Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to engage in or witness the process organizations go through to prepare business cases in support of supply chain investments, from the successfully crafted and executed, to those that fail to gain traction.
Based on that experience, I wanted to share my eight most important pieces of advice for those being asked to prepare a business case for their supply chain investments.
- Ensure clarity on the strategic objectives of your organization.
Any sizeable supply chain investment draws the attention of the senior leadership. Rightfully, your leadership will look to understand how the initiative supports the overall strategic objectives of the business. Being well versed with these objectives and able to demonstrate how the proposed initiative will support them is paramount to getting buy-in from your executives.
- Show how the initiative supports strategic objectives.
Are your executives measured on servicing strategic customers better than your competition and reducing regulatory risks? If so, your business case will need to show how you can align with these objectives. For example, understanding your customers’ buying behaviors and segmenting and serving them based on these behaviors will help differentiate strategic customers. By enabling end-to-end visibility across your entire network, you can put a flashlight on looming regulatory risks. Make strong links between the strategic objectives and the enablers as directly and explicitly as possible.
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These days, not a single supply chain conference I attend goes by without someone mentioning Blockchain. Given the growing chatter, I wanted to share my views on the topic. In fact, my interest in Blockchain further increased as I started dabbling in Bitcoin, an application of the Blockchain technology.
As per Wikipedia, a Blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Bitcoin is a form of decentralized digital cryptocurrency, not controlled by any nation or issuing bank.
Launched in 2009, Bitcoin was initially written off as a scam or fad. However, to the surprise of naysayers, Bitcoin did survive and is thriving, building quite a following. Here are some factors that are making Bitcoin a very attractive proposition, which are a direct result of the underlying Blockchain technology:
- Secure encrypted transactions ensuring privacy of the involved parties: Through a combination of public and private key encryptions facilitated by Blockchain, Bitcoin provides a virtually hacker-proof way of making and receiving payments. This is quite fascinating considering the code behind Bitcoin itself is open source. In a Blockchain, each transaction is recorded to a “block” across a large number of distributed systems. This transaction is then authenticated by each node in the network and is facilitated by individuals like you and me, who are referred to as “miners” in the Bitcoin world. Once recorded, the transaction cannot be altered, and it forever resides in a public distributed ledger that’s shared between the network nodes. The identity of the sender and receiver are protected through the encryption mechanisms. Not surprisingly, some of the early adopters of Bitcoin were those dealing in illegal goods and drugs through the now defunct Silkroad, online marketplace being the most prominent. While any technology can be put to both good and bad use, supply chains require a high degree of privacy and security to ensure validity of transactions for perfectly legitimate reasons – which Blockchain can enable.
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I am reading this absolutely fascinating book “Deep Thinking: Where machine intelligence ends and human creativity begins” by Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion. As the title suggests, in this book Kasparov shares a highly provocative point of view on artificial intelligence and its implications for the human race, with the backdrop of his 1997 loss in a highly publicized chess match up against IBM’s chess computer Deep Blue. The book did make me reflect on my own experiences and views on the division of labor between the machines and human supply chain planners.
Much has been written and said about how machine intelligence is impacting supply chain planning in the form of automating a human planner’s function, with implications on the future of the profession itself. I would be remiss in stating that automation will have no impact on planning profession. Yes! The focus on automation in planning is increasing and will continue to increase. However, this has to take place in the context of empowering planners and significantly augmenting their productivity to handle activities with larger scope and with higher levels of cognition that can drive strategic value for business. When done in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, automation initiatives can significantly benefit planners who are willing to adapt and change, and organizations as a whole.
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I was at the recent LogiPharma US conference for the pharmaceutical supply chain leaders. However, most of the insights and the stories I took away from the event are applicable to other industries as well. Here they are:
1. Personalized medicine demands supply chain agility: During a highly engaging panel discussion on “Building a patient-centric supply chain”, Kevin Cook, VP of North America supply chain at Sandoz (a division of Novartis) talked about the unique nature of the recently approved Kymriah, CAR-T cell therapy for children and young adults with certain types of Leukemia. The therapy showed an 83% remission rate in the patient population studied! In CAR-T cell therapy, every single dose of a treatment is completely personalized, as it involves extracting the patient’s immune cells, bringing them to a production facility, genetically modifying them, transporting them back (at minus 180oF!!), and then reinfusing the patient to fight the cancer cells. So, personalized medicine is here! With it comes several logistical challenges.
While Kymriah is the ultimate example of personalized therapy, there were several attending companies that provided therapies for rare diseases affecting a few hundred to a few thousand patients across the globe. In such a high mix, low volume portfolio, decisions such as how to allocate short supply to patients in case of contamination of a manufactured batch, can be lifesaving. Brad Pawlowski of Accenture said it right during his opening remarks – “Instead of executing one supply chain a thousand times, we should get ready to execute a thousand supply chains, one at a time”.
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The 2017 Gartner supply chain executive conference took place at the O2-Intercontinental Hotel in London on September 20th and 21st. The theme of the conference was ACT (Aspire, Challenge, Transform), same as the Gartner supply chain summit in Phoenix during May of this year. A few of the presentations in London, such as a highly provocative key note by John Philips of PepsiCo are a repeat from this prior event. I covered my observations from the May event in a previous blog. To avoid repetition, I will focus on some net new messages that resonated well with me from this event. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Tailor your supply chain to cater to diverse businesses: In his keynote, Mourad Tamoud, EVP of Global Supply Chain Operations of Schneider Electric talked about how they are segmenting their supply network based on their customer personas and purchasing behaviors. Based on how Schneider plans, delivers and executes, the following five supply chain models were defined:
b. Lean supply chain (for customers who value the economic aspects of their purchases)
c. Agile model (for the customers who value reliability above all else)
d. Project model (for high level of configurability)
e. Fully flexible
Using these different supply chain models, Schneider was able to tailor the service and the overall experience for customers by different personas/groups. The crux of his message was that the overall design and the technological enablers are equally important in enabling “tailored supply chains”.
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CSX, one of the only two railroad operators in the USA that handles nearly all the shipments that move by train east of the Mississippi River has been experiencing serious challenges since the month of May. The reasons behind this were well chronicled in a recent Wall Street Journal article. To sum it up, an activist investor caused a major shakeup in the company earlier this year and a new CEO took over in March. The new CEO embarked on several cost reduction initiatives in conjunction with a number of changes (some may argue too fast and too soon) on how the company operates its freight-trains. This has resulted in significant delays and disruptions in shipment deliveries. An extreme example of this is a ride from Chicago to Colesburg, Tennessee taking 18 days, 13 hours, and 57 minutes!
The effects of these delays are being felt by many companies including McDonalds, Kellogg, Kraft-Heinz, and PepsiCo, as the article cites. These companies had to haul expedited shipments by truck so they could keep their production lines running and, in turn, meet the commitments to their customers. This has led to increased costs, not to mention all the inventory stuck in-transit.
Needless to say, such major challenges are visible enough and have significant enough disruptive power that considerable energy gets spent on addressing them, including executive engagement. However, did you know there are enough lead time problems lurking in your current supply chain operations that go completely unnoticed? These are the “knowable unknowns” that can hurt your supply chain performance.
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There is a standalone vehicle emission check shop that I visit to get my car checked prior to the annual tag renewal. For those who are not familiar with the emission check process, you drive your car into the shop. As you wait in your car, a technician hooks your car up to his computer, measures emissions and prints a certificate. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. Just about 4 or 5 years ago the service had cost $25. The aforementioned shop was one of the very few shops providing the service in the vicinity. However, over the next few years, nearly every auto mechanic shop in the area started offering an emission check service. For them, it was simply a loss leader to get the cars in. Then they took advantage of the opportunity to sell higher margin services they offer. Soon, the prices for the service started dropping. The cost of an emission check went down to $20, then $15, and now stands at $10. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out where the trend will continue to go!
The moral of the story is simple. When a service gets commoditized, the differentiation disappears, and the price that one is willing to pay drops. It doesn’t have to be a service. It can be a product, or even a professional like you and I. We get commoditized, too! Jack Welch said it – “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. While he said it in the context of organizations, this could very well be true for individuals, as well.
Let’s talk about the implications of this for supply chain professionals. Supply chain management is quickly evolving to be quite an interdisciplinary field. Just recently, I was talking to a youngster studying industrial engineering with specialization in SCM. The curriculum he is going through is quite well rounded with coursework and internships that included industrial engineering, operations research, big data analytics, systems engineering, and programming. Besides majoring in industrial engineering, he is also getting a minor in computer science.
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In my recent conversations with the CPG industry executives, regardless of the company, there are several common themes and trends that bubble up. These trends make the business conditions more challenging, and some may say exciting. I will review some of these in this blog.
1. The assault on brands: The great recession of a few years ago has caused significant shifts in the consumer buying behaviors. Private labels have gotten better with packaging and presentation, in addition to value for money. A recent wall street journal article about Brandless, a company which sells generic CPG with simplified US$3 (three US dollars) pricing for every product on its site is an example of creative business models that are popping up. Competition is using pricing or niche assortments as a means to compete with branded manufacturers. Amidst lessening brand loyalties, CPG brand manufacturers are being forced to become more cost competitive.
2. Increasingly complex and volatile supply chains: There are several trends here that are causing increasing complexity and volatility for CPG supply chains. Here are some:
a) Increased price and promotional actions – Dynamic intraday pricing by the likes of Amazon and increased promotional activity targeted to consumer segments or even to individual consumers are causing more demand volatility, shifting more volume and revenue towards promotional business as compared to turn business. Word of mouth, good or bad, is now spreading much faster in online channels.
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