How many silos are still operating in your organization? If you work in supply chain, the answer is probably too many. With economic pressures in countless industries swirling rapidly, companies still using Excel and email as their main planning and communication tools are likely to be left adrift at sea. Adapting to a more effective and efficient way of running supply chains is the key to survival. But in order to navigate this tidal wave of change, you’re going to need a strong partner by your side. Ed Shepherdson, executive vice president of products and services operations at Kinaxis, recently sat down with Bob Ferrari of Supply Chain Matters to talk about the role of solutions providers, and where he feels the future of supply chain technology is headed. Spoiler alert—it doesn’t involve silos, Excel, or struggling to bail water out of a leaky boat! Change Management Ahoy! In their in-depth interview, Ed noted even those who recognize the need to change in terms of collaboration, extended visibility, and transparency, may not actually have the capacity to do so. At least not all at once. He says many companies simply can’t absorb the change management required to go from a one to a 10 on the process maturity scale in a single stroke. That’s where it becomes the responsibility of an organization’s supply chain management solution provider to help them out. Assuming of course they took that first required step and actually implemented some kind of technology other than mass quantities of spreadsheets! Hire a Coxswain, Not a Coach I tend to think of a good solution provider as being like a rowing team coach, sometimes also known as a crew team. The coach helps businesses successfully navigate through the interim stages to full process maturity by guiding them from the sidelines. A great supply chain solution provider is more like a coxswain. The coxswain is actually IN the boat with the team, steering, motivating, working directly with them to ensure everyone is in unison and headed in the right direction. Sometimes they even double as the coach. For companies struggling with change management and transforming their supply chain, this is far more valuable than someone trying to shout instructions from the shoreline. Build a Better Boat Another great point Ed made in the interview is even if companies are ready to move to a higher level of supply chain maturity from a change management perspective, they might not be from a technology standpoint. Do I need to mention again how Excel just won’t cut it at this stage? The Internet of Things (IoT) has allowed enormous opportunity to thread the physical aspects of the supply chain together. But with that comes a dramatic increase in potential for data overload. To prevent your entire supply chain process from going overboard, businesses need to make sure they have the technical capabilities in place to handle that amount of data, and manage the analytics that go along with it. Set Your Course Advances in machine-to-machine learning may help in making operational decisions based on all of these new streams of data, but as Ed explains, the pace of decision making is increasing, and supply chain teams need to understand the key factors related to those decisions. When it comes to predictive analytics, Ed believes that’s a future state, but one that will be upon us soon and help drive future decision making processes—and I would have to agree. Every company seems to have a data modelling standard completely unique to them, making uniformity a challenge. While industry standardization is on the horizon, there’s still a long ways to go in terms of deep analytics. And when it comes to the predictive variety, breaking down business silos is a must. You can’t predict anything if you can’t see the complete picture. Talk to your Crew He also explains the importance of contextual collaboration. The context surrounding a decision needs to be thorough, clear, and easily accessible for the decision-makers across the various teams. And firing off a quick email isn’t likely going to be the best solution. The social aspects of decision-making are vitally important, and you want to have the best mechanism possible for communication. Ideally, a supply chain management solution with these capabilities built-in is the wisest option, as it means users don’t need to leave the tool to bring others into the decision-making process. Chart the Stars For some larger, more traditional organizations, the future may appear a scary place. It’s entirely possible (and in my opinion highly probable) that the wave of change the supply chain industry is already facing is going to sweep us beyond some people’s comfort zones. When asked about the merger of supply chain planning and execution, Ed says that’s likely to happen, and the first step is to revolutionize planning. That will help pave the way for the eventual emergence of a network planner, someone who supports decision-making encompassing the entire end-to-end process, instead of supply planners, demand planners, inventory planners, etc. But to get there, there’s going to need to be a whole lot of knowledge and education highlighting where the industry can go, what that voyage looks like, and the benefits that can be realized. With the right tools, provided through a partnership with the right supply chain solution provider, you can chart the stars and map out your supply chain of the future, secure in the knowledge that you’ll get the support and course correction you need at every stage of the journey. If you’d like to learn more about Ed’s views on the future state of the supply chain, check out his entire interview here!