It is a great time to be a supply chain planning professional. Advances in processing power, networking, and storage aided by the enduring power of Moore’s law have opened doors for some exciting new developments in supply chain planning. Specifically for planners, the advent of real time planning, ability to process massive amounts of data, and the rise of machine intelligence are all opening up newer challenges and opportunities. Mundane tasks such as gathering data and processing it into information are being automated to a larger extent. The ability to run end to end network-wide scenarios is a reality now.
While this revolution in supply chain planning is in early stages of adoption, it is only a matter of time before these capabilities become mainstream within many organizations. Given that such a future is inevitable, how will this change the supply chain planning profession? Let’s examine the possibilities:
“Stempathy” excellence will be critical for success
In his newest book, Thank you for being late, Thomas Friedman introduces “stempathy” as a key skill for the 21st century professionals. This essentially is a combination of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills and empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. As supply chains become more complex, planning will no longer be one person’s job confined to their silo. One has to constantly collaborate with others. Such collaboration will involve a great deal of give and take (i.e., seeking help when you need it and returning the favor when others need your help.). As the functional boundaries between demand planning, supply planning, capacity planning, inventory planning, etc. disappear, these roles will give way to end-to-end network planners who need to collaborate with each other on a day-to-day basis. In such an environment, empathy will be an indispensable skill in addition to STEM skills. From the STEM skills perspective, lifelong passion for learning will be rewarded.
Embrace the art of supply chain planning
Currently, the approach to supply chain planning in most companies is driven by simplistic approximations of the real world with obsessive focus on precision. That is, one would run deterministic algorithms in a batch mode, await the plan output, review the plan, make manual adjustments, and publish the plan – all while obsessing over precision, while the model itself is a crude approximation to start with. The ability to create and run scenarios is limited to non-existent. However, with the emerging capabilities, planners will be able to create their own private sandboxes of their end to end supply chain, unleash their creativity to ask what-if questions, run scenarios and collaborate with others. Formulating the right questions will be an essential skill for the future of supply chain planning, blending what is currently science with art and bringing in the creative touch of the planners. Machines will handle the science and planners will contribute the art of human judgment, bringing the best of man-machine collaboration.
Stakes will be raised for planners
With the ability to support network planning, stakes will be raised for the planners as they start supporting decisions at a broader and deeper level compared to today. The top and bottom line impact of planners’ decisions will be far more significant. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) based solutions will enable self-service to the planners, letting the planning capabilities evolve at the speed of business. In line analytics will enable real time slicing and dicing of supply chain plans, providing unprecedented visibility. These newer solutions will reduce planners’ reliance on IT and place great power in their hands through a high degree of personalization and configurability.
With great power comes great responsibility
In the movie Spiderman, Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility”. The aforementioned intelligent SaaS systems will capture a clear audit trail of the planners’ digital footprints as they drive toward decisions. “Glass box” approaches to the underlying algorithms will make the links between actions and results very explicit. Such transparency was never feasible with the traditional, currently prevalent “Black box” optimization solvers. Archived scenarios and assumptions, and on demand retrieval of the same, will usher in unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability. The decision cycles will be much faster and speed will be of essence. As technology to support such speed becomes mainstream, planners play a far more strategic role than ever in managing their supply chains. With real time planning collapsing the hard boundaries between planning and execution, they no longer can absolve themselves of execution failures.
Planning will be a great training ground for leadership positions
Tim Cook of Apple and Mary Barra of General Motors are two high profile examples of supply chain executives promoted to lead major corporations. With increased stakes and end to end visibility, planning will prove to be a great training ground for leadership roles within the organization. Due to the increased scope of decisions they support, planners gain more visibility with senior leadership of their organization. Those who prove to be highly successful in their roles and demonstrate their “stempathy” skills will have great opportunities opening up for them. They can emerge as mentors to other planners and eventually move up to tackle larger challenges.
All in all, the future holds great promise for planning professionals. Technology is here to aid them on this journey with some exciting developments around machine learning, Internet of Things, and 3D printing on the way. The planning community needs to embrace the realm of possibilities and become the change agents for their organizations.