Supply chain management: Unleashing innovation to stay ahead of change and uncertainty

Supply chain management: Unleashing innovation to stay ahead of change and  uncertainty

With global supply chain challenges spurring dire headlines of precariousness, more than 3,000 transportation, logistics, fulfillment, and warehouse professionals from around the world gathered in October for the Reuters virtual Supply Chain Execution 2022 event.

During one panel discussion, titled “Driving Towards a Singular Innovation Goal,” four industry experts discussed how corporate supply chain leaders can foster an innovative culture to master change management when change is incessant.

The panelists were:

  • Paul Gallagher, Chief Supply Chain Officer, General Mills
  • Suzanne Offerman, Senior Proposition Manager, Global Trade, Thomson Reuters ONESOURCE
  • Sean Halligan, Senior Vice President, Pharma Supply Chain Operations, Cardinal Health
  • Franklin Littleton, President, DHL Supply Chain

The session showcased the importance of having an innovation framework, a culture focused on change, a sophisticated technology strategy, and a clear vision.

FRAMEWORK: Manage change with an eye on the customer and market forces

Halligan said Cardinal Health strives to approach innovation and change management from their customers’ perspective. “Being a distributor, we connect into a wide spectrum of the healthcare network — from hospitals, the largest to the smallest, to small independent pharmacies, to large chain pharmacies,” he said. “We look at that through the lens of the customer to understand what impacts we need to make in order to help support a customer product, a customer solution, a supply chain solution.”

Offerman added that it’s essential to partner with customers, understand their concerns and pain points, propose solutions, and help them get stakeholder buy-in. “It really is about . . . the value proposition they need to make in order to educate their own teams about the change you’re recommending — how to facilitate business cases and get funding, for example.”

Littleton explained that DHL focuses on market forces when confronting and implementing change. “We have access to supply change [data] across a number of industries, so we see a lot of market trends,” he noted. “We look at those trends to develop solutions a little bit ahead of the curve, so that when our customers need those solutions, we’re already there.”

CULTURE: Focus relentlessly on change management and continuous improvement

“At General Mills, change has been part of our culture for a long time,” Gallagher said. “We’ve been around for 155 years and you don’t exist that long unless it’s built into the DNA of the organization. . . You’ve got to constantly be refining and improving, and striving to be better, because the one thing that’s sure about change is it’s a constant, it’s here forever.”

Halligan noted that “pursuit of continuous improvement, or the pursuit of better, is in our DNA as supply chain practitioners. I think it’s critical that these things evolve as business requirements dictate.” For example, in recent years the market drove same-day or next-day retail delivery — and it’s now a customer expectation. “That’s a key point for all supply chain practitioners: we must find opportunities to drive baseline improvement and change in our networks.”

In healthcare supply chain management, for example, speed is essential. “Moments matter in the lifeline of a healthcare patient,” Halligan said. “We’re constantly looking at ways to improve speed, improve efficiency, improve consistency.”

TECHNOLOGY: Leverage modern tools to optimize supply chain performance

“The expectations continue from our customers, and our customers’ customers, to be faster and to deliver on a moment’s notice,” Littleton said. Emerging supply chain technologies, particularly data analytics, are a key to meeting this demand. “We’ve invested a lot in visibility tools, so we have visibility into the data . . . at a granular level, and we’re able to share that with our customers,” he said. “If we’re all looking at the same data, it’s a lot easier to identify the solution you’re looking for or the issue you’re trying to solve.”

Offerman said that tech adoption differentiated companies that most successfully navigated recent supply chain disruptions. “Those companies that had systems and processes in place could pivot and were more agile, more open to change, and more successful navigating through the pandemic, Brexit retaliatory tariffs — all of the barriers that we’ve seen recently,” she said.

Gallagher concurred. “The reality is that resilience, agility, and the ability to pivot are going to be competitive advantages in the near term,” he said. “And we need to figure out where to invest the money best in order for it to enable that.”

A key to successful technology implementation, Offerman advised, is taking one step at time. “Companies will say, ‘Okay, we know we’re going to need these six tools’,” but tackling everything at once can paralyze supply chain operations. “We need to come up with a plan and do one thing at a time, and then communicate and train people each step of the way,” Offerman said. It’s also important for training to be ongoing for global trade teams and also “to make sure other parts of the organization understand the changes we’re making so they can support it and not disrupt it inadvertently.”

VISION: Describe the desired destination to engage the supply chain team

“It’s critical to paint a clear vision of the outcome you’re pursuing,” Halligan said. “If people can get a compelling picture of what you’re shooting for — what it will be like to complete this change, what the opportunities are — they will find a way to navigate the process, [leverage] the technology, and help the organization move much more quickly.”

“The key is in that storytelling and painting a picture of what the future can be,” he continued. “I think that’s an art. I’ve seen very skilled leaders be able to paint that clear picture. They’re the change agents you find in any organization.”

The potential for success increases when supply chain leaders solicit team members’ input when crafting the vision and include them in implementation, Littleton added. “When we’re putting in something like robotics, for instance, we try very hard to engage the people who are actually going to be working alongside that technology,” he said.


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