Isolation can be lonely. It’s time for more connection.

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It's time for a more connected futureIsolation can be lonely. Whether you’ve been in some form of isolation for months, weeks or even days, the state in which we find ourselves of late can feel very lonely.  Sure, our “co-workers” are isolated like us, making the occasional unexpected appearance on a Zoom call in less than appropriate attire. And our friends and colleagues reach out through phone and video to keep in touch, share ideas or agree on a business decision.

Yet, even with these scattered interactions, we are becoming accustomed to making many of our business and life decisions within our own little bubbles, without much awareness or appreciation for how our choices will impact or influence our “circles.” This is the new normal we are adapting to — and quickly.  We’ve had no choice.  

In our personal lives, we may find it harder to stay focused or keep things structured in the new world order. So, we make more phone calls, text more frequently and try to set up small, socially distant gatherings when we can to combat the isolation blues.  

In our business lives, however — particularly within supply chain operations — when these islands of isolation exist, the results threaten the performance of the entire company.

Think about the concept of a silo in an agricultural setting. These large containers can house thousands, or hundreds-of-thousands, of pounds of grain in one place at a time, making it easy to move massive amounts of product in one fell swoop.  While this may be smart for the farmer, farmers still need the means to communicate with transportation plants, and transportation plants need to communicate with the end consumer for the process to work. There are multiple decisions required along each of these steps. To optimize the sequence while accounting for uncertainties, it’s essential to utilize analytics, insights and the means to connect the players across the process to drive speed, agility and accuracy.  

Similar to an enterprise supply chain, silos in business are often to blame for creating inefficiencies, cost overages or greater risk across the business.  Many of these challenges occur because today’s supply chain operations are structured vertically versus horizontally.  They don’t have the means to share or align information or goals across the functions within the supply chain, thereby inhibiting the transparency and resiliency that is key to making the fast, well-informed decisions that enable success in today’s ever-changing landscape.

Tapping crowd wisdom and connectivity to empower the supply chain

For many years, researchers have looked at the quality of people’s decisions and how those decisions might be improved if they are paired with the decisions or opinions of others. Thus, the “wisdom of the crowds” phenomenon was born, with the goal of demonstrating “the effectiveness of combining multiple opinions for numerical judgments about matters of fact.” A recent study from Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America, found the averages of individual estimates (i.e., “crowds”) can outperform the average individual in that crowd. The accuracy gains are most dramatic for small crowds; averaging one’s own estimate with just two other people’s estimates can decrease error by over 30 percent.

This same concept can hold true in a supply chain environment.  In a supply chain that is completely connected and always in sync — sharing information, objectives and opinions across departments on an ongoing basis — the gap can be bridged between planning and execution. So, when a plan in one area changes, everyone else across the supply chain immediately sees the impact and can course correct on the spot with accuracy. Thus, a connected supply chain can better leverage the wisdom of the crowd from the employees across your organization, helping you cut through uncertainty and deliver on your promises.

Reaping the benefits of a more connected future

When we are feeling lonely in our personal lives — and many of us are, given the swift shock to our normal social system — we take measures to remedy the problem. We try to stay more connected with our friends and loved ones through any means possible. Thankfully technology, community groups and our own eagerness to remain socially engaged are helping us do so more frequently and meaningfully.  Despite physical distance, these connections can prove to not only combat our feelings of being alone, but can also create awareness of the importance of human interaction, regardless of the method.

It’s time we do the same across the supply chain because shocks to the supply system are not something we want to encounter in the future.

Moving forward, unforeseen changes to any business model should call for cooperation, not isolation. Bring communities and operations together to create a bigger picture of your supply chain, with cross-functional, silo-free collaboration. Implement the right platforms that are scalable and deliver the capabilities you need to grow and succeed. Use data and analytics to drive decision-making and improvements in real time. These steps will not only help to ensure proper and agile execution but will also begin paving the path for a more connected, more predictable and less lonely future.

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