Unfiltered Insights: Why You Should Break Up With Spreadsheets

In the inaugural episode of Supply Chain Unfiltered, Nulogy’s Christine Barnhart is joined by NIRAKIO CEO Karin Bursa to discuss the current supply chain landscape, interoperability and why it’s time to break up with spreadsheets.

Christine Barnhart, Chief Marketing & Industry Officer at Nulogy
WRITTEN BY Christine Barnhart

Welcome to your digital backstage pass into Supply Chain Unfiltered, a new live series hosted by none other than yours truly. I’ve been on my own personal supply chain journey for more than 20 years and, although there have certainly been some twists and turns along the way, there have been a lot more peaks – and the launch of Nulogy’s new live series is definitely one of the highest yet!

Anyone who has spent 10 minutes with me will tell you that I have the gift of gab, and I think that’s a subtle way of saying that I know my mind and am not afraid to tell it how it is. This is especially true when supply chain topics are on the table because sugarcoating things doesn’t help anyone. What our industry really needs are raw, unfiltered insights that will help untangle even the most complex supply chain challenges. 

That’s just what I intend to deliver with the support of my esteemed industry experts and special guests on Supply Chain Unfiltered, taking place the third Wednesday of every month on LinkedIn Live. I’d also like to give a huge shout out to my dear friend Sarah-Barnes Humphrey and her team at the Let’s Talk Supply Chain podcast for producing the series and making one of my lifelong dreams come true. Thank you for your support!

An introduction to Karin Bursa

Our first episode was amazing because I had the opportunity to welcome Karin L. Bursa of NIRAKIO. As CEO, strategic advisor, Fractional Chief Marketing Officer and a podcast host with more than 25 years of experience helping companies leverage supply chain technology, Karin wears many hats but my very favorite may surprise you: Mentor!

Welcome to Supply Chain Unfiltered 🎉

I met Karin in 2015 during an implementation project for an advanced planning system and, honestly, might not be where I am today without her support. If you’ve tuned into my other recent blog posts and podcasts, you know I’m a huge fan of women lifting each other up and self-advocacy. Sometimes we don’t realize our dreams, or know how to reach them, until we see someone else out there doing their thing, and that’s what meeting Karin did for me. 

I was a practitioner working in operations at the time and wanted to support the industry in a bigger way. After seeing how Karin helped companies utilize supply chain technology to automate, boost visibility and accelerate the movement of goods, I was hooked! The rest is history.

Having the opportunity to chat with Karin as my first guest on Supply Chain Unfiltered was like bringing my journey full circle in the absolute best way. It’s safe to say that we’re still as like-minded as ever, and I love swapping ideas with her just as much now as I did back in 2015. Here’s what we discussed:

Keeping up with ever-evolving supply chains

Supply chain has changed a lot over the last 20, 10, or even five years. When Karin and I got into the industry, the geopolitical climate was stable, geographic expansion was encouraged and it was easy to source production and procurement to countries like Mexico and China. Nowadays, the opposite is true and companies are dealing with emerging forms of disruption such as climate-induced logistical issues like hurricanes and tsunamis, labor shortages, regulatory constraints and complex partner networks. 

Karin likened supply chains to living, breathing things that need to be able to change over time. Is your business agile enough to keep up? For most companies, the answer is “no.” Just 6% report full visibility into their supply chains and one reason for this is that companies continue to rely on yesterday’s tools to solve today’s challenges. 

I’m talking about your spreadsheets. It’s time to let go. What may have worked 20 years ago simply won’t cut it today and modern businesses need to replace these error-prone, resource-intensive processes with technology that makes it easy to onboard new suppliers, evaluate shipping options and move demand in real time. 

There’s a place for ERPs, but it isn’t supply chain planning

Are you using systems that are purpose-built for external supply chain collaboration and other related processes? If you still rely on spreadsheets—probably not. The same goes for enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, digital or paper-based. That’s not to say ERPs aren’t valuable and necessary; they certainly are, but we recommend applying them to the areas of the business for which they were designed. 

ERPs were primarily built for accounting functions and, in the vein of staying true to my unfiltered promise, there’s a good chance yours isn’t even great at that. Sure, it can show the state of your business today, but can it accurately predict next year’s budgeting? Why would it be better at demand forecasting or production or inventory planning? 

The good news is that there are solutions purpose built for supply chain planning today. These solutions, like ERPs, are not one size fits all, but they’re designed to support specific functions such as managing inventory, production, planning, sourcing and distribution. This is also very important because, as you know, supply chains have evolved into sprawling networks. Your supply chain doesn’t begin or end with the proverbial four walls of your enterprise, especially when, in some industries, 30% of finished goods are now being produced by third parties. 

What is interoperability and why does it matter?

In my personal experience, I’ve found that people tend to use the terms “interoperability” and “integration” interchangeably. They are related and both are important, but the difference is significant. As Karin explained, interoperability used to be called collaboration, and basically meant bringing every part of your supply chain network – suppliers, customers and trading partners – into the planning process. The goal is to achieve end-to-end visibility and improved accuracy. 

Interoperability and integration both involve data exchange, but the ability to interpret that information is a key differentiator. Electronic data interchange (EDI) was really cool 20 years ago, but it’s increasingly being replaced with multi-enterprise solutions that make it easy for companies to synchronize and respond to customer demand in an orchestrated fashion. I shared a really great analogy involving my kitchen during our conversation, but I don’t want to spoil the fun – you’ll have to tune into the replay for the full scoop. 

A big shout out to Supply Chain Unfiltered’s loyal listeners

One of the best things about our LinkedIn Live format is that anyone and everyone is welcome to join in through the live chat feature. I was pumped to see so many listeners asking questions and commenting throughout the discussion, and wanted to highlight a couple of my favorite points. 

Lars from Stockholm mentioned that one of the biggest ERP challenges is the shift in mindset from a linear structure to a network. Love this! Think of it like spaghetti. Your supply chain is so much more than just your enterprise: it’s suppliers, co-packers, contract manufacturers, and so on. If you think too linearly, parts are going to be left out. Instead, you have to embrace the whole dish and ensure all parties are on the same sheet of music. 

We also touched on the beloved (or not so much!) beer game: an educational exercise that illustrates the complexity of supply chain planning. One user likened our conversation to “moving the beer game from learning to reality,” and Karin and I both liked that because, with today’s cloud-based solutions, you can accelerate decision-making and finally have time for that mug of beer after work!

Can’t get enough of my unfiltered insights? Join me every third Wednesday of the month for a new episode of Supply Chain Unfiltered, and mark your calendars now because Nulogy CEO Jason Tham will be joining me on March 20th! 

Industry Food & Beverage More
Case Study Colgate-Palmolive More
Blog Post xChange 2023: 3 Ways to Harmonize Supply Chains for Success More
Blog Post Women in the Supply Chain: Building a Tribe of Support and Growth  More