been a natural evolution of our platform that aligned perfectly with our customers’ expectations. So, focusing on this was the best decision.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Silicon Valley innovation—I have not watched the TV show—no focus on who works for who, assemble a team, focus on customer, fail fast, every idea or innovation explored, keep moving.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Strive to work like a vertically integrated company from concept to consumer. This means trust, alignment and learning between all parties is essential.

What keeps you up at night?

It kills us when a client says, “Oh yes, once we deploy SAP HANA, then our (you name it application) will work across our value chain.” Really? SAP—or any vendor using traditional database technology—has not worked for 25 years outside of core transaction management and they still won’t work going forward across company boundaries, which is where companies need to focus.

Smart companies realize that there’s no such thing as a single tool that can make this happen—concept to consumer—which is why you still see so many companies using Excel as their supply chain tool of choice. There’s a reason Amazon came out with their Digital Ledger technology saying traditional database technology that does not focus on provenance limits a company’s ability to manage all of their enterprise information. Of course, they have not disrupted any markets, so maybe they’re wrong and SAP is right.

What makes you most optimistic?

Ultimately, companies step forward more times than they step back. If they don’t, they won’t survive and I believe—especially at senior management level—apparel and other companies are fully on board with this, which is good for vendors like us, consumers, and everyone in the extended supply chain.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

For 15 years, we’ve helped our customers who wrestled with collaborative multi-party data exchanges manually using Excel, email, SharePoint, by lifting and shifting them without re-platforming to our patented Digital Ledger platform, making legacy processes enterprise quality. With our latest product, we’re moving beyond data, as data is really not what companies work with to run their business. They work using information that’s stored as words in a whole bunch of documents. Our new Network of Words (NOW) product enables our customers to effectively work with structured and unstructured data within a comprehensive enterprise information management environment.