A Day in the Life of a 2028 Supply Chain Professional

Few industries will be transformed as totally as supply chain in the coming decade.

Fast technological developments are predicted to disrupt existing supply chain processes and have the potential for massive productivity and efficiency gains. This is why agile start ups are already competing for talent in the supply chain industry.

While many of the technologies that will lead this transformation such as IoT, AI, and 3D printing are already being rolled out, it is the expansion of robotics and automation that will ultimately result in the greatest shifts in the appearance and performance of the supply chain workforce and warehouses.

A day in the life

As a senior operations manager at a large supply chain organisation in 2028, there is a very good chance your day will look a little like this:

  • 6am – you wake up and check your phone and see you have two automatically generated notifications from the warehouse. One is related to a missed shipment of parts from one of your Vietnamese suppliers, and the other is an automated alert due to longer than expected average picking times from one of the three picking robot fleets. You make a note to set up a meeting with the robotics technician when you get in.
  • 7:30am – you get into the warehouse and switch on the lights, even though the warehouse has been running at 80% capacity all night. Since the warehouse converted to dark operations in 2026, energy consumption has been reduced by 30% but it still takes a while to get used to the idea that the robots can work continuously through the night in pitch black. You head up to the control room and set the warehouse to semi-autonomous mode so that you will be notified in real time of any potential issues that may require human intervention.
  • 7:45am – you check the logistics board and see that there is a 90% chance that some components that you’ve been waiting on will be delayed at the port by 72 hours. You talk to your logistics manager and tell her that if the components don’t ship within 6 hours to instruct the GTM software to divert the shipment to the fastest alternate port.
  • 9:45am – during your meeting with the robot technician, he tells you the reason a third of your robot fleet has been performing a little slower than usual is due to a fault at one of the robot charging stations. A battery cell is malfunctioning and will need to be replaced. The supplier has the part in stock and it can be delivered by drone within the next two hours.
  • 12:00pm – the Hanoi office of one of your main suppliers is now open so you call their distribution manager to see why the shipment was missed. He explains that they were having problems with their blockchain node and were temporarily out of sync with your system. You tell him that they need to upgrade their hardware to prevent the issue as its the second time its occured and that if they can’t resolve it, you’ll need to switch to an alternate supplier.
  • 1:30pm – you look at the weekly data from the demand planning tool that forms part of your inventory management system. The cloud based system uses real time inventory and market conditions to forecast the upcoming week and months’ demand for each product category in your inventory. Due to its reliance on highly complex machine learning algorithms, the forecasting accuracy of the system has increased markedly over time. It now provides highly accurate information and is absolutely critical for planning your operations.
  • 3:45pm – you take a call from a prospective new client looking to use your organisation for dropshipping its ecommerce retail products. The client is impressed by the low rates you can offer as well as the flexibility you can provide for stocking both small and large batches of products.       
  • 4:30pm – you sit down with one of your senior engineers to look at some new sequencing simulations he has been working on. Each quarter, comprehensive new sequencing models are run to improve the sequencing and work paths of the teams of picking and packing robots used on the warehouse floor. You decide on implementing one of the new simulations which shows that it will result in a 4% monthly productivity boost.
  • 6pm – you set the warehouse management system to full automation and leave the robots to continue working through the night. And switch off the lights.

The trends that are shaping the industry

While the above snapshot of a day in the life of an operations manager may currently seem a little too unfamiliar, it’s important to realise that all of the technologies detailed above such as autonomous picking robots and drone deliveries have already existed for some time. And are already in use by some supply chain organisations around the world.

The rapid increases in e-commerce sales has led to a dramatic increase in the volume of good stored and shipped from warehouses and distribution centers. This has placed increased pressure on existing processes that are in many cases still heavily reliant on manual labour and paper-based tracking systems.

A recent study of global retail and e-commerce estimates that e-commerce is projected to generate $4.479 trillion in retail sales by 2021, which represents an increase of 140% from $1.859 trillion in 2016. This is forcing the industry to adopt new technologies and implement new approaches. These moves towards automation and omnichannel fulfillment strategies promise vastly more efficient distribution systems that can meet this evolving consumer demand.

The following provides a breakdown of the most important industry trends that will shape the future of supply chain over the coming decade.

Automation

According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the average warehouse worker wastes nearly seven weeks each year in unnecessary movement. This represents more than $4.3 billion in lost labour costs. Automation will play a major role in addressing this inefficiency. It will also result in reductions in injuries as well as reducing the reliance on human workers to perform mundane tasks.

By 2028, in large distribution centres we can expect the vast majority of activities will be automated. This will include goods receiving, putaway and picking, packing, and dispatch. This will be achieved through use of a combination of automated trucks, self driving forklifts, conveyor systems, and picking robots, that will allow inventory to pass completely through the distribution centre with little direct human intervention.

While task-specific robots such as welding robots in the automotive manufacturing industry have been in use for decades, the latest generations of robots have far more advanced capabilities. Improvements in AI and dexterity mean that robots can “learn” new tasks as well as improve their performance over time. This provides the foundation for robots to be utilised all along the supply chain, especially in highly repetitive or dangerous tasks.

Control of the picking robots and on site vehicle marshalling will all be managed from a central control room where it will be possible to oversee the entire distribution centre operations. Some sub-processes or complex tasks will still require some level of human intervention but the majority of these activities will be undertaken by management teams making strategic and tactical decisions. Nearly all procurement, manufacturing, storage, and distribution tasks will be handled by automated methods.

While the wide scale use of robots in distribution centres has so far mainly occurred in very large Chinese and US locations, robotics use in Australia is ramping up too. The Telsyte ANZ Robotic Process Automation Study 2017 found that the Australian robotics market, which is currently worth around $216 million, is set to rapidly expand to $870 million by 2020.

In addition to the reduction in warehouse staff and increase in robots and automated vehicles operating on warehouse floors, one of the most obvious changes by 2028 will be the lack of a real need for warehouse-wide natural or artificial lighting. Because robots and automated vehicles navigate via a combination of laser, radar, and non visible light guidance systems, electric lighting and windows simply become unnecessary financial costs and security risks. So outside of the central control room, the warehouse is likely to be a busy  but dark place.

Internet of Things

While robotics will be the main game changing technology for labour reduction, automation will transform all aspects of the supply chain. Improvements in IoT and sensor technologies will allow seamless machine to machine communications and will mean entire end to end processes such as procure-to-pay and order-to-cash can be completely automated. McKinsey research indicates that the potential economic impact of IoT applications will be in excess of US$11 trillion by 2025 and as much as US$3.7 trillion of this will be related to factory environments.

Comprehensive and integrated IoT systems across the length of the supply chain allow for the enablement of truly informed manufacturing. This means that all products, people, and processes can be connected and information shared in real-time. This allows for improved decision making or AI controlled efficiency improvements that create smarter, more streamlined, and more automated processes.

Both NFC chips and RFID tags will be used to accurately tag and track all items within the supply chain. Companies will make widespread use of NFC chips, barcodes, and RFID tags to connect products, software, and hardware systems to the cloud, allowing for greater insights to be drawn from internal workflows. NFC chips that can be read by smartphones also provide an enormous opportunity for brands and organisations to better engage with and understand their customers.

Transportation

By 2028, autonomous vehicles that have already been undergoing extensive testing over the last decade will have heavily penetrated the logistics industry. With regards to autonomous trucks, in the early stages of rollout, truck drivers will initially transition to being vehicle managers that will oversee the operation of the truck so that they can intervene in certain situations when needed. But this will soon transition to completely driverless trucks handling the majority of heavy road freight.

While there are still some regulatory and safety issues that need to be addressed before jurisdictions allow full level 5 autonomy, ten years is ample time to iron out the legal and safety concerns preventing the transport by air or land of fully autonomous trucks and drones. It also allows plenty of time to refine the technical aspects of the transport vehicles themselves, even though the majority of this technology is already sufficiently developed to allow for fully autonomous operations.

Airborne drones will become an even more common sight overhead as smaller shipments are increasingly handled by drone. This will require countries to adopt changes to existing air-traffic regulations and will likely result in designated corridors for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being created to manage safety and traffic issues. By 2028, the current experimental programs being undertaken around the world for pizza and parcel deliveries will be expanded through the use of much larger drones that can handle heavy freight payloads.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence technologies will be further embedded into every aspect of supply chain.

AI is responsible for powering the algorithm-based decision making and data analytics that underpin GTM software as well as the performance and deep learning capabilities of autonomous vehicles and robots. AI technologies enable the benefits of near-continuous production as well as the opportunity to reduce human error, staffing costs, and helps improve the working life of the personnel working in warehouse and distribution centre environments.

AI already facilitates the anticipatory logistics used to reduce delivery times and boost efficiency by anticipating demand before an order is even placed. Global supply chain managers will be increasingly reliant on these kinds of AI technologies to avoid bottlenecks and make proactive decisions in response to increasing volumes of distribution as consumer demand for e-commerce goods continues to increase. The immense amount of big data in supply chain will serve to further inform and guide AI.

Blockchain

Blockchain technologies are well suited to the supply chain industry because they provide a permanent, transparent, and secure record of transactions and events. This trustless environment suits both suppliers, distributors, and the end client because no one individual or organisation can control or alter transaction or shipping records.

By integrating with IoT technologies such as NFC chips or sensors, blockchains are also ideally suited to goods tracking and verification at all stages along a supply chain. This allows organisations to have a continuous, verifiable record of environmental conditions. Factors such as temperature or humidity can be tracked and recorded to keep produce fresh or to indicate exactly where an item was stored or transported outside of set parameters. This technology also allows the end customer to verify where their Fair Trade coffee or sustainable tuna is sourced from.

Blockchains also facilitate low cost and fully automated payments systems. This enables rapid and direct payments to be made directly to each stakeholder along the entire supply chain, whether it be the produce farmer, transport company, bank, or end purchaser.

And because blockchains operate via digital currencies or tokens, these are true borderless, global payments. This means that very low transaction costs can be applied whether the payment is to a supplier around the corner or on the other side of the world.

3D printing

Advances in the materials used in the additive process as well as increases in the size of 3D printing equipment means that far larger and more complex items can now be produced on demand. By 2028, this will allow for a large increase in the types and volumes of products produced at locally situated manufacturing centres or even in store in the retail sector.

3D printing also has huge potential for improving the cycle time of generating new product prototypes. While production teams relying on traditional tooling techniques might need to wait many weeks for prototype parts to developed, revised, and redeveloped, 3D printing technologies allow design iterations to be applied to moulds within hours. This not only speeds up production and lead times, but allows for closer engagement of manufacturing and product design teams.

Reduction in offshoring

Despite the long term globalisation trend that has occured in the last few decades, the next decade will likely see a reduction in levels of offshore production. This will occur as manual labour across the supply chain is gradually replaced by automation, which will slash labour costs and offset many of the benefits that came with offshoring. Despite ;high upfront capital costs for robotics and automation systems, operational costs will be only a fraction of those of human labour and these costs can also be offset by models such as robotics-as-a-service. This will result in a push towards moving supply sources closer to domestic markets as transportation costs become a much larger proportion of total distribution costs.

Conclusion

Forecasting the future is always a tricky business, especially in dynamic and rapidly evolving industries such as supply chain. But disruptive shifts are already occurring that paint the picture of how innovative players in the industry will be running their operations.

Robotics and automation will take over the traditional manual tasks such as picking, sorting, handling, storing, and transporting goods. Autonomous vehicles within warehouses will handle the goods to ultimately be delivered by automated trucks or drones. This will lead to major boosts in productivity per worker, cost reductions, and increased speed to market.

Supply chain professionals will make greater use of machine learning and AI assisted decision making and move more towards overseeing and management tasks rather than performing them directly. There is no doubt that the life of a supply chain professional in 2028 will be fast paced, multifaceted, and heavily reliant on the latest technology developments.

Bastian Consulting can help you find out more about the exciting trends occurring in supply chain and where the industry is headed. It has a deep industry focus on senior level supply chain roles in the APAC region. Managing Director, Tony Richter, is an expert in the supply chain industry with 7+ years executing senior supply chain search across APAC. He works only with a small portfolio of exclusive clients and uses a transparent, credible, and focused approach to establish trust with all his clients and candidates.

The Competition Between Agile Startups & Established Corporates In The Supply Chain Industry

Supply chain heavyweights and startups need to collaborate as well as compete, to manage disruption and drive progress.

The past image of the supply chain and logistics industry conjured up ideas of solidity and old-fashioned but dependable infrastructure: getting the job done in proven ways, putting reliability ahead of speed, preferring validated methods to innovation. But the increasing pace of market change and disruption, driven by industry startups, shifting customer expectations and reduced margins, means that established market leaders must evolve in order to survive.

Today, anyone with a smartphone has in their hand the means of ordering anything from anywhere on the planet, but the accompanying delivery methods could still lag behind if left solely in the hands of traditional supply chain and logistics services. Startups are seizing the opportunity to plug some of the gaps, especially in urban areas, with internet ordering platforms, pricing transparency, AI and robotics.  So, how can the weighty market leaders and the nimble newcomers cooperate – perhaps while still competing – to help each other?

Intensive startup activity in the last five years 

The industry has been dominated by the big names for several decades now: globally, UPS, FedEx and DHL, and locally, bulk rail carriers like Aurizon and Pacific National, and road haulage operators such as Australia Post and Linfox. They employ enormous numbers of diverse professionals, and their sheer scale made it difficult, in the past, for startups to even think about competing with them.

But their previous market stranglehold is being challenged by the likes of Freightos, Bossa Nova Robotics, Shippo, Robby Technologies, Drive.ai, FreightExchange, GetSwift and Parsl. These new entrants are harnessing AI, big data, cloud computing, blockchain, the Internet of Things connectivity, 3D printing, automation and robotics, to create niche markets relying heavily on technology but relatively undemanding in terms of expensive infrastructure. They are exploiting customer demand for faster delivery times, lower prices, convenience and flexibility. And they need tech-savvy professionals who can quickly master the new skills required to architect and manage the ever-increasing complexity of supply chains.

The traditional markets leaders are likely to find it more difficult to respond to changing market dynamics because of their large and often unwieldy bureaucracy and slower decision-making processes. Yet they do have one major advantage over the disrupters: by and large, they remain in control of the tangible assets required to transport goods over large distances. There are competitive challenges and advantages in collaboration for businesses at both ends of the marketplace.

The elements of disruption in the industry

  • Big data inevitably produced by supply chain companies every day, can be analysed and used to streamline processes.
  • Artificial intelligence frees the human workforce from routine processing tasks, releasing them into more productive areas, thus creating new jobs as well as replacing old ones. By carrying out data analytics, AI enables better decision making and predictive analysis of customers’ logistics needs.
  • Cloud computing allows systems to grow along with the business while improving accessibility and flexibility for a mobile workforce and extremely widespread customer base.
  • Blockchain is being used for supply chain tracking and for confirming the provenance of goods.
  • The Internet of Things promotes end-to-end connectivity, integration and information-sharing throughout the distribution process.
  • 3D printing could dramatically reduce the need to keep an inventory of items like spare parts while speeding up order fulfilment.
  • Robots can be used for swift and error-free warehouse placement and retrieval of goods, while both ground-based robots and aerial drones are likely to feature increasingly in last-mile delivery in metropolitan areas.
  • Automation is not confined to robots. Automated conveyors can be used on fixed warehouse or factory routes, while automated check weighing systems detect underweight packages where components may be missing.
  • Remote systems may include innovations like supplying a device which allows a delivery service provider to remotely open the order recipient’s car boot, garage door or secure drop box.
  • Green products and materials are a feature of startups. Battery-driven delivery robots will produce far less pollution than a diesel-powered vehicle. Biodegradable packaging made from shrimp waste is far kinder to the environment than the polystyrene foam sitting in a landfill or polluting the ocean.
  • Transparency around pricing is being fostered by internet platforms and mobile apps allowing service suppliers to bid for jobs, and letting customers compare quotes.

How (and why) should both old and new companies work together to handle disruption?

It all adds up to a lot of change concentrated into a very short time frame. Supply chain and logistics organisations have to match this pace by adapting at the same speed. Older, larger companies may need to adopt strategies that are different from those of their younger competitors, but working together could suit both groups.

Strategy for established players: connect with disruption instead of fearing it

There’s more than one way to handle a threat. You can ignore it, fear it, try to emulate it, or harness it by turning it into an opportunity. Ignorance and fear are unlikely to produce good results, but emulation and targeted harnessing can pay dividends.

Established supply chain companies can cope with disruption by forging closer links with their agile and progressive competitors. According to UK advisory firm Deloitte, they can do this in a number of ways:

  • Collaborate: Collaboration could take many forms. Since startups mostly rely on traditional logistics companies to supply the infrastructure required to physically transport goods over long distances (trucks, railway engines and rolling stock, ocean-going vessels, cranes and other goods-handling equipment), the asset-sharing partnership could become more formalised. At the same time, larger corporations can sponsor startup accelerator programs (such as Slingshot Accelerator) and benefit from the exposure to new ideas for their own industry.
  • Incubate: The innovation capacity of mature companies should not be underestimated. They own an enormous quantity of data waiting to be mined and analysed, and they have skilled professionals on board (or able to be hired) who can lead the company in new directions via internal incubation programs. As a result, they may be able to expand their existing services to match the startups’ offerings, or create spin-off companies. Either way, revenue is likely to increase.
  • Invest: Another way to keep a finger on the pulse of innovation is to provide seed investment capital for startups, or invest in the further development of  businesses who have already made some progress but are chafing at the bit through lack of funding.
  • Acquire: If services offered by startups expose the gaps in a more conservative company’s facilities, it’s possible to fill the gap by simply acquiring the embryo organisation and its in-house expertise.

Strategy for startups: share and learn

On the other side of the coin, startups are not exempt from competitive forces. They have chosen to enter an arena populated by both veteran giants and by other nimble minnows like themselves. As well, they are light on assets, and may need to find ways to cooperate with the companies who are actually moving goods along all but the last few miles, if not all the way. This cooperation could involve actively looking for mentorship, or investment funding, or being open to an acquisition.

Additionally, they may need to examine the ways in which mature organisations have succeeded in creating a sustainable business model. For example, if they have themselves chosen to specialise in ‘last mile’ delivery in metropolitan areas, do they need to expand into longer-distance services? If they only provide a service to compare prices or identify spare capacity, can they leverage this data by actually providing a physical carrier service?

Strategy for all players: attract and retain the future workforce

It’s clear that these disruptive forces need to be not merely managed but actively exploited by a motivated workforce, if market size and market share are to grow. CEOs, hiring managers and all industry leaders need to commit to innovation and engage the people who propel it. Here are some recommendations for how to set about doing exactly this:

  • Develop existing in-house skill sets needed to design and manage diverse supply chains. Build a talent pipeline by identifying and training your future leaders.
  • Identify exceptional talent from other industries rather than confining your search to your own backyard. Consider, for example, data scientists, risk managers, and business development analysts. Create new senior roles such as Disruptive Technologies Engineer and Digital Engineer, to drive innovation. Put creativity and emotional intelligence on your list of desirable employee attributes and be prepared for a workforce possibly more diverse than the one you are employing now.
  • Find ways to retain your best talent because salary and incentives are no longer enough for today’s aspirational workforce. They seek meaning and purpose (think Google’s “Do cool things that matter”) and if they can combine these with the kind of salary they are looking for, they won’t hesitate to jump ship in favour of the supply chain equivalents of Uber, Amazon and Airbnb. Take a critical look at your existing management structure and redesign it to foster flexibility and speedier decision-making.
  • Invest in innovation to help develop a strong Employer Brand and Employee Value Proposition that will attract and retain the kind of disruption-ready talent that will serve you best.

Dependable corporates + cutting-edge startups = a winning combination

 There are substantial benefits to be gained from collaboration by both incumbents and newcomers in the supply chain and logistics marketplace.

Strong, existing players have a solid capital backing, often with further investment capacity, plus an experienced workforce with collective decades of experience in sustainable profitability. But they may be ponderous, lacking in new ideas and adaptability, and, frankly, boring to work for. As a result, they could find the current pace of disruption a serious challenge, and lose market share.

Agile, nimble, innovative recent arrivals, on the other hand, have a surfeit of ideas begging to be exploited, superior understanding and use of advanced technology, and often a more flexible management and decision-making process. All of this adds up to a strong Employee Value Proposition. But they have a tendency to lack the physical assets which populate the long-distance haulage market, a predisposition to focus on smaller niche markets, and a shortfall in both long-term business experience and working capital.

Combine the two with collaboration in the form of asset-sharing partnerships, external accelerator and internal incubator programs, seed and development investment and acquisition, and everyone can win. And that includes the industry’s customers, who are already benefitting from a more client-centric, flexible, fast-moving and transparent marketplace.

Despite, and in some cases because of, technological disruption, supply chain and logistics will always be a business which relies on the capabilities of its people first and foremost. Secure your company’s place in a changing world by attracting your future-ready talent now. Click the button below to download our 15 Tough Interview Questions To Ask Supply Chain Executives.

Bastian Consulting: 2018 Salary Survey

2018 has been an exciting year for the Supply Chain Industry as a whole.

There has been a push to rely even further on systems, processes and technology to make decisions rather than people.

The capability to interpret data effectively is becoming an increasingly more sought after skill across the board.

Supply Chain professionals that are in decision making roles are having to make quicker, more informed decisions based on these new insights.

With these new processes, there is also an increasing need for greater transparency and visibility throughout the entire network which includes clients and suppliers.

Download the full Salary Survey here.

The use of new technology is reducing the need for and cost of employees. With all the data that is becoming available one of the big challenges the Supply Chain industry is facing, is figuring out how to use it effectively.

We’re seeing more scrutiny up and down the supply chain and throughout the network where before if it wasn’t your product or service that wasn’t provided by your company specifically than it wasn’t your fault.

2018 has proven to be a thrilling year in the industry with major disruptions taking place and a shift in how the Supply Chain industry as a whole operates.

To download the full Salary Survey, just click the link below.

 

 

Embedding Customer Expectations Into Your Operational Supply Chain Strategy

To get ahead in the modern supply chain industry, you need to know which skills actually translate to success.

But pinpointing those skills can be a challenge.

This is largely due to the amount of hype that exists around certain ideas or skills.

Sometimes this can create situations where you’re unsure of how much substance there is behind certain buzzwords, and therefore where to focus your attention.

To help accurately understand which skills are really the most important, Bastian asked our supply chain industry network what they thought are the most critical skills needed to be successful for the modern supply chain professional. (You can get the full findings here)

Our research shows that despite all of the recent hype around the importance of innovation, it was not actually the most important driving factor for a supply chain business.

The number 1 skill that was voted as most critical to the supply chain industry was understanding customer expectations.

 

Everyone agrees – understanding customer expectations is critical.

During our research, we asked supply chain professionals – from CEO’s to individual contributors, a number of questions around what skills they thought were most important to the supply chain industry.

The results differed between roles. For example, CEO’s are much more consistent in their opinions on critical skills, while managers are more inclined to be more opinionated towards one skill or another.

This suggests that CEO’s are more concerned with the bigger picture and the overall result of combined skills, while managers are more concerned with specifics and tend to overrate the importance of one particular skill.

However, across every level from individual contributors to CEOs, the skill considered the most critical was understanding customer expectations.

This acknowledgement of its importance was also reflected in the latest PwC Global Operations Survey, which found that 63% of operations leaders said that understanding what customers value is a challenge for their companies’ operations.

A recent Retail Industry Leaders Association Study also concluded that 56% of companies will increase spending on supply chain process improvements this year, and the percentage of executives reporting that they’re prioritising enhanced customer service as their main supply chain strategy has more than doubled since 2015.

But how do I keep up with shifting expectations?

“The days of telling customers what to expect are behind us…customers’ expectations are that your supply chain be personalized to their personal expectations.” – Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins International

While most people running supply chain businesses clearly recognise the importance of focusing on customer expectations, this still presents some real and complex challenges.

This is because it is incredibly difficult to strategize business goals and operations if you need to address individual client expectations. Especially when you consider that even an individual’s expectations might shift markedly over time.

So, with customers becoming increasingly demanding in their expectations, how can any supply chain CEO develop a business model that will ensure strong profitability while also keeping its clients’ needs met?

Translating customer expectation into operational strategy

Understand your customers

If you’re able to identify what the customer wants, you’ll be able to make strategic decisions for your business based on that. You’ll need to collect customer data (or it may already be available to you) and once you have a good idea of what customers value and what their goals are, you can start designing effective strategies.

Prioritise customer feedback and make sure you have processes in place to understand the level of service you’re providing at each point along the supply chain.

Poor service at one point has follow on effects to the end customer and damages your reputation. Having systems to track customer feedback enables you to set agreed goals with current customers, create more personalised solutions, and improve your prospects for sourcing new customers.

Remember to always operate with your end customers’ needs in mind.

Coordinate across functions

If you want to be able to execute on what customers care about then you’ll need to be able to coordinate across your internal functions. It’s important to update your operations model so that it fosters an environment that supports collaboration and avoids difficult processes that ultimately make your operations less efficient.

You can also outsource many services to a trusted 3PL. If you don’t have the strongest capacity in a given area, whether it be technology systems, contingency planning, or inbound or outbound transportation, then you can improve your level of service significantly by outsourcing. The leaner and more efficient you are, the faster and cheaper service you can provide to your customers.

Be flexible by collaborating

In the past, supply chains were designed to do one or two things very efficiently at high scale. But in these more technical and rapidly evolving times, it is increasingly important to develop flexible supply chains that can adapt to unforeseen events. If an out of the blue event occurs, if you don’t have a robust network of people you can draw on, then your level of service will falter.

One of the best ways you can achieve this is to improve your relationships with your logistics providers. The stronger your rapport with your suppliers, the more effective you will be at resolving issues or overcoming challenges – which ultimately ends up affecting the customer.

Having strong relationships with your suppliers and 3PL providers will give your business an edge because the more collaborative you are the more flexible and responsive you can be. And ultimately that translates to improved customer service from end to end.

Keep an eye on the bottom line

It’s important for business leaders not to get overly distracted with incorporating new supply chains, new tech or new products and services. Your operations should be tailored to make sure you are delivering the best value to your best customers for the least cost. Good business leaders know what their customer values, as well as the value of each customer, to their bottom line. When these are in balance, then everyone wins.

Just make it work

There is no doubt that customers are more demanding now than in the past.

This is a natural consequence of the tech age that we live in where the internet has given us access to answers in seconds and the ability to click to buy in an instant. But try not to overthink your processes too much and remember that at the end of the day, the customer just wants it all to work.

So try to think of your supply chain in terms of how your customer would ideally view it. Straightforward and seamless. Is your inventory readily available or tied up? Can you ship items or deliver your services quickly? Can you give guarantees or commitments to your orders?

At the end of the day, to be successful in today’s supply chain, you need to understand your customers and you need to provide fast, reliable performance across your entire business. This efficiency will translate into timely and affordable services and this will lead to the long term satisfaction of your customer’s expectations.

To gain a more detailed understanding of how you can meet your customers’ evolving expectations, you should grab the full report here

Is Just in Time Hiring Ruining Your Supply Chain?

While the Japanese Just in Time manufacturing system revolutionised Western supply chains, there is a very good chance that Just in Time hiring could ruin yours. This is because the Asia Pacific supply chain sector is facing a very real talent shortage.

The number of logistics jobs needed is booming to such an extent that the current demand for supply chain professionals already outstrips supply by six to one and may soon reach nine to one. If your organisation is not mindful of this talent shortage reality, you could soon face major consequences to your operational capabilities and risks to revenue.

Just in Time hiring

Just in Time (JIT) hiring is based on the JIT or Lean manufacturing strategy and involves recruiting candidates that match your company’s needs only when necessary. It seeks to make time and cost savings by freeing up the resources required to maintain an ongoing candidate pipeline.

JIT recruiting mainly focuses on tapping into candidate inventories such as resumes and LinkedIn profiles then contacting, assessing and hiring candidates as a reactionary response to the need for a particular role. JIT hiring requires a comprehensive strategy that includes access to a large pool of talent and effective engagement and referral tactics.

In the ideal JIT world, when new staff is needed, they can be rapidly sourced and engaged to fill a vacant or newly created role. But unfortunately that is not the world the supply chain industry is currently in.

The perfect storm

Increasing demand for logistics roles, changing demographics, rapid technological development, and a global shortage of tech talent has created a perfect storm for supply chain:

  • Demand – Strong economic growth and a burgeoning Chinese middle class continues to fuel e-commerce demand in Asia. Further south the Australian supply chain and logistics workforce is set to grow by 2.1% annually over the next four years, compared with 1.5% for the overall Australian workforce.
  • Demographics – There is an exodus of Baby Boomers from the supply chain workforce. Between 25 and 30 percent of the current industry workforce is at or above retirement age. This means that these roles need to be filled by a smaller number of the Millennials that are entering the workforce to replace them.
  • Technology The rapid pace of technological developments is a double edged sword for supply chain. It is creating incredible opportunities for improvements to operational efficiency but means that entirely new roles and skills are needed.
  • Talent – The top five most valuable companies in the world are all tech companies. The global tech industry is expanding so rapidly that it has created a national and international scarcity of tech talent. Demand for blockchain engineers is off the chart. You’re now competing with the likes of Accenture and IBM for skilled professionals.

Today’s supply chain job requirements

Exacerbating the problem of a scarcity of available tech savvy graduates, the ideal supply chain employee also needs a radically different skill set today than in the recent past. Globalisation and new technologies such as IoT, 3D printing, blockchain, and the use of autonomous and product tracking technologies are transforming skill requirements. Expect this to continue to accelerate in the next 5 years.

As a result, supply chain professionals now need both strong operational competency and analytical/technical skills.

Finding candidates who possess these skills in combination is increasingly difficult as demand grows.

Source: DHL Research Brief: The Supply Chain Talent Shortage

This combination of skill has not been emphasised in traditional education, training, or industry environments. Technical skills are difficult to train in-house as the pace of change and specialisation doesn’t lend itself easily to a curriculum. Beyond the tech requirements, other desirable skills include strategic thinking, leadership, and strong communication skills. These skills are needed to enable effective communication and collaboration both within the organisation, and externally with partners, vendors and customers.

Does your company have an image problem?

A recent DHL report, ‘The Supply Chain Talent Shortage: From Gap to Crisis’ surveyed more than 350 supply chain organisations to look at current industry trends and common perceptions of supply chain. It revealed there is a perceived lack of status of supply chain as a profession.

Concerns around the perceived status of the industry are not new, with the image problem particularly difficult to overcome for supply chain roles in emerging markets. But the reality is the industry in all countries faces the problem that supply chain careers are not seen to be as desirable as careers in other sectors such as finance, product development, marketing or sales.

Whether these perceptions are true or not doesn’t change the reality that they were  identified by more than two-thirds of surveyed respondents. This means it is an important factor that needs to be considered when trying to attract and retain the highest levels of talent.

People tend to form an opinion about the kind of employer a company is long before even considering working for them. The reality is that outside the industry few people actually understand or give much thought to supply chain and logistics, despite the fact that they interact with it in some way every day.

Something I come up against on a regular basis is a total disconnect between a client’s view of their organisation as an employer and the perception from candidates.

Some struggle with the idea that they are not an employer of choice and don’t realise that candidates may not have a strong desire to work for them.

If companies without an established reputation as a top employer try to rely on a primary attraction strategy of only advertising when a new hire is needed, they will continually struggle to find talent.

Part of the image problem is related to internal attitudes within the industry itself. This sees companies that may not value supply chain sectors within their organisation as being as important as some other disciplines. This was reflected in the DHL study, that found only 25 percent of the survey participants saw supply chain as being of equal importance to other disciplines. The constant pressure on costs means supply chain is overwhelming seen as a cost drain within an organisation.

There is a need to reframe supply chain in the eyes of graduates, young tech talent, and the wider public to better communicate both its importance to business success and the potential for innovation.

What you can do

Despite these challenges, there are many steps that you can take to create a better hiring strategy and get the jump on your competitors in recruiting the best candidates.

Start early

Start thinking about recruitment in the planning process for all new technology implementations. Recruiting the talent that can make the most of new technologies will ensure your organisation stays on the cutting edge and will lesson ROI time. Make sourcing talent one of the key priorities for every implementation or structural change, leveraging external vendors or partners if necessary.

Look globally

Recruitment, and especially recruitment in tech related fields, is a global game. By recognising that the best talent may be in a different city or even country, you are opening up the possibilities to a much larger talent pool. Many of the best candidates may also be happy to relocate or consider if a role can be successful remotely.

Be flexible

The best talent knows they are in demand. This means you need to be flexible in the terms of the package you offer to new candidates. Create a work environment and culture that is going to be attractive to new staff, which also acts to help retain your existing talent.

Market your brand

You need to be actively and continuously working to elevate your employer brand in the marketplace. This means you should be ‘always on’ whether actively recruiting or not. Brand development takes time so treat it as an ongoing investment in future success.

Invest in your people

Lack of development opportunities is a contributor to the talent shortage in supply chain and one third of companies reported in the DHL survey that they were taking no concrete steps to secure their future talent pipeline. Once existing staff begin to believe there are better career pathways outside your organisation,you’re already in trouble.

Invest the time and resources to establish clear career pathways for each employee. This should include education and training programs as well as talent development partnerships. Wherever possible, look toward professional development based around certification programs to provide staff with more tangible development than informal training can offer. You also need to ensure that development programs are aligned with evolving industry trends and job requirements of each role.

Partner with specialists

By partnering with supply chain recruitment specialists like myself and my team at Bastian Consulting, you are gaining access to a greater pool of talent. This is because industry specialists have a large and up-to-date network they can draw from, know where to source skilled local and global candidates and are able to help ‘sell’ your organisation as an employer.

Final thoughts

The Just in Time hiring strategy can be effective when used in the right scenarios and industries. But the reality of today’s supply chain environment means that it is not well suited to this industry. You will likely be placing yourself and your company at a disadvantage if you are relying on it to fill vacant roles with the skill sets that a modern supply chain workforce needs.

Even with planning and foresight, finding a candidate with the right mix of operational and technical skills is a challenge. You should therefore be taking every possible step to be proactive with your attraction and hiring strategy, as well as investing in your existing employees.

Let’s have a discussion about what current the state of the employment market means for your business and how I may be able to assist. You can reach me on +61 409 090 434 or use our contact form.

The Open Source Ecosystem Accelerating Blockchain Innovation For Logistics

Those who have read my previous articles will know that disruptive technology is a topic I’ve returned to several times. The implications of transformative technologies for the supply chain industry is huge and those able to harness it effectively will be at a distinct competitive advantage.

This isn’t news anymore. However despite recent technology developments, in many ways supply chain is still stuck in the past. Burdened by unreliable processes, reducing efficiency and leading to communication or security issues, payment disputes, and inevitable headaches for people in the industry.

There is a huge opportunity to address many of these issues through the implementation of one key technology development. That technology is blockchain.

An organisation seeking to enable this innovation is OpenPort. Recognising limitations and scalability issues with the blockchain they were using, they decided to create their own open source blockchain. Cue the launch of the Open Enterprise Logistics (OEL) Foundation, a non-profit organisation providing governance and resources for the development of the Open Enterprise Logistics blockchain ecosystem.

In the interests of transparency, I want to disclose that I am affiliated with OpenPort and am a member of the OEL Alliance. However, I haven’t been paid to write this article.

I simply believe the open-source Enterprise Architecture and token the OEL Foundation are offering will be good for the industry. Finding people with the skills to implement this technology is challenging. Using open-source technology enables the pooling of knowledge and resources, and therefore a path to effective use of blockchain.

The OEL Foundation recently published a comprehensive whitepaper: Building The Blockchain Ecosystem For Logistics. What follows is my summary of the key points in the whitepaper.

The current state of enterprise transport

Logistics and transport management generates approximately 13% of global GDP and the B2B transfer of ownership of retail goods will reach $15.5 trillion USD by 2021. Projections through to 2050 indicate that emerging market growth led by China, India, and Indonesia will be twice that of developed economies. In emerging markets, increasing turnover of merchandise in retail outlets has resulted in over-extended distribution networks and the companies attempting to meet this demand are facing extraordinary logistics challenges.

The problem is made worse by the lack of secure supply chain control in the distribution channel, which drives up distribution costs due to lost sales, penalties from late deliveries, theft, and product damage. The OEL Foundation recognises that most deliveries to distributors and retailers in emerging markets are therefore being delayed, disputed, short paid, or not settled because of problems related to existing outdated processes.

Supply chain pain points

The key challenges that supply chain needs to resolve include:

  • Growth constraints – Rapid growth in demand is exceeding the current capacity of supply chain infrastructure and availability of logistics services. This affects expenses,  performance, and sustainability as the costs of logistics are outpacing new sales and limiting further growth.
  • Fragmentation – the growing demand for consumer goods in emerging markets is leading to increasing levels of fragmentation with little or no transparency into subcontracting by local transporters. In some cases, the final shipment may have already gone through three or four iterations of handling by sub-contractors, with no IT systems used to record shipment data or to provide real-time tracking for the shipper.
  • Paper based processes – Without an integrated platform from shipper to consignee, an extensive manual paper trail is required. This slows down the payment process for all parties and increases the likelihood of payment disputes. Often, a full one percent of top-line revenue is lost due to inabilities to invoice caused by disputed, undelivered, or lost shipments.
  • Liquidity and cash flow – Lacking a means to verify transaction and shipping events makes it difficult to ensure complete and intact delivery of goods. This results in a cash squeezed supply chain plagued by revenue loss and lack of liquidity.

The blockchain solution

Blockchain technology resolves many of these issues by allowing for the secure exchange of value and validation of transactions. It is optimal for managing the movement of goods in a secure and traceable manner because every shipping event and transaction is securely and irrefutably recorded on the blockchain ledger. Once the occurrence of all transactions is irrefutable and the records contained in the decentralised ledger are available to all parties involved in the exchange of goods, then an immutable audit trail is created.

Working in combination with IoT and RFID tracking, there are multiple ongoing projects leveraging blockchain to authenticate products and bring real time visibility to product journeys. This is especially important in sectors like pharmaceuticals and in the movement of high value goods.

These solutions are being implemented by major companies including IBM, Maersk, and Walmart as well as by many innovative start-ups and smaller projects. However, the majority of these efforts exist in isolation from one another and operate in a context of resistance towards data sharing and collaboration. This means that these efforts are still susceptible to bottlenecks as inevitable information asymmetries arise.

Innovative upgrades to state of the art digital ERP and TMS systems among corporate supply chain players are ineffective in a fragmented environment where different actors work on different information standards. With growing innovation and activity in the space, there is a strong need for a common standard decentralised architecture that can support a full range of stakeholders.

The OEL Enterprise Architecture

The OEL Foundation’s mission is to remove this burden through the adoption of a common, shared, and open source enterprise architecture utilising blockchain technology. The OEL Enterprise Architecture will serve as a platform, protocol, and network that can be used to deliver products and services for OEL Foundation Alliance members and the broader industry.

The OEL Foundation aims to empower the transport industry by moving paper-based and offledger digital records onto the blockchain. Through distributed ledger technology, a shipment related entry becomes immutable, providing an indisputable record of the freight’s history linked to a digital agreement – a smart contract.

The OEL Enterprise Architecture will be powered by a utility token, the OPN Token. This token fuels smart contract validation, serves as micro-rewards for sharing data on the network, and acts as a point of access and stake on the network. The token will be created at an upcoming Token Generation Event held in Q3, 2018.

The OEL Foundation Alliance

The OEL Foundation Alliance will be comprised of stakeholders across the supply chain industry; from multinational brand owners and manufacturers, to 3PLs, transporters, technology providers, and retailers. A variety of membership options to the OEL Foundation Alliance will be available allowing for access to information, applications, and software development kits (SDKs). Members will also be able to influence the direction of development of the Enterprise Architecture.

The Foundation will leverage OpenPort’s existing client base, experience, and knowledge gained through the implementation of several successful pilot projects. OpenPort will be responsible for helping to design, build and implement the OEL Enterprise Architecture by leveraging its real-world knowledge of enterprise logistics.

The next step

The potential impact of blockchain on the enterprise transportation industry is significant. Implementation of the Enterprise Architecture will make blockchain applications real, accessible, and functional for all parties in the supply chain. With network participants incentivised to share data, service levels and accountability will vastly improve.

The transparency and trust introduced by this blockchain-driven transport ecosystem enables acceleration of payments across every step of the supply chain; from the manufacturer and shipper down to the consignee acquiring the goods, to the local transporter delivering those goods to remote storefronts. Improvement of service levels and acceleration of payment cycles will create liquidity and drive profitability.

Future applications extend far beyond improving the cash cycle. The ability to gather immutable data for analytics on tracking and visibility of IoT related sensor data including temperature monitoring, pallet tracking, returnable packaging, and vehicle weights, has significant implications for the optimal management of transport assets. The opportunities are vast and will only increase as blockchain technology is further embraced across the entire industry.

For more information about how your organisation can join the OEL Alliance or participate in the OPN Token Generation Event and help transform supply chain for a new era of efficiency and growth, please contact: hello@oel.foundation

Don’t Let Interviewing Be The Weak Link In Your Supply Chain

Recruiting the right people into leadership roles within the supply chain industry is critical. As well as helping to define the strategy and direction for your business, strong executives inspire and coach your teams to reach that objective.

Skills for tomorrow’s supply chain

Supply chain is in a period of rapid technological and environmental change and businesses are struggling to keep pace. The people leading your business through this period need an expansive skill set beyond operational or category experience.

Gone are the days where being technology averse is acceptable. Leaders of all business functions must be able to understand, evaluate and leverage technology. And not just software platforms; Big Data, connected devices (Internet of Things) and AI driven analytics are among the technologies supply chain executives are grappling with.

The large scale change to both systems and people requires skilful and strategic leadership. You should look for executives that are highly adaptable to change and adept at balancing cost pressures, conflicting customer demands and global market complexity.

The inevitable tensions that arise with uncertainty and change requires Emotionally Intelligent leaders who can artfully engage with employees, suppliers and partners to engender success.

How to assess soft skills

Many of the skills and attributes that set great supply chain leaders apart can be classified as soft skills. These are notoriously difficult to assess during an interview due to the propensity for candidates to overstate their capability, either deliberating or because they lack self-awareness.

The trick to teasing out the truth is a combination of behavioural questions and some savvy probing. You should be asking for specific examples with every question, consider the following sample questions and the quality of the response you can expect:

  1. How do you approach partner management?
  2. How do you manage conflicting customer requirements and priorities given limited resources? What should be outsourced to partners (decentralised) and what should be controlled in house (proprietary)?

By asking the second question you can gain deeper insight into the candidates views and motivations. Do they understand the specific factors that underpin partner management strategy? Do they take a collaborative decision making approach? How do they handle conflicting priorities? Are they influenced by practical factors (data/cost) over emotional factors (impact to people), or vice versa?

The way they phrase their response can also indicate whether they are willing to adapt and take on new approaches, or if they are attached to past methods.

Download: 15 Tough Interview Questions To Ask Supply Chain Executives

How to identify people who get results

One of the major aims of interviewing is to establish to what extent the candidate contributed to the results they claim to have generated. Your business has lots of challenges and the pressure for results is high. You need the leader you hire to be able to execute effectively and to be generating real business value.

Consider the following sample questions:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. Please give an example of how you were able to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace that resulted in improved pricing and or service?

Question 1 will generate a well practiced answer which provides little value in predicting the candidates true potential to succeed in your business. The second question will highlight skills and knowledge (aka strengths!) in action as well as their capacity to drive commercial outcomes.

At the same time the candidate can show their depth of understanding of market dynamics, pricing factors and customer demand.

Download: 15 Tough Interview Questions To Ask Supply Chain Executives

The ultimate list of questions to ask

The above examples are just scratching the surface of what you need to ask to accurately assess executive candidates. You should walk out of the interview feeling confident that you’ve made a complete assessment and can compare and benchmark candidates. By having a structured set of questions that you ask in every interview, you reduce the chances of hiring on gut feel and the potential for poor hiring choices.

You can download a list of my 15 go to questions which are specifically geared to identifying high performing supply chain executives. I’ve interviewed thousands of senior professionals in the decade I’ve been recruiting in this industry, so I’ve learned what questions yield results.

These questions will test the candidate’s ability to think on their feet, expose their depth of operational knowledge and highlight those with strong soft skills and leadership capability, which is critical for success in complex organisations like yours.

Download The Questions Now

How Big Data Is Changing Supply Chain – Explained In 2 Mins

Your logistics manager is alerted that there is an 80% chance that the components he’s waiting for will be delayed another 48 hours by excessive port traffic and your GTM software advises diverting the shipment to an alternate port facility.

In supply chain the ability to accurately forecast is crucial. And effective forecasting is only possible if you have access to good quality information. So being informed ahead of time that a critical shipment is likely to be delayed or a key component is likely to be unavailable for a set period of time can have huge financial implications for your business. This type of vital information being available ahead of time is now becoming routine among supply chain organisations that are embracing the Big Data revolution currently taking place in the industry.

Big Data vs small data

The human brain can only process a limited amount of information before it becomes overwhelmed and unable to effectively recognise patterns and trends. Similarly, traditional data processing systems (small data) that have always been used in supply chain simply cannot process the volume of data necessary to generate useful insights.

Modern software platforms and the powerful algorithms that drive them are different. They can take in almost unlimited numbers of data points and process them to generate insights that would otherwise be impossible to identify. This data can be sourced from the actions of customers, suppliers, or your own staff as well as everything from the performance of network nodes to transaction and shipping records, retail channels, and even social media content.

“Big Data is certainly enabling better decisions and actions, and facilitating a move away from gut feel decision making.” Anthony Coops, Asia Pacific Data and Analytics Leader at KPMG Australia

Big possibilities

Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence based analytics can be used to predict asset maintenance requirements and avoid unscheduled downtime. IoT can also provide real-time production and shipping data while GPS-driven data combined with traffic and weather information allows for dynamically planned and optimised shipping and delivery routes. These types of examples provide a glimpse into the possibilities and advantages that Big Data can offer in increasing the agility and efficiency of supply chain operations.

Sensors can be used to provide a wealth of information targeted to specific niches within supply chain such as fresh produce distribution where temperature or humidity levels can be precisely tracked along the entire journey of a product.

Big Data solutions can also be used to support integrated business planning and to better understand market trends and consumer behaviours. The integration of product sales, social media trends, and demographic data from multiple data sources provides the capability to accurately predict and plan supply chain actions. This can help navigate the tricky path between overstocking or running out of products that are in high seasonal demand.

The road ahead

There are hurdles to overcome and challenges involved with transitioning to Big Data powered operations but supply chain companies that embrace the technologies will enjoy huge first mover advantages over the competition.

There is a lot of information to take in on this topic. I’ve also written another in-depth article on how Big Data will shape the entire supply chain industry in the coming years and how to use it in your business.

Transformational innovation and change comes with the need to bring new knowledge and skills into your business. To arrange a conversation about what these changes mean for hiring supply chain leaders please contact me at tony@bconsult.io.

The Impact of Big Data on Supply Chain

You receive a notification on your phone that a critical shipment from your China factory has missed its filing deadline with the customs broker. Your logistics manager is alerted that there is an 80% chance that the components he’s waiting for are likely to be delayed another 48 hours by excessive port traffic and your GTM software advises diverting the shipment to an alternate port facility. Your compliance officer is informed that there is a 95% chance that a shipment of parts from Malaysia is likely to be held for up to three days to be subjected to a detailed customs inspection.

If you think this type of information would be of great assistance to your supply chain business planning and operations, you are not alone. It is this type of integrated data and communications that are becoming the backbone of the Big Data led revolution underway in supply chain.

The human brain can only process and make use of a limited amount of information before it becomes overwhelmed and unable to effectively recognise patterns and trends. But powerful algorithms and the software platforms they drive can take in almost unlimited numbers of data points and process them to generate insights impossible for an individual or even an entire organisation of individuals to identify. And powering this technology-driven transformation of supply chain is Big Data.

Big Data vs small data

To really understand how technology is transforming supply chain, it is important to understand how Big Data differs from any other form of information gathering. Data has always been crucial to efficient supply chain operations so what has actually changed in recent years? How is “Big Data” different from the analysis of “small data” that has always occurred in the industry?

Big Data refers to sets of both structured and unstructured data with so much volume that traditional data processing systems are inadequate to cope with it all. It can be further defined by some of the basic properties that apply to it:

  • Variety – data being generated from a wide number of varied sources
  • Volume – while there is no set distinction between where small data stops and Big Data starts, Big Data requires large storage requirements for the data, often measured in many multiples of terabytes
  • Velocity – the speed at which the data can be acquired, transferred and stored
  • Complexity – difficulties encountered in forming relevant relationships in data, especially when it is taken from multiple sources
  • Value – the degree to which querying the data will result in generating beneficial outcomes

The most important property related to Big Data is as the name implies, volume. We normally think of data purely in terms of text or numbers but it can include everything from the billions of emails, images, and tweets generated every day. In fact, data generation is expanding at a rate that doubles every two years. And human and machine-generated data is growing at 10 times the rate of traditional business data. IT World Canada projects that by 2020, you would need a stack of iPad Air tablets extending from the earth to the moon to store the world’s digital data.

But the real focus behind a preference for Big Data analysis over small data systems is the ability to uncover hidden trends and relationships in both structured and unstructured data. In most cases, using small data collection and analytics processes simply cannot identify crucial information in a timely manner to allow key decisions to be made or opportunities to be taken advantage of. In other cases, using small data systems is simply a waste of resources and leads to disruptions to supply chain operations.

By contrast, if used correctly Big Data is the key to enhancing supply chain performance by increasing visibility, control, agility, and responsiveness. Making decisions based on high quality information in context can benefit the full range of supply chain operations – from demand forecasting, inventory and logistics planning, execution, shipping, and warehouse management.

Big Data possibilities

Big Data analytics becomes a vital tool for making sense of the huge volumes of data that are produced every day. This data comes from a whole range of activities undertaken by people associated with supply chain, whether they be customers, suppliers, or your own staff. The range and volume of this data is continuously increasing, with billions of data points generated by sources we see as directly linked to supply chain such as network nodes and transaction and shipping records as well as other areas that more indirectly impact supply chains such as retail channels and social media content.

But it is increasingly becoming necessary to harness this data in order to remain competitive. This is evident from statements made by people such as Anthony Coops, Asia Pacific Data and Analytics Leader at KPMG Australia, who believes that “Big Data is certainly enabling better decisions and actions, and facilitating a move away from gut feel decision making.” At the same time, he recognises that solutions need to be put in place that allows for people and organisations to have complete faith in the data so that managers can really trust in the analytics and be confident in their decision making.

The need for confidence in the analytics is evident when considering the examples such as where GTM software has the information and capabilities to advise ahead of time to divert shipping stock to an alternate port or that a product is likely to be held up in customs. These types of decisions have potentially large financial consequences but when implemented correctly, it is easy to see how supply chain operational efficiency can be significantly boosted by effective use of Big Data analytics.

Many organisations are also using Big Data solutions to support integrated business planning and to better understand market trends and consumer behaviours. The integration of a range of market, product sales, social media trends, and demographic data from multiple data sources provides the capability to accurately predict and plan numerous supply chain actions.

IoT and AI-based analytics are used to predict asset maintenance requirements and avoid unscheduled downtime. IoT can also provide real-time production and shipping data while GPS driven data combined with traffic and weather information allows for dynamically planned and optimised shipping and delivery routes. These types of examples provide a glimpse into the possibilities and advantages that Big Data can offer in increasing the agility and efficiency of supply chain operations.

Disruptive technologies

What is driving these possibilities is the development of numerous disruptive technologies as well as the integration of both new and existing technologies to create high-quality networks of information. Disruptive technologies impact the way organisations operate by forcing them to deal with new competitive platforms. They also provide them with opportunities to enter new markets or to change the company’s competitive status. By identifying key disruptive technologies early, supply chain organisations can not only be better placed to adapt to changing market conditions, they can also gain a distinct advantage over others in the industry that are reluctant to embrace change.

In terms of Big Data based disruptive technologies, these are largely driven by the effects of constantly evolving and emergent internet technologies such as the Internet of Things combined with increased computing power, AI and machine learning based analytics platforms, and fast, pervasive digital communications. These technologies then act as drivers that spawn new ways of managing products, assets, and staff as well as generating new ways of thinking about organisational structures and workflows.

IoT

After being talked about for many years, we are now starting to see the Internet of Things really taking shape. There will be a thirty-fold increase in the number of Internet-connected physical devices by 2020 and this will significantly impact the ways that supply chains operate.

IoT allows for numerous solutions to intelligently connect systems, people, processes, data, and devices via a network of connected sensors. Through improved data collection and intelligence, supply chain will benefit from greater automation of the manufacturing and shipping process becomes possible through enhanced visibility of activities from the warehouse to the customer.

Cloud-based GPS and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies, which provide location, product identification and other tracking information play a key role in the IoT landscape. Sensors can be used to provide a wealth of information targeted to specific niches within supply chain such as fresh produce distribution where temperature or humidity levels can be precisely tracked along the entire journey of a product. Data gathered from GPS and RFID technologies also facilitates automated shipping and delivery processes by precisely predicting the time of arrival.

Big Data analytics

Big Data analytics encompasses the qualitative and quantitative techniques that are used to generate insights to enhance productivity. The more supply chain technologies are reliant on Big Data, either in their business model or as a result of their impact on an organisation, the more organisations have to rely on the effective use of Big Data analytics to help them make sense of the volumes of data being generated. Analytics also helps to make it possible to understand the processes and strategies used by competitors across the industry. Using analytics effectively allows an organisation to make the best decisions to ensure they stay at the forefront of their particular market sector.

As corporations face financial pressures to increase profit margins and customer expectation pressures to shorten delivery times. the importance of Big Data analytics continues to grow. A Gartner, Inc. study put the 2017 business intelligence and analytics market at a value over USD$18 billion, while the sales of prescriptive analytics software is estimated to grow from approximately USD$415 million in 2014 to USD$1.1 billion in 2019.

Over time, the effectiveness and capabilities of analytics software also continue to improve as machine learning-based technologies take forecast data and continually compare it back to real operational and production data. This means that the longer an organisation operates its analytics software, the iterative nature of artificial intelligence powered algorithms means that the performance and value of the software improve over time. This leads to benefits such as more accurate forecasts of shipping times or supplier obstacles and bottlenecks.

Consumer behaviour analysis

Although it may not initially seem as vital to supply chain as other disruptive technologies, consumer behaviour analysis can have a huge impact on businesses working in supply chain, especially e-commerce businesses. Known as clickstream analysis, large amounts of company, industry, product, and customer information can be gathered from the web. Various text and web mining tools and techniques are then used to both organise and visualise this information.

By analysing customer clickstream data logs, web analytics tools such as Google Analytics can provide a trail of online customer activities and provide insights on their purchasing patterns. This allows more accurate seasonal forecasts to be generated that can then drive inventory and resourcing plans. This type of data is extremely valuable and is crucial for any organisations operating in the e-commerce space. While retailers and consumer companies have always collected data on buying patterns, the ability to pull together information from potentially thousands of different variables that have traditionally been collected in silos provides enormous economic opportunities.

Potential drawbacks and challenges

Despite the huge opportunities presented by implementing Big Data powered solutions, there can be intimidating barriers to entry when it comes to putting in place Big Data collection and analytics solutions. This can emerge across a range of areas including the complexities around data collection and the difficulties of putting in place the technologies and infrastructure needed to turn that data into useful insights.

Getting complete buy-in

One impediment to adopting a holistic Big Data approach centres around having unified support at all levels of your company to adopt comprehensive Big Data systems. Management commitment and support are crucial and large-scale initiatives of this type usually occur from the top down. However, Big Data analytics type initiatives usually originate at mid-level, from people who actually collect and use data day to day. This means that for this issue, the need for implementation must often be sold upwards. In some cases, upselling the importance of Big Data to management that doesn’t understand why that type of expense is necessary is extremely challenging.

Sourcing clean data

One of the other main challenges is undoubtedly sourcing appropriate and consistent data. There’s no use getting high-quality data if it doesn’t directly apply to your particular market sector. Nor is there much benefit to be gained from obtaining high-quality data but being unable to consistently source it at the same regularity to enable it to build a long-term profile of the company’s operations and market forces. These challenges are often related to technical issues such as integration with previously siloed data or data security concerns.

Richard Sharpe, CEO of Competitive Insights, a supply chain analytics company, believes that the data quality problem is a complex issue that can have many different causes. However, he believes that these challenges can be overcome by management having a clear understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. “You have to show that what you’re ultimately trying to do with supply chain data analytics is to make the enterprise more successful and profitable.” This then leads to support being provided by company leadership who, in tandem with operations managers, can develop the processes required to govern quality data collection. This includes proper consultation with subject matter experts who can help ensure that all data is properly validated.

Managing data volumes

New technologies make it possible for supply chain organisations to collect huge volumes of information from an ever-expanding number of sources. These data points can quickly run into the billions, making it challenging to analyse with any level of accuracy or lead directly to innovation and improvement.

This means that despite many organisations embracing Big Data strategies, many do not actually derive sustainable value from the data they’re accumulating because they begin to drown in the sheer volume of data or don’t have the appropriate software and management tools to make use of it. A common phrase used to summarise this effect is “paralysis by analysis”. Without a thorough understanding of the technologies and systems needed to process and store the data collected, this can be an easy condition for an organisation to become afflicted by.

Building the infrastructure

Companies need to invest in the right technologies to have a true 360-degree view of their business. And in many cases, these technologies can involve large initial capital outlays. Getting the infrastructure in place is key to being able to collect, process, and analyse data that enables you to track inventory, assets and materials in your supply chain.

Putting in place the infrastructure may also require additional training expenses, so that staff are properly trained in how to use new software platforms or to maintain sensors and other new IoT devices. In some cases, this will extend to requiring hiring new talent capable of using and interpreting new analytical tools.

Conclusion

Big Data offers huge opportunities to supply chain organisations, as vital information contained within multiple data sources can now be consolidated and analysed. These new perspectives can reveal the insights necessary to understand and solve problems that were previously considered too complex. New insights can also encourage organisations to scale intelligent systems across all activities in the supply chain, embedding intelligence in every part of the business.

There is also no doubt that implementing comprehensive Big Data solutions can involve new and significant challenges. However, once the new infrastructure and processes are in place, the nature of modern Cloud-based networks allows for data to be accessed easily from anywhere at any time. It also allows for other benefits beyond cost reduction and production gains to be realised over time, such as ongoing rather than just one-off efficiency gains and improved transparency and compliance tracking across the entire organisation.

Bastian Managing Director, Tony Richter, is a supply chain industry expert with 7+ years executing senior supply chain search across APAC. He works exclusively with a small portfolio of clients and prides himself on the creation of a transparent, credible, and focused approach. This ensures long-term trust can be established with all clients and candidates.

To find out more about the challenges and opportunities offered by Big Data to supply chain, or to gain a deeper understanding of the technology and Big Data trends currently underway in the industry, talk to an industry expert at http://bconsult.io/

Partnering In Search

The recruitment industry at times has a terrible reputation. I know this through feedback, stories and experiences from professionals at all levels across all industries.

You do find a section of people who value the search space and believe it adds to their network and professional infrastructure, but there is consistent feedback in relation to why a vast majority of people feel it’s a less than desirable industry. There are times when the industry is very transaction focused as well as having that feeling that it can be done by anyone, discounting its value.

These trends/stereotypes are perpetuated through a lack of response or reply to queries, emails and phone calls, a need to communicate when it’s only convenient for the search provider and a lack of core understanding relating to the candidates or clients core functional area or industry.

I work in an industry where we don’t make anything, nor do we own any physical assets that produce revenue. The customer (client or candidate) is everything. Customer service and relationships are everything. Finding partners is the key.

I can’t speak or comment on my competitors’ ability in this space but I would like to make some suggestions to both clients and candidates on how to get the best out of your search partner and the value that can be extracted from that relationship. This might also change the behavior of your search partner by following a few simple steps:

  • Share information, data, trends, outcomes, market IP – Sharing information (which can be shared and not classified) is what this space is all about. Gathering and connecting knowledge create opportunities for both clients and candidates.
  • As a client, staying in contact with your search partner gives you a greater chance of securing unique talent, specifically when you don’t have an open vacancy but know there is a change coming in your organization. Floating unique top talent to clients that I have strong relationships with only comes from having that connection.
  • I spend a considerable amount of time connecting with professionals in large and boutique management consulting firms. When a client has a potential need arise outside of talent like a spend analysis, strategy review or supplier audit as an example, having a search partner that is connected in the consulting world can connect you to effective solutions for real-time problems.
  • Building trust and a relationship with your search partner can help you as a candidate to develop your knowledge about opportunities at other search firms. I’ve often made candidates aware of other roles with different search providers when I know it’s a great role or opportunity that they’d be suitable for. This only comes from having two-wayo way relationship and wanting that candidate to be successful.
  • I do hear candidates complain that people in search or when applying directly to a client that there isn’t a response back or follow up. This does happen unfortunately but there is also those candidates who only engage and respond with search agents when they are looking for a role and it’s convenient for them. That type of transactional approach doesn’t create partners. Communication needs to flow both ways all the time.

Communication is a two way process not just when you need something as a candidate or client. Understand that in all facets of life and business, people like working and helping people they like. Mutual interest in each others success is the foundation for building partnerships in business and in search.

Tony