I have been a dedicated long-distance runner for over a decade, completing multiple marathons. In 2019, I decided to train for my first ultra-marathon, a 50K taking place in the mountains behind my hometown in Oregon. An ultra-marathon is any distance over the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles (or approximately 42 kilometers). Preparation is fundamental when getting ready for an endurance event undertaking like a marathon, let alone a 50K. Most runners are unable to fake training for an endurance race. There is no way an unprepared runner can show up and successfully finish a 50K.
In my career shepherding supply chain and digital transformations, I have observed that enterprise software programs are comparable to endurance running. You cannot run a 50K without laying the foundation for endurance, having a specific goal in mind and training plan in place for how to get to the starting line. For my first 50K, my goal was to finish in under seven hours and my training plan was to slowly increase my weekly running mileage by 10 percent with long runs on both Saturday and Sunday. Similarly, digital transformations require a solid organizational structure and groundwork, a clear focus on value, a thought-out vision and an investment in the people doing the work of transformation.
Create a plan for successful transformation
It is one thing to choose a vendor to enable your digital transformation, but it is another effort entirely to implement the software. Often the software solution becomes the panacea – organizations wrongly place too much emphasis on technology to solve the problems that ail their business. To draw a parallel to marathon training, simply running will set you up for injury. To stay healthy, you need to incorporate a strength routine, consider nutrition, stretching, recovery and even sleep.
Digital transformations are similar in that technology is only one element. The traditional elements of people, process, technology, and data continue to be relevant to digital transformations. A chemical manufacturing company recently embarked on what I’ll call a technology-led digital transformation. The organization expected somewhat miraculous results without first rooting in the basics of transformation.
One of the fundamentals of successful digital transformations is to focus on value and not on cost, often the end goal. Digital transformations are significant investments, and the long-term objectives must emphasize business outcomes. It is important for organizations to celebrate cost reduction but focusing on the value provided must be paramount.
When it comes to longevity, resilience is key
As consultants, we have a front row seat to supply chain trends across our broad customer base. One of the key observations brought on in the last year by the COVID-19 pandemic is that resiliency is now superseding cost efficiency in supply chains. What appealed to be me about finishing a 50K was that I needed to be resilient, not a fast runner, to finish. I needed to be able to withstand the long hours of running and recover quickly after brief periods of rest and fuel.
The most successful digital transformations focus on delivering value aligned to well-defined business objectives. These objectives are evolving away from traditional drivers, such as working capital reduction, and into satisfying changing customer demands consistently and reliably delivering on customer promises even as supply availability changes. These shifts represent ties to larger business objectives, such as building a more resilient supply chain that can better respond to unexpected changes.
As with training for an endurance race, having a plan and following it to get the challenging work done in a digital transformation is critical. Be realistic about what you can accomplish as an organization within defined time periods. Successful organizations clearly define a time-boxed roadmap for their digital transformations and thoughtfully execute against it. Another customer wanted to satisfy demand while balancing inventory utilization and operational efficiency. The focus first was on demand planning in U.S. and Europe, where the primary goal was to satisfy customer demand on-time and in-full. The next stage was supply planning, where the objective was to satisfy customer demand with optimized capacity utilization and inventory levels. The final phase focused on stabilization of their digital environment. This customer wisely did not try to accomplish their objectives overnight.
Transform your supply chain and your people
Planning is hard work. It can be tedious, time consuming and detailed. Supply chain leaders often mention that their people are focused on manual, low-value tasks to clean and manipulate data, and by the time results are published for decision making, they are already outdated. Instead there is desire to refocus their managers and planners on high-value, data-enabled decisions to solve the most salient of challenges in their supply chains. Recent disruptions from storms destroying oil rigs in the gulf, shipping delays due to COVID-19 and the ever-rising power of the consumer further heighten the importance of transforming your people into a digital workforce.
Believing you can finish a marathon is foundational and critical to anyone completing an endurance race. Changing the skills of your workforce takes an analogous mentality. Planners have a desire to change and can envision a day-to-day where they are not constantly hindered by disconnected systems giving them delayed information. Digital transformations are like marathons – they take time, require investment in people, and a relentless focus on value. When you cross the finish line of a digital transformation, it is a tremendous achievement for the people involved and the company.
Ready to build your plan for digital transformation? Explore more of our transformation resources to get started.