Welcome to the latest installment of our Supply Chain Executive Interview series, where we speak with leading lights in the Supply Chain field about talent issues and trends. Today, we continue our conversation with Mike Croza, the founder and managing partner of Supply Chain Alliance Partners. With an extensive background in the manufacturing and office supply industries, Mike is an innovative Supply Chain expert who acts as a consultant to help companies get their Supply Chains up to speed. He’s also been an educator and passionate advocate for the field.
In this instalment, Mike speaks about Supply Chain challenges that his clients commonly face, as well as his vision of where the field is heading in the next 5 years – including the impact of disruptive technologies.
You work as a consultant with companies across a variety of industries. In your experience, what big issues have companies been facing in the past few years with respect to their Supply Chains?
In Canada, we could stand to be better in this area. The associations are doing a good job of promoting Supply Chain. But when we go into especially small and medium-sized companies, the talent is often very thin. There’s still a lack of understanding about what a well-working and integrated Supply Chain can do for a business. Obviously, there are different verticals that are more advanced and others that are less advanced. The key for us is that we work with lots of Canadian companies. We do a lot of work in retail, in the Omnichannel space. You can’t bring in an Omnichannel solution from the U.S. and deploy it in Canada. If you’re looking at what Omnichannel means today, it’s the ability for people to get their products from various sources, methods, and with convenience. In Canada, we don’t necessarily have the critical mass and population density for a thriving Omnichannel environment that the U.S. does, so we have to be more innovative. In Canada, we’ve always had to be innovative in a different way. I think that continues today.
As Canadians, this goes back to the fact that we aren’t as productive as we could be. And that’s because, in some sectors, there’s been an aversion to investing in some technology. In Retail especially, that can’t be the case anymore. We’ve gone into retail companies where there are 15-20 people working off spreadsheets, and planning 10,000-20,000 SKUs off of spreadsheets. You just can’t do that anymore.
If a company feels like they’re lagging behind in terms of Supply Chain, what can they do to get their Supply Chains up to speed? How does this relate to emerging technologies and the way the field stands to change in the next 5 years?
The whole notion of having an integrated plan as a company is very important and has to be firm in companies’ minds. Consumer Products has been leading in this for a while with S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning). I’m seeing it now in Retail with IBP (Integrated Business Planning) and S&OP. In an Omnichannel environment, you can’t manage without having a fully-integrated plan between all of the functions within a company, because the downstream costs of not having a plan are too high to compete. So this is something people are paying lots of attention to.
The investment in technology and tools to support those environments is the next piece. Once you’ve got everyone onside for the plan, you need both the tech and people to use the tech to ensure you have a global inventory picture, and you have the right merchandise planning. How do you distribute? Is it coming from a Distribution Centre or is it being fulfilled in a store?
The other big piece, which I think is going to be huge going forward, is getting prepared for the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things is going to have an unbelievably huge impact on Supply Chain. I see it in different areas. Areas like maintenance, anything to do with heavy equipment maintenance. Elevator maintenance. The idea of a machine communicating with a machine to create data and reporting is happening today. People talk about Big Data now – but there will be more sources of information and reporting that will grow with the Internet of Things, and you’re going to need analytics and predictive analytics to make sense of it.
If you look at cloud solutions, they’re also coming into play. Companies are trying to do more with less infrastructure, less people. Another huge component will be the Contingent Workforce. Companies are working lean and mean. There’s no spare time. When we need the skills, companies will buy the skills, providing they add value, can make change and accelerate our business. It comes back to people opening their minds to that kind of work. Lastly, I would say that we’ve gone global many years ago, but companies could develop their understanding of global networks and distribution even more.
All of these things are, to me, very important to how we in Canada want to build Supply Chain as a core competency within our country. Slowly, but surely, people are starting to see Supply Chain as a career. 10 years ago, you would never see a Supply Chain Analyst role advertised, and now they’re everywhere.
I’ve talked to more people who have made the decision to go to school specifically for Supply Chain Management. Most people in the field now have “fallen into it” like I have, but all that means is that there’s great opportunity. There’s huge ground for people in their 20s or 30s to grow in this industry, and it’ll only get bigger as all the things we just talked about become more important.
What links all these elements together is Supply Chain Management. We need good leaders, good people coming from university and college, and people to make a difference in their profession and in companies. When things are chaotic, as you might say they are today, that’s where opportunities arise.
A big thank you once again to Mike Croza for the interview! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And stay tuned for future instalments in our Supply Chain Executive Interview series.
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