Category: System Pragmatist

The Resilient Supply Chain: Should We Invest in Technology

December 7th, 2018

In today’s Amazon-impacted, Uberian environment, technology opportunities abound!  Beyond ERP and related subsystems, there is IoT, blockchain, robotics, autonomous vehicles, predictive analytics and much more.  Should we invest or not?

Clearly, if we invest in every one of these opportunities, we could “go broke”. How do we decide? And, will it help us create a resilient supply chain?

 

The answer:  It depends!
Our best clients follow a similar process and answer the following questions:

  1.  What is the state of the industry?  What disruptors are likely to impact the industry?  What trends are occurring? Where do we see it going?
  2.  How do we stand in the industry?  How are we positioned?  What is our unique value proposition?  What differentiates us from the competition?
  3.  What is our technology/ IT infrastructure?  Does our ERP system support our current needs?  Does it support our growth? Is our ERP partner aligned with technology partners that can help in expanding our future technology capabilities?  The bottom line – where are we starting?
  4.  What is our vision?  Understanding where we want to go is relevant.  What will it take to achieve our vision? Do we know what people, processes, systems/ technologies and culture change will be required to attain our vision?
  5.  Is the technology required to achieve the vision? (given our competitive differentiators and changes occurring in the industry)  Adding technology that doesn’t support our vision might be exciting but doesn’t support the future whereas not investing in technology required to support our vision is also problematic.
  6.  What are the priorities?  If there are several technologies required to support progress, which are required first in terms of sequence (if relevant), which have the greatest impact, and which are urgent to meet a customer need or avoid a negative consequence?

The Bottom Line:
Don’t invest because everyone is investing.  Invest because it supports scalable, profitable growth.

 



The Resilient Supply Chain: Are You the Disrupted or the Disruptor?

November 1st, 2018

At the Association for Supply Chain Management’s (ASCM/APICS) International Conference, almost every presenter mentioned disruption.  It is prevalent in today’s Amazonian, technology-ridden environment.  

Similarly, after attending APICS, I flew to lead the annual meeting for the Society for the Advancement of Consulting. During the first lunch, my colleagues spent the entire time discussing disruption.  One (a former Apple executive) lives it daily and coaches executives on disruption.  Another is a leadership expert who sees the significance and is writing a book on disruptors.  Interesting!

In the interim, we have dealt with a few client challenges – guess what?  You got it. They relate to disruption! And last but not least, the next leg of my trip was entirely about disruption.  Technology has the potential to vastly impact manufacturing and distribution jobs, so it makes a lot of sense to find a proactive approach instead of playing the victim.  

According to a proactive CPA partner, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to transform the industry.  According to a healthcare expert, it has vast potential to disrupt the healthcare industry. Gartner thinks 33% of all occupations will be performed by smart robots by 2025.  Forrester Research says AI will take over up to 16% of jobs in the U.S. And, if that wasn’t shocking enough, Google thinks                                                                     robots will achieve human intelligence levels by 2029.  

So, do you want to be the disrupted or the disruptor? We choose disruptor!

Since I had lunch with two disruption experts, I asked the critical question:  Can we learn to become a disruptor? The great news is that it is possible! Start paying attention to disruptors.  What do they do differently? What would you like to emulate? You don’t have to do exactly what they do. Find your own path but look for commonalities.  One of our colleagues is writing a book on this exact subject. When it comes out, we’ll pass it along.

In the interim, start asking a few questions….

 



The Resilient Supply Chain: Are You Prepared for AI & Automation?

October 6th, 2018

Will artificial intelligence and automation impact your industry?  Most likely the answer is yes. 

The only question is how. At the very minimum, you should be paying attention so you can make sure you are taking potential advancements into account in your strategy.  

In the accounting industry, AI has the opportunity to transform and automate a significant number of jobs.   Manufacturing has already been impacted by automation. Of course, it is likely to continue to evolve and it has the potential to transform the logistics industry. 

Here are a few potential applications:

  1.  Instructions – Artificial intelligence certainly seems to come in handy when it comes to fixing issues and reviewing instructions.   
  2.  E-Commerce – AI certainly helps to find like-products and complimentary products when purchasing through an e-commerce portal.   
  3.  Intelligent Virtual Assistant – AI can learn how you respond to tasks and requests and answer for you with repeatable and mundane tasks.
  4.  HR Recruiting – Although arguably not as good as an excellent recruiter, AI can find qualified candidates and eliminate legwork in the recruiting task.
  5.  Autonomous Vehicles– Starting within the plant and expanding to trucks and elsewhere, autonomous vehicles are being used to increase efficiencies and reduce risks.
  6.  Robotic Picking Systems – This is one of the largest risks in current logistics operations.  Just as manufacturing has been automating, so will logistics operations. It will be a ‘win’ for costs, efficiencies and speed.  Are you prepared?
  7.  Maintenance – Why go through the long and arduous “old school” view of preventative maintenance when you can look at data and predict exactly what needs to be maintained before it breaks down?
  8.  Customer Demand – The better data on customer demand, the better the entire supply chain can run – quick, efficient and low cost.  
  9.  Repetitive Tasks – Anything that is repetitive is a good candidate to automate.  It will be more repeatable with more consistent quality and at a lower cost.  Are you looking for opportunities?

Look beyond what will directly impact your company.  Review impacts to your end-to-end supply chain. What is likely to disrupt your customers?  How about your suppliers? What can you do to get in front of it?  Thinking ahead and taking action could provide set you apart and provide you with significant opportunity.

 



Technologies: Paying Attention to What is Important

September 6th, 2018

There are so many new technologies and combinations of technologies, it is extremely hard to keep up.  How do you know which to pay attention to and which to ignore? Unfortunately, some clients have told us they get overwhelmed by it all and just go back to what they are expert in (running the business) and postpone the technology decision.

As much as we find that technology is NOT #1 to success, achieving scalable, profitable growth without technology is an uphill battle to be sure!  We also find some technology enthusiasts who get so bogged down in technology as the “be all, end all” to success that they actually struggle. Instead of either of these extremes, use a bit of uncommon common sense and determine which technologies are important.  A few points to consider:

  1.  Your Industry:  There is no point being an early adopter if unnecessary in your industry unless it is your competitive advantage.  Where is your industry headed? What would provide a benefit?
  2.  Your Position:  If your competitive edge is being on the forefront of delivering an exceptional customer experience, you better figure out what you need to succeed in this differentiator.  If this is the case, we bet you would need to invest in technology that would enable a superior customer experience. But it is unlikely you’d need other technology advances.
  3.  Return on Investment: As exciting as new technology can be, it pays to ensure you’ll gain an ROI.  Go through the exercise to determine if technology will enable growth, profitability, cash flow or another bottom line benefit.
  4.  Your Current State: A few of our clients have been in a position where they were limited in growth prospects without enabling technology.  Of course, they could grow by brute force with a stellar sales and marketing team; however, to grow in a scalable way, they will need to leverage technology instead of hiring just to ‘keep up’ with growth.
  5.  Your Strengths:  As with most priorities, focus on your strengths.   It can be tempting to “keep up with the Joneses” and buy the latest and greatest technology you think your competition is using.  However, instead of throwing good money after bad, think about your company’s strengths, your teams’ strengths and what makes the most sense to align those strengths with customer requirements.

In today’s Amazon impacted environment, evaluating technology to best support your business objectives is a “must”.  As much as can be accomplished through people and process alone, you will not thrive without at least thinking about technology.  

You want to be aware of what’s coming down the pike in terms of technology before you head over the edge in complete denial with your typewriter in hand.  After all, who would have thought network TV would trend towards becoming obsolete?



Are Your Ready for a Systems Transformation?

August 12th, 2018

The topic of Systems Transformation seems to be arising more frequently lately.  How do you know if it is time to consider a systems transformation?

Let’s start by defining a systems transformation.  In essence, a systems transformation is an upgrade to the way you perform business – inclusive of your people (allocation of resources, skillsets, etc.), processes, systems and information flows/ collaboration partners.  

Although there is never a bad time in terms of elevating your business performance, the investment and disruption might not be ‘worth it’.   In other words, does the return on investment make it the ‘right’ time?  

Here are questions to ponder in answering that question:

  1.  What are your growth plans? – If you are performing well and growth is slow, you are unlikely to require a systems transformation.  However, if you expect solid levels of growth, you’ll need one. There are two reasons: 1) Even if you are providing an exceptional customer experience currently, to maintain that with growth is a different ballgame.  2) As you grow, if you don’t want to add people to support each new level of growth, you’ll need to devise systems to grow in a scalable, profitable way.
  2. Will your margin levels sustain your business needs?  – Of course, no one would complain about increasing margin.  However, the key question is what has to be done to achieve the result?  Take a look at whether your profitability and margin levels are sufficient to satisfy stock price expectations, investor needs, reinvestment plans, business valuation goals etc.  We have run across “cash cow” businesses that yield enough profit for the owner’s lifestyle and objectives. There might not be a reason to invest in an upgrade. After all, there is risk and disruption with every activity of this magnitude.
  3.  What are your customers’ expectations? – No matter your growth and profitability, if your customers’ expectations are changing or increasing (as they often are in today’s Amazonian environment), the key question is whether you’ll be able to meet them with your current setup.  We see that it can go either way – depends on the industry, your customers, the marketplace etc.
  4. What are your employees expectations and capabilities?  – Will your employees stick with you if everything remains status quo.  This can completely depend on your employees. We have run across people who prefer “what works” and are quite happy not to upset the apple cart.  On the other hand, we have also seen many job seekers look for new opportunities because the executives weren’t interested in growth – the company’s or the employee’s.  It is important to think through what will happen. If you choose the status quo and your employees don’t align, it might force you into a different strategy, and you’ll be worse off for not thinking proactively.

On another note, if you don’t have employees capable of leading a systems transformation, you will need to shore up your team.  Certainly you can supplement with short-term resources to fill in gaps and consultants to advise on skills not required over the long-term but you might also need to fill in gaps within your team.  Don’t overlook this critical component but also don’t let it deter you from making the leap.

  1.  Do you have the funds?  This is the one that deters most executives.  It is quite tempting to hold off until later when it seems like it is a ‘better time’.  However, are you defining better time as one when you feel better or one as defined by the questions above?  As my consulting mentor says, there is always money. It is a matter of priority. Recently, we ran into a client that has never borrowed money.  It can be a smart and prudent strategy if it supports your business objectives. However, the CEO was questioning whether he should continue this strategy.  If it is the ‘right time’ for an upgrade and it will provide a return on investment over the long-term, he should absolutely borrow to fund the near-term investment to gain the value down-the-line.  

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should dig a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to fund your systems transformation.  We have seen many executives accidentally throw money out the window when it wasn’t the best timing or get carried away and spend ‘too much’.  In these cases, you might never recover from your upgrade! Gain advice from experts with an eye to return on investment. Keep in mind that taking prudent risk will be required!