We live in a highly demanding time. Customers want more, better, faster, and cheaper. Competition is steep, and meeting expectations while innovating and staying profitable can feel like a pipe dream. As supply chain practitioners invest in and leverage robust technology to deliver on ever-increasing demands and complexities, it’s vital that they see past the fads (quick fix solutions) and focus on long-lasting trends (solutions that best align with where the industry is headed).
I recently joined IDC as an analyst covering global supply chain execution and fulfillment strategies, and began by reporting on the difference between maximization and optimization in the end-to-end supply chain: how it’s important to move from the former to the latter, how optimization can only be achieved by viewing the whole ecosystem, and how difficult this has been to do historically. It also explores how a digital transformation (DX) and the promise of interconnectivity and visibility it offers, as well as the intelligence it enables when paired with analytics or AI, make the optimization of large, multi-enterprise, multi-country, multi-industry business networks a viable – and necessary – goal.
We spent the year breaking down how today’s supply chain practitioners are under the gun, feeling pressured to run smoother and leaner operations under thinning margins and during the most disruptive time that has ever existed. We’ve noticed that these conditions have spawned a sense of urgency for quick and easy fixes.
However, we also discussed how, much like lasting happiness, fulfillment, and self-actualization, there are no quick fixes in the journey toward industry leadership. Rather, it requires a thoughtful digital transformation to establish a firm foundation on which new processes and innovations can effectively flourish.
As we close out this year, here are three key takeaways for cultivating a lasting transformation and supply chain success.
We began the series by stating that simply good isn’t good enough. That in today’s competitive climate, which requires companies to innovate, expand their service or product portfolios, and contemplate what’s next at a faster pace than ever before, satisfaction with incremental gains is a setback. Most companies put off digital transformations because they see the cost as overhead, an expense to avoid, and not a necessity for future survival.
It’s no surprise that there’s a growing interest in transportation management solutions. Transportation is at the heart of supply chain operations, and as more companies expand their products and services to conquer new markets, the more they run up against the limitations of their legacy systems.
While there’s a broad array of Transportation Management Systems (TMS) options on the market, according to Gartner’s Model for Holistic Multimodal Transportation Management Systems: Core Capabilities, few vendors “have solutions that can successfully and cost-effectively support all levels of transportation complexity.”
At its core, today’s transportation management solution must at least be holistic and multi-modal. But what does that really mean, and how can you better assess your level of transportation complexity and whether a given solution will adequately support it?
If you’ve been following my series, Making the Case for a Digital Transformation, it’s apparent that such a venture can stretch out over many months – if not longer. Not every business has that kind of time to spare, and you may be asking yourself: “What can I do if I have to get a new platform up and running in the next quarter or two?”
With tacit approval from senior management to pick a solution and spend what it takes (within reason), here’s my advice for fast-tracking your digital transformation.
The idea of innovation might sound enticing, but few are willing to take the associated risks in changing course. Treading lightly has its advantages, but the line between ‘careful’ and ‘cripplingly cautious’ can be thin, especially in such a highly competitive world.
Here are a few signs you might be letting fear get the best of you.
Now that the case for a digital transformation has been made and the go ahead given, it’s time for your supply chain software implementation...but don’t think it will be a walk in the park. It’s common to have a bit of friction between company departments – especially during transformations. Stamp out ‘turf battles’ early and map out a plan right away, so you can easily course correct when issues or delays inevitably arise. How you define success will also play a significant role throughout the process – don’t overpromise but strive to overdeliver.
We’ve discussed how Maslow’s personal growth paradigm applies to industry leadership, as well as how it translates to a digital transformation strategy and reach those heights. Within the step-by-step journey we’ve mapped, your business may be well on its way to self-actualization, propelled to leadership by strategically leveraging some of the most innovative technologies. But, in the grand scheme of things, what does it all mean, and where are we ultimately headed?
Here we place the industry’s ambitions into context, taking a brief look at how digitization shook the paradigm, where new innovations are taking us, and what it means for the ever-evolving supply chain to be growing toward its own state of ‘actualization.’
With a promising software provider determined and the backing of your network, it’s time to pull together your resources, construct a business case for the digital transformation, and make a strong and informed recommendation.
If you’re in a larger or public company, you will likely have a predetermined format for presenting a business case. Since this involves an investment decision, your finance organization should have a structured, formulaic template to use. Smaller or private companies will usually have a handful of people making the decision, with a greater focus on a “why and how much?” rationale.
Having sat through countless board and executive committee meetings in many different companies, and in a range of such scenarios, I’ve seen my fair share of both compelling and derailed presentations. Without getting overly prescriptive, here are some observations on the best ways to fully prepare, expect the unexpected, and make an effective business case.
It’s often been said that business process changes precede technology and software. Companies would first define their frameworks and then seek out software to support those established practices. However, much has changed in the 21st century. The rapid evolution of supply chain software and technology has transformed the industry landscape into a far more complex, fast-paced, demanding, global, and networked ecosystem. To keep up with these changes and to seize upon new opportunities, practitioners have begun shifting their approach to acquiring and implementing emerging supply chain software and technology. Rather than apply new technologies and other innovations to existing frameworks, successful and far-sighted practitioners are increasingly thinking about what new possibilities these innovations hold and how their use might help them pivot to more effective processes.
Digital transformations are hard work and require more than just technology to be successful. In the countless times I’ve managed multi-party setups, the greatest obstacle was consistently the most intangible one: Trust. Companies today are networks, so if your partners aren’t on board with your vision, the solution you choose – no matter how robust – will ultimately fail. As you define your priorities, also use this process as an opportunity to consult your network about how your needs align.
While today’s supply chain is exceedingly complex, one’s approach to managing it need not be. Unfortunately, as tools and so-called best practices evolve, they often propagate silos, redundancies, and failure points in the supply chain, further complicating it.
Up until now, the process of choosing software providers has been all talk. As thorough as your due diligence may be, there’s always the possibility that what a prospective vender claims they can do does not ultimately align with what you’ve imagined. Moreover, if you’re hedging your bets on innovators, you want to do everything you can to minimize risk and go into the partnership confident that you’ve made a sound choice.
There are two ways to accomplish that: by checking references and conducting a live demo stress test.
We recently discussed how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (the psychological stages of human growth) applied to the supply chain (business growth within the industry). This evolution is closely linked with a digital transformation, which itself can be mapped according to a similar journey of fulfillment.
The guiding principles are the same: growth requires building one fundamental layer at a time in order to achieve full potential. Just as businesses must build their capabilities and networks one stage at a time, so too does a digital transformation strategy require various upgrades in technology and innovation to enable new business models through previously unimaginable functionality.