Supply Chain Talent: Needle in the Haystack

This article is from Akhilesh Pandey. He is General Manager of GitaCloud India.

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Given the blurring of boundary between Supply Chain business expertise and Supply Chain technology expertise, it is not a surprise that many organizations are facing challenges in filling up open positions in their Supply Chain function currently and for the foreseeable future. Digital transformation enabled by IOT and multi-enterprise Supply Chain Operating Networks of tomorrow will make this Supply Chain talent gap even wider. This is the number one concern for most supply chain executives: talent that can learn new platforms & capabilities fast and be able to consistently deliver context-independent insights from a diverse set of data sources. New technology mastery and ability to find needles in big haystacks are necessary but not sufficient going forward for the Supply Chain talent in winning organizations.

I started my career as a Supply Planner in an Oil & Gas enterprise in 1998 in India. Back then, it was easy to delight my superiors as the environment I was in was had only a rudimentary understanding and usage of supply chain management technologies. I created sophisticated spreadsheets to perform Demand Planning, Supply Planning and Transportation Planning - all in Microsoft Excel. Given the integrated planning models I produced in the downstream lubricant oil supply chain, I was held in awe by my peers, superiors and the company management. This may qualify for believe it or not factoid now, but it is true that this Fortune 100 Oil Company did not have a downstream supply chain management organization back then. Long story short, things have progressed a long way forward in India, now that the Supply Chain function has become one of the critical functions and has its own talent hierarchy, P&L and Senior Management Roles in organizations across industries in India. In fact, current C-level executives come from a supply chain background in multiple organizations now.

The Supply Chain function in organizations has gone through significant transformation in the last decade in so far as the roles & responsibilities and skill requirements are concerned. It's no surprise that People, Processes and Systems need to be seamlessly connected for any organization to deliver customer service consistently at predictable cost. This is true for any part of the modern enterprise, but this gets much more pronounced in the Supply Chain function given the need to integrate both within and across the enterprise to serve customers profitably. The evolution of enterprise centric capabilities like ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications and APS (Advanced Planning Systems) into digitization of supply chain networks with multi-enterprise platforms offering virtual procurement networks, supply chain visibility & control from the customers' customers to suppliers' suppliers has brought about disruptive change on HR talent side in the supply chain domain across planning, logistics, transportation, manufacturing, procurement and trading partner collaboration sub-functions within the Supply Chain organization.

Self-learning Demand Sensing, Multi-echelon Inventory Optimization, Dynamic Replenishment, and Response Orchestration algorithms available in today's best-of-breed supply chain planning platforms are at odds with the manual intensive spreadsheet enabled management style, which is still prevalent in most underperforming enterprises today. See the report: Supply Chains to Admire 2016 in the Insights section of GitaCloud website at www.GitaCloud.com/insights. The focus has moved from data aggregation and manual what-if scenarios executed in functional silos in spreadsheets to automated end-to-end Integrated Business Planning, evaluating optimal recommendations, understanding coverage strategies across a range of likely demand scenarios,  and managing risks associated with current revenue forecasts. The planning-execution gaps has narrowed given tight integration back to ERP, this still has to deal with the cultural challenges of execution team used to manually overriding planning recommendations. There is an element of job insecurity across business and IT as new cloud based architectures and self-planning or response automation solutions largely make the low-value manual data ingestion, manual planning, and manual execution integration processes redundant.

Supply Chain Execution is a similar story: WMS (Warehouse Management Systems) and TMS (Transportation Management Systems) have streamlined & automated operations. This has eliminated majority of manual tasks that warehouse workers / managers and logistics planners / managers have been doing all their working life. Is this the dreaded invasion of machines or just another step forward in the industrial revolution in its fourth phase? Also, the boundary between business planner, business analyst, data analyst, and data scientist roles are getting lost in the sandstorm of advanced analytics enabled data-driven culture being mandated in enterprises. Supply Chain talent on both business and IT sides has a major upskilling  requirement to continue to survive & thrive going forward. It it almost feels mandatory for the Supply Chain business talent in today's enterprises to be fluent with Supply Chain applications and advanced analytics concepts. Descriptive analytics is dead far as value derived from it is concerned. Needed insights that only predictive / prescriptive analytics can enable are largely iterative exercises and quite business user centric, they just don't lend themselves well to IT centric development models of yesterday. Business either becomes the new IT (business IT or citizen data scientist movement for example) or has to be prepared to work at a completely different level of IT solutions understanding and ability to drive. It is no more IT versus business as far as Supply Chain function is concerned; both need to raise their game as there is a great co-dependency required to win going forward.

There is an ever greater emphasis on:

  • Strategic Thinking skills: process oriented thinking rather than task oriented thinking
  • Analytical skills: ability to find root cause from business perspective, not technical (that is still IT's job)
  • Project & Program Management: initiate and lead business improvement project and programs
  • Change Management: ability to build cross functional consensus
  • Conceptual skills: ability to coherently analyze and convincingly present contrarian points of view needed to understand early warning signals in a dynamic environment
  • Communication skills: ability to have meaningful conversations from a shop floor level to the C-level and across the value chain both intra-enterprise (across business functions and business units) and inter-enterprise (customers, customer's customers, suppliers, supplier's suppliers). 

It should be no surprise that there is a huge supply chain talent gap as the attributes required cannot be easily taught and require intellectual data crunching horsepower combined with business acumen. The talent pipeline has to be systematically developed & managed. SCM Centers of Excellence, an enterprise internal SCM training portal version of lynda.com, and SCM universities help quite a bit. Nike and many other Supply Chain leaders have this within the organization with great results. Also needed is a culture of continuous learning & development: ask the team to re-qualify for their job annually by completing a certain number of self-paced or instructor-ledtraining courses, and encourage external professional certifications specially when it comes to advanced analytics: you need to breed citizen data scientists given the huge shortage of qualified data scientists that understand your industry and supply chain domain to begin with. To help with adoption, I recommend demonstrated learning of new competencies be a Key Performance Indicator and a prerequisite for upward mobility within the Supply Chain organization. 

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About GitaCloud

Incorporated in Delaware, USA in 2015, GitaCloud is on a mission to help enterprises and people make better decisions. GitaCloud Principals are seasoned Supply Chain Executives (ex- VP Supply Chain from Industry). GitaCloud team comes from a rich background of helping dozens of leading Fortune 500 companies through their Supply Chain transformation. GitaCloud offers a full range of software and services: business transformation engagements, reselling best of breed cloud software, Systems Integration engagements, and supply chain planning managed services. GitaCloud clients range from High-Tech, Pharmaceutical, Automotive, Consumer Goods, and Retail verticals across North America and Asia Pacific markets. For more information, please visit www.GitaCloud.com