Drones are More Than a Pipe Dream

December 2nd, 2019

In reading an Cnet article on drones, it is clear drones are more than an Amazon pipe dream. In fact, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that he expects at least one U.S. city to have have the ability to control hundreds of unmanned aerial systems by 2028. NASA is using a “grand challenge” incentive program to improve the technology’s maturity, and there are many key companies working on drone technology. Of course, Amazon is one.  They are joined by folks like UPS and Uber Elevate. Drones soon will become a reality.

One of our clients makes drones for military use, and they have a “mini Cal Tech” feel. The future will be in the hands of those who can transform technology into practical applications, improving the customer experience and the bottom line simultaneously. Are you thinking about how drone technology and other technologies might impact your industry, your company and your employees?

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
Certainly, there are a vast number of challenges in flying commercial drones especially in dense population areas like Los Angeles. However, as NASA says, with the brightest minds thinking through how to bring this to a reality, it will occur. The only question is whether you will be surprised and left in the dust by the impacts or whether you will be positioned to thrive. We plan to ensure our clients are thinking ahead to be squarely in the “thrive” category!

Drones might seem unrelated to our immediate future and to our business. However, if we receive anything or ship anything, I imagine drones might be relevant. Perhaps we should re-think the impact. And, more importantly, it isn’t the drones themselves.  Instead, it is the technology and that translation of technology into practical applications. Whether it is autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain or another buzzword, the key question is whether we are thinking about our vision and objectives and how we can leverage technology to accelerate our progress towards these objectives. Now that is worth something!

Since we are unveiling another LMA-i, LMA Intelligence category of Future Proofing Manufacturing & Supply Chain, this is quite relevant to preparing to successfully navigate your future. No matter what happens in the volatile global marketplace, if you are set up to thrive no matter the conditions, you’ll come out ahead. Stay tuned for article archives related to future proofing, just as we have for the Amazon Effect, the Skills Gap and the Resilient Supply Chain.



Inventory or Capacity?

November 18th, 2019

Inventory has emerged as a hot topic lately. In today’s Amazon-impacted business environment, customers expect rapid, customized deliveries, the ability to change their mind anytime and easy interactions (placing orders, returns etc.). Since clients are growing, they are also concerned with keeping up with the increasing volume. Thus, they have responded  by stocking more inventory to support increased sales and to respond to these increasing expectations.

However, as clients are taking a step back, they see inventory tying up bunches of cash unnecessarily.  Just because they have more inventory doesn’t mean they have the ‘right’ inventory in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. Inventory not only ties up cash, but it also increases costs. We are hearing about concerns regarding space, efficiencies, transportation cost impacts and more. In essence, there is a double hit to cash and profit yet the appropriate level of inventory (varies by network and strategy) is required to meet customer expectations.

In addition to pursuing inventory improvement programs to maximize your service, cash and margins such as SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning) and proactive vendor managed inventory/ collaborative inventory programs, you might want to consider your capacity.

We had a client a few years ago who called because service issues had started to arise and customers were angry. Leadership thought the the operations team was under-performing because there must be something wrong with them since sales revenues were not increasing over 5% a year.

As we dug into the issue, we found that the product mix changed significantly which drove a greater level of operations requirements for the same dollar volume. When this occurred in the past, it didn’t create a problem (lending support to the perception that the operations team was at fault).  Yet, it turns out that as people left, they stopped replacing them because they wanted to bring down costs.

In the past, since they had excess capacity (machinery) and a small excess level of trained, highly skilled direct labor resources, they could produce what was needed as conditions changed without a problem. They no longer could use this magic bullet!

Would it make sense to maintain excess capacity/skills in a key bottleneck area of your operation (whether manufacturing, technical or office)?

If you’d like to talk about your inventory and/or capacity situation further, please contact us.



Blockchain, IoT, AI, Big Data. Will Anything Stick?

November 11th, 2019

Client Question
Should I really invest time and resources into technologies I don’t know will pay back?

For example, there is a lot of conversation about the value (or lack thereof) of blockchain, IoT, AI and more. This concern continues to arise and is on every executive’s mind. They do not want to be left in the dust “holding the bag” (old and slow) while their competitors race by. On the other hand, they do not want to dump all sorts of money into technology that might not prove effective in their industry. And, in some cases, what they could invest would be a drop in the bucket. It would be like trying to refill the Pacific Ocean with a pail. Remember that fabulous song by Harry Belafonte “There’s a Hole in the Bucket“?

My colleague Diane Garcia and I set out to find the latest answer to this question at the Association for Supply Chain Management International Conference. There were several panels and presentations on each of these topics, along with several exhibitors talking about the latest and greatest technology integrations.

The Answer
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of noise about these technologies. According to Gartner, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover $6.2 billion hours of work productivity. So, it is easy to see why AI is gaining investment with the large companies and with leaders of large organizations.

I love this quote from Harvard Business Review, “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.” That about sums it up! We need to at least be aware so that we can make good decisions when it comes to these technologies.

As it relates to AI, according to McKinsey Quarterly, across all functions, respondents report that the most significant benefits come from adopting AI in manufacturing! Coming in second is risk with supply chain management just behind in third place. So, if you are in manufacturing, you cannot afford not to at least consider the opportunities. Do you need to do this on your own? NO! We are seeing small companies come together to share resources and invest jointly to drive scale with results (and so they can compete with the large companies). There are also groups that facilitate this type of collaboration. At the most digitized companies, the adoption of AI capabilities is greater including machine learning, virtual agents, robotic process automation, computer vision and more.

According to Forrester, 90% plan greater investments in data and according to MIT Sloan, 85% view AI as a strategic priority. These two technologies cross over and seem to have the upper hand with the most immediately applicable technology.

With that said, there were even more sessions about blockchain and whether it was hype or hope. The bottom line on blockchain is that it is a real opportunity for certain industries such as the food industry (related to food safety).  It is still in early stages and will require a consortium of companies to come together to bring to reality.

According to a leader from FedEx, whether big or small, no one company will be successful on its own. Yet all the “big guys” are interested and participating. Stay tuned to see where it goes. Last but not least, IoT is integrated into many conversations about big data, AI, autonomous vehicles and more because it connects technologies. In manufacturing, IoT is connecting machines and data for predictive maintenance and the possibilities abound.

The bottom line: pay attention but resist exploring technology in isolation. Learn to collaborate.

Food For Thought
As much as these technologies should be on your radar, don’t get carried away and forget your fundamentals.

Do you have a scalable ERP system to support your business growth and profitability? If not, start there!

Do you have reporting and business intelligence systems so that you can slice and dice information to make instantaneous, informed decisions as key customer questions or business opportunities arise? If not, start there!

How about a simple CRM solution? Certainly in the Amazon Effect era, we must pay attention to customers.

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The Amazon Effect Won’t Die!

October 4th, 2019

We have been writing countless articles about the Amazon Effect for many years as customers have the upper hand. In essence, if you cannot provide rapid, customized service with easy returns and ‘extra value’, you will be left in the dust. The needs aren’t going away. If anything, Amazon continues to raise the bar. Several companies such as FedEx, Walmart and others have announced same day and next day delivery. Target is redesigning stores and pick up areas so that customers can conveniently pick up purchases same day. Walmart is evaluating delivering groceries inside a customers’ home while they are at work. And, Costco has established a chicken farm to grow, slaughter and distribute chickens in an effort to eliminate the middle man for quicker, cost effective deliveries. However, this isn’t just about B2C and traditional e-commerce companies typically in industries such as consumer products and food and beverage. B2B companies expect Amazon-like service as well! Behind every B2B company is a person who expects B2C customer service.

Executives are still intrigued by the Amazon Effect. The reason executives still care is because it is getting harder and harder to remain competitive and profitable. For example, at the Manufacturing Summit, we recorded a series of videos from an Amazon Effect panel talking about these issues. Countless CEOs are expressing concerns about how to navigate these troubled waters. On the other hand, there are a few who are taking advantage of the situation to stand out from the crowd by becoming the disruptor instead of the disruptee. Which are you?

The Amazon Effect also teaches us that innovation is cornerstone to success. Not only does Amazon continually innovate and test new ideas, but some of these new concepts ‘stick’. As the founder of Netflix said, it isn’t that you set out to get the idea for Netflix and it is success all the way. The reason we are still talking about 3M and the famous sticky pad innovation is that it doesn’t happen that often, and 3M sets aside time and money for innovation as a part of their culture. Thus, we must get comfortable with trial and error. Of course, the error part is the problem. No one likes failure. Yet, it is just a part of the process. In fact, if you aren’t failing, you won’t succeed. Even Amazon fails. They test new markets, are willing to lose money and shut down programs. We just don’t hear about them as often as we hear about the latest and greatest new service or drone delivery! Are we really pushing the envelope far enough?

Have you thought about whether you have a culture that supports innovation? Check out our video series on innovation to gain some ideas. Gather your team to brainstorm out of the box ideas. Ask an expert to poke holes. Deliberately stimulate debate and organize trials. In essence, why not encourage maverick behavior within reasonable guide posts so that you set your team up for a “win”?

If you are interested in an Amazon Effect assessment with ideas to break from the mold, check out our free resources and/or contact us.

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Which State Has the Most Manufacturing? The Answer Might Surprise You…

September 25th, 2019

According to an Industry Week article on the US 500: Top Manufacturing States, which state is #1 in terms of having the most manufacturing headquarters? California! Certainly, CA is not a manufacturing-friendly state in most places (although there is an initiative to create an advanced manufacturing consortium of excellence in the Inland Empire which is gaining support across the board). Manufacturers account for 10.93% of total output in the state and employ 7.2% of the workforce. Neither of these figures is #1 but the total output of $300 billion with an average of 1.3 million manufacturing employees does! #2 is Texas, followed by Illinois, Ohio and New York.

One of the reasons manufacturing is bucking the trends so far is that there are a vast number of consumers and companies in California, and in today’s Amazonian environment, rapid, customized deliveries are the norm. Thus, proximity matters. California is larger than all but 6 countries! The powerhouse of manufacturing is Southern CA. Additionally, California and specifically the Inland Empire is #1 in logistics in the U.S. According to research by a University of Redlands professor, logistics is at the center of what’s called an onion structure. It is the lifeline of the economy. Manufacturing co-locates or locates next to the logistics lifeline. Supporting services form the next layer of the onion, followed by all others such as retail, construction, leisure and hospitality.

What Should We Consider and/or What Impacts Could Arise?
For one, all this talk about “manufacturing being dead and gone to Asia” is obviously an exaggeration. In fact, we are starting to see executives look at reshoring as rapid delivery is of paramount importance. After all, everyone is scrambling to provide one-day delivery to keep up with Amazon, and B2B customers are expecting B2C service as well!

Further, we are seeing a SHARP increase in concern over high inventory levels to support these service levels. Some clients are concerned about the cost impact of tariffs and inventory levels and others are just becoming more focused on managing cash so they can better utilize existing resources to launch new products and services, invest in the business and more.

Since manufacturing is directly correlated to logistics, trusted advisors and other industries, it is worth paying attention. Start thinking about potential impacts such as the following:

  • Will your supply base change or move with the changing times?
  • Will capacity be available? Suppliers, transportation partners, manufacturing operations, equipment, skilled resources etc.
  • Are you agile so that you can meet changing conditions rapidly and without a significant hit to your customer experience or bottom line?
  • Do you have a skills gap? Please take our brief survey.

If there ever was a topic related to the resilient supply chain, this would be it! We have recently upgraded and added content to our resilient supply chain series.