Welcome, fellow supply chain enthusiasts! As Chief Marketing and Industry Officer at Nulogy, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I love all things supply chain. Sure, it’s a fast-moving industry and change is constant, but I’m always up for new challenges and even more so when solving them means I also get to help others and travel the world in the process.
Lately, I’ve been deep in self-reflection. A new year is always a new opportunity to check in with ourselves, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and set goals to take our operations to new heights. While thinking on what 2024 has to offer, I keep turning back to a webinar I moderated in June 2023 on one of my favorite topics: supply chain synchronization and multi-enterprise collaboration.
The webinar was a highlight of 2023 for me, in part because I always welcome an opportunity to connect with esteemed industry experts, but also because many of the supply chain challenges of the last year will persist into 2024 – and can be solved with the strategies we discussed. Joining me for the discussion were three seasoned supply chain pros:
- Gregory Clark, Senior Director of Strategy and Product Development at DHL Supply Chain North America
- Karin Bursa, Host of the TEKTOK Digital Supply Chain Podcast and former Chief Marketing Officer & Executive Vice President at Logility
Here are some highlights of our discussion, including key challenges, solutions, and opportunities within the supply chain landscape in a digital era.
1. The Evolution of Supply Chain Collaboration: From a Tactical to “Let the Expert be the Expert” Approach
You may not be surprised to learn that the supply chain industry has already shifted from internal capability building to a collaborative environment. I find this concept particularly interesting because we tend to talk about the supply chain as a single, sprawling entity when, in reality, it’s composed of thousands, if not millions, of smaller networks that depend on one another to facilitate global trade and keep goods flowing into the hands of producers and customers.
Instead of separate entities making decisions in isolation as was once the status quo, players are now leveraging digital technologies to form an interconnected network of partners who make decisions collaboratively with the end-user in mind.
Digital technologies have leapt years forward in a small span of time, making collaboration an actual practice versus an idealistic concept that once felt out of reach. One of our panelists pointed out that most manufacturers outsource at least 2% to 5% of their supply network, and some of them as much as 80% or 90%. How significant is that? And when a brand manufacturer’s external supply chain is doing it correctly, the consumer has no idea because the consumer’s product experience feels seamless and consistent.
Striking the right balance between outsourcing to invest into dedicated solutions and leveraging existing networks is important to remember, though. The future may continue to see a mix of the two to ensure higher service levels and resource allocation. We talked about that a bit more in the “Crawl, Walk, Run” discussion a little later on.
2. Digitalizing Supplier Operations: Leveraging Efficiency, Profitability, and Customer Responsiveness
Today, information is moving at a much faster pace and leveraging the right technology to enhance supply chain operations is key. Some of us may remember the days of quarterly business reviews or maybe monthly update meetings, but now? The information delivered in those meetings is stale and obsolete; we’ve got partners calling or direct messaging because they’re looking at a dashboard that’s just been updated in real time and are in need of quick action. It’s the difference between what used to be a forecasted demand but is now real time order demand that must be fulfilled. That’s where flexibility and agility come in – a supply chain can’t survive without it!
To keep the balls juggling expertly in the air, our industry experts stressed how vital digitalization is, specifically focusing on how purpose-built software, such as that provided by Nulogy, enhances efficiency, profitability, and customer engagement for supply chain operations. The importance of aspects such as real-time data capture to battle short lead times, avoiding of queue build up, and optimizing end-to-end co-packing workflows was emphasized, calling attention to the shift from manual, non-scalable processes to data-driven operations.
To maintain the supply and demand of current times and to enhance operations, supply chains need to be in lockstep with their customers through the entire process, making sure to integrate software that provides the “one handshake” experience to consumers and vendors alike.
3. Generative AI and the Future of Supply Chain Technologies
What’s a webinar these days if it doesn’t explore the world of artificial intelligence (AI), right? While machine learning and AI have been integral to supply chain processes for decades, we touched on the fact that the interface and response speeds are evolving- and they’re evolving fast! It was interesting to hear the speakers’ takes on these concepts, which highlighted the potential of generative AI in accelerating decision-making processes and boosting confidence through immediate responses.
We agreed that while it’s undeniably true supply chain networks are an ever-evolving landscape, the “Crawl-Walk-Run” approach to digitalization is a solid strategy to follow, and shared practical advice for manufacturers everywhere: leverage current systems and technology before investing into new systems.
The Crawl Phase
In the crawl phase, manufacturers are encouraged to closely examine their current systems in order to identify untapped potential from what already exists. It’s here that creating a compelling vision of what the future could look like, is instrumental. How can we scale in a way that’s feasible? Where are there gaps in the process? What could we be doing better?
The Walk Phase
This is where quick wins are often found, and adopting a problem-focused approach can help you find them. We highlighted the importance of these quick wins in the digitalization journey, emphasizing that solutions should be driven by existing challenges.
This is a phase of discomfort, as it may involve getting people to move away from existing tools and processes that they’re used to. Often those systems haven’t outrightly failed them but have performed poorly, and as such, it’s important to create a compelling case for change while keeping them interested and motivated.
The Run Phase
The run phase represents a more advanced stage of digitalization, where organizations aim for comprehensive and transformative changes that create harmonization and higher visibility to data. The advice from the webinar, particularly regarding the elimination of reliance on spreadsheets, aligns with the run phase.
This stage involves a more holistic approach to digitalization, where organizations may invest in new tools, technologies, and infrastructure to achieve a fully optimized and digitalized state. The run phase is the final step into digitization after all other avenues have been optimized and it’s the phase that builds true business intelligence at the highest level.
Achieving a Future of Agile, Connected, and Efficient Supply Chains
The ASCM webinar reviewed the complexities and opportunities within the co-packing landscape. The journey from historical collaboration models to a collaborative ecosystem, the impact of digitalization on efficiency and customer responsiveness, and the powerful potential of generative AI collectively paint a picture of a co-packing future that is agile, connected, and efficient.
As supply chain operations navigate the challenges and embrace the opportunities presented by digitalization and evolving supply chain dynamics, the key lies in adaptability, collaboration, and a conscious approach to leveraging technology. The insights shared in this overview serve as a compass, guiding our industry towards a future where innovation, efficiency, and customer-focus are at the forefront of operations. I’m looking forward to seeing how our industry continues to grow and building resilience in 2024 and beyond!
For more insights on leveraging data and connectivity in supply chain, watch the full ASCM webinar, Robust Supplier Collaboration through Digitalized Ecosystems.