De-segregating the supply chain: Lessons learned in the air

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I remember while traveling last fall getting that dreaded alert we all hate see on our iPhones. “Flight Delayed” is how the first few words of the text message read. While travelers running late and those hoping to get free vouchers on overbook flights cheered, I went into a mode of figuring out quickly what the best course of action was for me to ensure I got where I needed to be. I was traveling from Northwest Arkansas airport (XNA) back home to Washington Reagan (DCA) and this alert put me into panic mode because I had to be at my home office for an important customer call the following day and knew there were limited flights available. My original plan had been to leave XNA in the afternoon, connect in Chicago, and arrive back at DCA in the late evening. Now, I had to figure out how to still make that possible. On my phone, I was able to open up the airline app to determine where all inbound airplanes were and whether they were on time. By tapping on flight statuses between my source and destination locations, I looked for other flight paths with different connecting cities to see if I had any alternatives. I was even able to view seat capacity to see if it was even feasible for me to get on those flights. I was able to look at any available hotels in the connecting cities in case I got stuck somewhere overnight and needed to take my customer call in the morning in that location before flying home. And best of all, I was able to quickly gauge pricing of all of those alternatives as I went through them. After about eight minutes of evaluating multiple scenarios, I was able to choose the best plan. Since that experience, I find myself always looking at my flights and inbound aircraft so I can know sooner if there is a potential issue with my plans. Luckily, I’ve gone a long time without any major delays (although I’m pretty sure I just jinxed myself with that statement!). It started to connect with me that travel in today’s day and age relates to many people’s approach to supply chain—both involve many moving parts. There’s supply of airplane seats, planes, and routes.  There’s a supply and demand of hotel rooms. There’s rental cars (and now Uber and Lyft). Thinking back to when I started my career as a supply chain consultant, the travel industry has come a long way with technology to support the traveler. And so has the supply chain. Thinking about my flight disruption between Northwest Arkansas and Washington Reagan, in the past I would have had to deal with multiple calls to airlines (while likely being on hold for a while) and then more calls to hotels to find an available room within the company budget. Back then, there was some technology available to help, but it still involved a lot of leg work to accomplish your travel goals. Today, any traveler can leverage their smart phone as a single solution with multiple applications to solve their initial problems and react faster when problems arise. The modular problem of the travel industry has been eliminated. So just as the module problem was eliminated within the travel industry, imagine a world where supply chain management has a similar type of solution. There have been modular solutions to solve for demand planning, supply planning, master production scheduling, inventory optimization, and sales and operations planning. Just like you had to make phone calls to multiple places to pick an airline and compare costs and times, those supply chain modules only solved a single problem at a time. They solved that single problem well, but over time, the travel industry, like the supply chain industry, has become more complex. Now travel suppliers are leveraging new platforms to build applications to help reduce costs and improve customer service for both the company and the customers. It is a win-win for all involved as they migrated to this new technology that operates as a single solution. Imagine what would happen if your demand planning, supply planning, capacity planning, and executive team were able to collaborate on a single solution in a similar manner as you leverage your smart phone for your travel. The supply chain industry has traditionally lagged behind travel in this respect, but advancing technology has finally allowed an opportunity to catch up. Eliminating a module approach to supply chain management entails using a single platform to connect your data, processes and people. It means fostering more collaborative communication, and providing a centralized and harmonized data hub to allow rapid scenario simulation in seconds. Just think about how much more effectively you’d be able to manage all those unexpected occurrences with a single solution that offered that type of functionality? You would be able to eliminate modules, de-segregate the supply chain, and improve your ability to execute change efficiency. And for all of those wondering what happened to my travel dilemma, it was a success as far as I was concerned. Within my eight minutes on my phone evaluating alternatives, I found an alternative flight from XNA to DCA that connected through Houston. I was able to execute my plan within a few minutes on the phone with the airline’s customer care, have my boarding passes updated directly on my iPhone and made it back home only 30 minutes after I had planned, at no additional cost!  All this helped me get a good night’s rest for my important customer meeting the next morning.

How do you cope with unexpected occurrences in your supply chain?  Comment back and let us know!

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