Why this is a great time to be a supply chain professional

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“Long time bud! Hope all is well” … It was great to hear Tim’s voice after all these years. Tim started his career in supply chain management along with me. After about a decade, he took a different path and branched off from SCM. Thanks to Facebook and Linkedin, we stayed in touch but haven’t talked to each other in a while. But now, out of the blue, he calls me as I was driving home. After exchanging pleasantries, Tim said he is considering pivoting back into supply chain and wanted my opinion on if the timing is right. I told him the timing cannot be any better and gave him my reasons as follows:

1. New supply chain challenges creating new opportunities: Fundamental shifts in technology are remaking supply chains as we know them, bringing together the digital and physical worlds. Here are some examples:

a) 3-D printing is shifting manufacturing to the point of consumption b) Drone technologies and driverless cars/trucks are expected to revolutionize logistics as we know them. Transportation speeds like never imagined before (think Hyperloop) will be feasible in our lifetime and will shrink lead times significantly c) Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling proactive asset monitoring and risk mitigation along with precise inventory location tracking d) Voice and Image recognition, Augmented Reality are reshaping warehouses and Stores as we know them

While this is happening, the business environment is getting more complex and volatile due to rising omnichannel shopping, increasing SKU counts to meet the needs of empowered consumers, dynamic pricing, and personalized promotions, and not to mention geopolitical uncertainties. This is creating an environment wherein the profile of supply chain professionals is rising as boards and CEOs realize that supply chain is a core strategic asset to meet these challenges and supply chain risk management is a must. Chief Supply Chain Officer is now an executive position in more and more organizations.

2. Rise of “Real-time ready” SCM technologies: The above trends are forcing the organizations to rethink the ERP and SCM technologies they put in place over the years. These technologies served organizations well in making progress in individual functional areas. However, they are coming up short with their batch oriented planning, wherein “real-time visibility” is quickly becoming the need of the hour due to the challenges highlighted in #1 above. Two types of real-time supply chain technologies are gaining significant traction:

a) Big data and Machine learning driven events processing technologies listening into external events, social conversations, beacons, and such, digesting the information thus gathered, and elevating supply chain opportunities and risks in near real time b) In-memory technologies with near real-time always-on planning with end-to-end supply chain visibility and collaboration are collapsing the boundaries between planning and execution as we know them, spelling an end to batch oriented, waterfall like planning and execution

While the organizations are realizing the limitations of their ERP and SCM investments, many are not ready to rip and replace their years of investments. Hence, these “Real-Time Ready” technologies are designed to coexist and build upon the current customer investments and deliver value quickly. This is creating many exciting growth opportunities for thought leading companies producing or leveraging these new generation technologies. This means more exciting opportunities for SCM professionals in both industry and technology domains.

3. Increasing pace of innovation through newer delivery models: Enterprise software that was traditionally installed, configured, and implemented behind the firewall resulted in a large amount of “shelf ware”. This was partly due to conflicting priorities on IT organizations wherein projects got deprioritized resulting in shelved software, and partly due to software vendors offering incentives towards bulk purchase of these modules which take years of implementation. This resulted in a significant gap between the capabilities vendors introduced to the market and the consumption of the same by the user community.

However, “pay as you go” SaaS based delivery models are enabling companies to consume software in bite sizes and immediately start deriving value. SaaS delivery model is also easing the pain associated with upgrades. This goes a long way in ensuring user satisfaction. Satisfied users will demand and consume more innovation perpetuating a positive reinforcement cycle. This creates tremendous opportunities for supply chain professionals, especially those who like to explore newer frontiers.

I am in this business to grow professionally and benefit tremendously from such growth. With so much change in the field of SCM, I am finding that the opportunities to learn and grow are tremendous. As lower ends of the SCM centered on functional planning get commoditized, the opportunity for value creation is migrating towards those who can connect the dots across the entire the value chain and do so in real time. This provides tremendous career opportunities for the intellectually curious SCM professionals. However, we as supply chain professionals need to acknowledge that such opportunity will also come with the responsibility of creating sustainable value for the user community, as opposed to riding the waves of the latest hype. With my destination in sight, I ended my conversation with Tim on a very bullish note. Tim has the intellectual curiosity to learn and reinvent himself. He has done it before. I am sure he will do it again. With so much happening, the future belongs to the likes of him!

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