Adapting to change, building relationships, and staying alert of trends or potential disruptions are some of the key job responsibilities of the supply chain manager. That fact was hammered home at the APICS and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' Annual Conferences last week, where thousands of industry professionals were reminded their challenges were not unique.
Dozens of speakers and panels consistently converged on one of four themes:
- an impending talent crisis
- the importance of mentorship
- managing big data
- selecting metrics
Supply Chain Dive reports on some of the most common lessons and concerns garnered from conversations and experiences during the conference.
1. A talent crisis is looming
The supply chain is currently dominated by Baby Boomers, which means many of the industry's top executives and middle managers are looking to retire in the next 10 or so years. That exodus will leave companies with few options for the next generation of leaders.
Executives are being proactive. Companies are looking to hire millennials, broadening their recruitment strategy to accept candidates outside their industry and increasing the number of mid-level positions to develop and retain talent. Yet, despite the impending shortage, executives proved optimistic regarding the future of their companies.
They said they were confident the new generations in the workforce, with their tech savvy and formal supply chain education, would be more than capable given proper in-house training.
2. Mentors make leaders, and executives are eager to share knowledge
Cueing up to help the next generation with in-house learning, institutional knowledge and training are the experienced workers, the leaders who want to leave the industry in capable hands.
"As you enter the workforce, find someone who looks like me ... we have learned a lot over the years and want to pass it down," an executive from Coca Cola, who is a baby boomer, said to a group of students over dinner at CSCMP.
When the baby boomers entered the workforce "supply chain management" was hardly a recognized industry. As a result, much of the learning that took place occurred through practice in various departments or through sharing information with peers. Although university programs and various certifications now exist, some would say that most of the learning still takes place through practice and sharing.
The industry embraces those methods, it is part of the culture.
"The mentors I looked up to I always felt had my best interest in their heart," SAP CEO Bill McDermott said during his APICS keynote, adding, "trust is the ultimate human currency."
3. Big Data is great, but only if you know how to use it
Whether it's the internet or IoT, the supply chain is becoming more integrated as software companies leverage data to better track, forecast, and analyze the movement of goods from end to end.
Yet a common complaint heard throughout the two conferences was that data, for all its expense, did not always give companies the necessary tools. PepsiCo, for example, created its algorithm for integrating risk buffers into their perishables' lead time calculation, despite being an SAP client.
Companies will often collect data for the sake of having data, but having too much data can be a problem as supply chain managers may find themselves attempting to parse information without relevant benchmarks or reasons.
Yet, when James Cook of the State University of New York asked if anyone in the audience was "overwhelmed" by data, not a single hand was raised. By contrast, many more wanted more data collected, the problem was finding out what data to collect.
4. Data collection must be problem-driven
Data can seem like a treasure trove, but just as financial reports taken out of timeline or context are invaluable, data collected without a purpose has little value.
As a result, prior to engaging in a new data project, identify a clear problem and the metrics that would help find a solution. Identifying a problem first, defining the metrics, establishing processes to collect the data equally throughout data sources, then executing the plan are all necessary steps.
Without doing this, companies may end up looking for a needle in a haystack. Often times the haystack looks like an ERP or supply chain solutions software with various, complex interfaces and little guidance and leads to complaints.
Supply chain executives must look at their human resource strategy and use Big Data and analytics to ensure their companies' continued success. Progress is being made in satisfying the human element by recognizing the importance of talent acquisition, but there is still room for innovation while managing data.