Should We Prioritize or Deprioritize Innovation & Technology During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

April 3rd, 2020

What is the first thing that happens when a client is shutdown due to the coronavirus? Cut all unnecessary spending. Certainly, I agree with this approach in most situations. If you cannot pay for your employees, you shouldn’t pay for unnecessary expenses! However, if the situation isn’t dire, it might just be an opportunity to refocus on innovation and technology.

There are well-regarded statistics about the Depression and the Great Recession that those companies that invested while everyone else cut back were significantly more successful following the recession. Of course, it depends on whether you are investing in what will be needed as the lockdown ends or if you just continue with your prior plans because they were well-thought out previously. All bets are off! You must re-review your strategies, business plans and associated investments with the ‘new world’ in mind. Ask your executive team and key partners questions:

  1. What will have changed as we emerge from lockdown?
  2. What opportunities will it present for your customers?
  3. What new roadblocks will exist for your customers?
  4. Is there an opportunity for new customers?
  5. Do you have an opportunity to expand to new markets?
  6. What products and services will be needed?
  7. Can you get ahead of the competition so you’ll be out of the gate at 200 mph instead of crawling at a turtle’s pace?
  8. Will you need to re-tool?
  9. What skills will you need?
  10. What technology will you need?

Challenging times can create opportunity with innovation and creativity. Innovation will fast-track growth and profits. When has there been a better time to innovate? Although we started our innovation series a while back and have always been involved with encouraging innovation (such as the Manufacturers Innovation Awards), we are going to start adding content to encourage clients to focus on innovation since we think this is a critical time to ramp up your focus on innovation.

Innovation doesn’t have to involve technology as it could simply involve repurposing, repackaging, or repositioning. In fact, there is very little that is truly ‘new’. How often does a client invent something new like the sticky note? Certainly we hope a new vaccine will be developed rapidly, but many industries will simply come up with new ways of doing things and that type of innovation will fast-track growth and profits. The only precursor is whether you have an innovative culture. Now that is something we can control, and it doesn’t have to require capital or cash.

Why not put your top talent on an innovation project while under lockdown/ social distancing? There is plenty that can be accomplished via Zoom, and you might just be thrilled with the results. From all accounts, it appears as though the recession will be short-lived and in a V shape with a rapid recovery. Will you be ready to take advantage of the opportunities?

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Manufacturing Summit Recap: Innovation & Top Talent

Systems Pragmatist



Coronavirus & Economic Impacts

April 1st, 2020

After concern about health and safety is worry about the economy and our livelihood. Thus, we thought we’d address this topic with the latest information by the experts….and a few of our thoughts thrown in for good measure.

According to the economic update by the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, “When Will We See the Light at the End of the Tunnel?“, we are headed into a recession (not surprisingly), but all hope is not lost! In essence, the report talks about two scenarios.

  1. Optimistic scenario: It assumes a decline in infections by early April with the virus under control by June, passing of the stimulus package, existing medications adopted to treat the serious effects and a vaccine ready within a year. In this case, we’ll go into a recession but the economy will start turning up in the 4th quarter or at least by the first quarter of 2021. It will be a V shaped downturn.
  2. Pessimistic scenario: In essence, the assumptions above do not come true, and the vaccine takes 18 months to develop. Certainly, the outlook isn’t as rosy with this scenario, and there won’t be a recovery in 2020.

We all hope the optimistic scenario is the likely outcome. As the report states, the Wall Street Journal surveyed 34 professional economists and categorized them into “pessimistic”, “baseline” and “optimistic”, and the IEEP “optimistic” outcome is more in line with the Wall Street Journal “pessimistic” outcome, and so this signals hope.

As it relates to businesses, non-critical businesses are certainly going to struggle until the coronavirus is under control. In several states, these non-critical businesses are shutdown. In some cases, employees have been let go; others furloughed; some are working remotely if feasible and some are finding creative ways to keep the business running or are changing directions as best as possible. Clearly unemployment claims are surging.

With that said, more opportunities are born during recessions than any other times so keep your eyes open. For example, perhaps you can tweak your products so that you can supply some critical products during this period. Or, perhaps you can develop a new product that can launch as soon as businesses are re-opened. Or have you thought about a new service that could make you stand out from the crowd as businesses start to ramp up? Or how about stealing top talent? I just love the story of a CEO of one of my clients. He hired a talented engineer during the Great Recession when he was let go and no one else was hiring, and that resource helped him excel to first in his market following the recession.

For those businesses considered critical, the picture is a bit brighter. For example, I am working with a food bar manufacturer, and people are stockpiling food bars. Thus, volume has spiked for food bars sold through grocery stores and Costco. In their case, it has trailed off for weight management bars and so they have a mixed bag. Certainly, toilet paper manufacturers cannot keep store shelves stocked! Medical products are also in high demand.

The $2 trillion dollar stimulus package was signed into law. There is assistance for individuals, businesses and workers. We are continuing to post resources to explain the benefits. I thought this article did a good job in describing the stimulus benefits (thanks CLA), and there is loan availability and forgiveness included as well. Stay tuned for updates on our coronavirus resources webpage.

Stay tuned with our coronavirus resources webpage. We will continue to add the latest economic forecasts, stock market analyses and more. However, instead of fretting about the future, take a step back (after all, you are probably in lockdown) and think about how you should reposition your business for the future. It is an opportune time to rethink strategy. If you’d like help to discuss further, please contact us.

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Supply Chain Heroes: How CFOs Can Help Save the World
Eagle Eye Strategic Focus



Supply Chain Heroes: How CFOs Can Help Save the World

March 25th, 2020

As Published in: Oracle/Modern Finance

Early this year, the largest asset-management company in the world made a bold announcement: It would start redirecting investments away from fossil fuels because of climate change. In his annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stated that “climate risk is investment risk,” and that risk is driving a fundamental reshaping of finance.

“Because capital markets pull future risk forward, we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself,” he wrote. “In the near future—and sooner than most anticipate—there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

For manufacturers, retailers, and others that move business or consumer goods, a reallocation of capital will require tighter alignment between the CFO and supply chain leaders. This is already happening among the leading-edge CFOs I meet because they recognize the end-to-end supply chain is driving customer experience, profit performance, and working-capital improvements.

As more companies start reshaping strategy in response to climate change risk, this CFO/supply chain alignment will become more critical to achieving business and environmental goals. In fact, CFOs could find themselves being the heroes of the next decade’s climate-change success stories.

Assessing the payoff for climate change initiatives

CFOs will need to be front-and-center to assess climate change initiatives related to packaging, material handling, transportation, and logistics because changes in these areas tend to have widespread impact.

For example, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are feeling the most pressure from climate change activism right now. Packaging is a big target for waste reduction but switching container sizes or materials can have direct and indirect cost implications. There’s a change in direct costs for replacement packaging, but material handling and transportation costs also could shift because of weight, storage, handling requirements, and other relevant factors.

Another example is investment in technology systems. For instance, buying products that are sustainably sourced and handled is important to a lot of consumers, and trust is essential for companies that want to differentiate themselves on this point. New blockchain applications are enabling this verification down to a granular level. While an ideal investment from a marketing point of view, what will the impact be on logistics? Will shipments slow down or speed up? How will the change affect fulfillment and customer satisfaction?

Cloud applications and other advanced technologies have made it easier to conduct real-time analysis and identify upstream and downstream impacts from business decisions like these. Such decisions will require collaboration and ongoing discussions between finance and supply chain leaders to meet all business requirements successfully.

Supply chain health and environmental health are linked

Even if a company isn’t a leader in climate change-reduction efforts, improving supply chain performance will naturally make operations more environmentally sustainable. I’ve seen this over and over again in my decades of working in supply chain management.

Supply chain services and assets are expensive and don’t usually generate cash, so they’re a frequent target of cost reduction. The outcomes of these cost-reduction efforts reduce environmental impact because fewer miles are traveled, inventory replenishes more often and doesn’t become obsolete, and there’s less material waste in damaged goods and over-packaging.

This might be an obvious example, but when you think about on-the-horizon innovations, such as biofuels made from landfill waste and autonomous vehicle and aircraft deliveries, you can see how supply chains could become proactive enablers of reducing climate impact.

Another reason for CFOs to focus on supply chain when developing an impact-reduction strategy is it could help recruit supply chain talent. We’re experiencing a shortage of supply chain professionals across manufacturing, retail, logistics, and a range of other companies. Having a solid stake in climate change-reduction efforts could help attract limited talent, especially Millennials. A recent survey found that 75 percent of Millennials said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that is environmentally responsible. And nearly 40 percent said they have chosen one company over another in the past because their choice had a better environmental record.

Millennials will comprise three-quarters of the workforce within six years—so statistically, companies with stellar environmental practices will be a top position to recruit talent.

Finance and supply chain: Teaming up for sustainable operations

First and foremost, CFOs want to be good stewards of business assets. For many companies, the supply chain is central to value creation. So, it’s not surprising that CFOs at these companies are paying closer attention to their supply chains from a cost point of view.

Now, climate change is raising risk in ways that require a rethinking of how to grow and protect those assets. As markets begin to respond and shift, supply chain leaders and CFOs will find themselves facing the challenge together.



Future-proofing Your Supply Chain

February 21st, 2020

Disruptions abound in supply chain circles. Just consider any of the following recent events: the tariff war, global unrest, the Coronavirus, natural disasters such as the volcano in the Philippines, the Hong Kong protests and more.

We have never had a client that could claim that 100% of the extended supply chain (from suppliers’ suppliers to customers’ customers) was inside the U.S. So, we have to be prepared to navigate these types of disruptions and the related impacts.

Disruptions certainly go beyond your physical supply chain. What about your human capital, technologies (accompanied with processes) and strategies? Refer to our article on future-proofing your skills gap and assess which risks might be on the horizon in your industry.

When it comes to technologies, there is no doubt that emerging technologies are gaining steam and are starting to transform supply chains. Just consider the application of collaborative robots, automation, RPA (robotic process automation), artificial intelligence, IoT, blockchain, and predictive analytics to name a few. Big name companies are dropping big dollars into these technologies. When thinking about strategy, remember strategy is no longer a multi-year exercise. We must be thinking in terms of strategic sprints. Who knows what will happen beyond a year out!

Several high-level categories should be assessed as you think about your supply chain:

  1. Sourcing – Are you sourcing from China? Is this a viable path forward to source 100% from China? There are increased risk factors to consider. Listen to an interview I conducted with John Tulac, international business attorney, on future-proofing and doing business with China. It is time to reevaluate your supply chain footprint.
  2. Logistics – There are significant disruptors transforming this industry, ranging from e-commerce and the the Omni-channel to robotics, additive manufacturing and the digitization of the supply chain. If you aren’t incorporating these impacts in future-proofing your supply chain, you will be left in the dust. These are concepts of focus for the consortium for logistics success in the Inland Empire to enable companies to stay informed and keep up with the fast pace of change.
  3. Manufacturing – Industry 4.0 is transforming manufacturing and changing the landscape. It will be a pivotal year that separates the winners vs the losers as advances are made. See what the National Association of Manufacturers’ Leadership Council sees as critical issues
  4. Demand & Supply – There is no doubt, there is a keen interest by business owners, executives and private equity leaders on creating predictable demand and forecasting sales. The more we understand our demand plan, the better our operational performance, supplier performance and customer performance. Read about SIOP (sales, inventory, operations planning) and how it can help future-proof this area.
  5. Inventory – As the disruptions abound and executives fear a slow-down, the proactive management of inventory and advanced collaborative programs are gaining in relevance. Pick up some tips and strategies in our recent article ” Inventory Management as Fashionable as Automated Intelligence for Distributors” for ACHR News.
  6. Metrics & Predictive analytics – Keeping a pulse on performance should remain a top priority while forecasting what will be needed.

Getting ahead of the curve might be the only avenue to success. Consider creating a resilient supply chain and future-proofing your supply chain. Stay tuned and read more about it, and If you are interested in discussing a supply chain assessment, please contact us.

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Made in Vietnam

Forget About Reducing Inventory; Perhaps You Have the Wrong Supply Chain Strategy



Made in Vietnam?

January 19th, 2020

Vietnam has been the hot topic lately. After a visit recently, I saw first-hand the potential along with the challenges. Clients are definitely evaluating changing the source of supply to Vietnam. And the question is: should they? Or, alternatively, the question is: Are they moving fast enough?

Although there are infrastructure issues, the most successful clients are already ahead of the curve and seriously considering Vietnam. Of course, it is not best for all products and situations, just as China wasn’t best for all situations previously. If you are starting to see price increases in China and are concerned about the quality and reliability as China is struggling, it is definitely something to consider. Consider this fact – many Chinese companies are moving production to Vietnam.  Obviously there is something to be said for evaluating this source of supply.

Vietnam likes manufacturing and the United States. One of my proactive clients has been moving a significant portion of their supply from China to Vietnam over the last year. They started the process before the tariffs because they expected to save significantly with Vietnam production.  However, they really looked like heroes to their Board when they also beat the Chinese tariffs with the move.

This does NOT mean it will always make sense. We also have clients who outsourced to China a long time ago when it was the latest “fad”. In fact, the tide turned over the last several years.  The total cost of the product as well as the gains in customer satisfaction of sourcing closer to customer demand (typically in N.A.) makes a lot more sense.  Unfortunately for them, most of the companies in this situation haven’t changed supply yet due to capital and infrastructure costs and related efforts to move the source of supply. Yet it can be done. Our client reevaluated and started the transition to Vietnam. Recently, the tariffs are forcing several to re-think the China strategy, but is it “too late”? Are you going to wait for the next tariff scenario where you are on the defensive or are you gong to proactively reevaluate your entire strategy?

Certainly part of what you’ll need to evaluate is your working capital requirements. How does China compare with Vietnam? Both require an extended supply chain. Generally speaking, the longer lead times to cross the ocean carry working capital requirements. As customers become more demanding, you’ll need to consider inventory as a key component to your sourcing decisions. Pick up some tips and strategies in our recent article ” Inventory Management as Fashionable as Automated Intelligence for Distributors” for ACHR News.

Getting ahead of the curve might be the only avenue to success. When looking at China vs. Vietnam, it is quite clear that China is significantly larger and has far more manufacturing capability.  Yet, those early to Vietnam won’t have to worry about this particular issue.  And, of course Vietnam is racing to catch up.

Whether you have sourcing in China, Vietnam or neither, the underlying point is essential. Are you constantly revisiting your supply chain strategy? If not, you’ll likely be left following your competitors. Instead, consider future-proofing your manufacturing and supply chain business. Stay tuned and read more about it.

If you are interested in discussing a supply chain assessment, please contact us.

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