The role of technology in the supply chain as agreed by over 71 industry leaders

The 12th Supply Chain Technology Forum, organised by eyefortransport on 22-23 February 2011 in Amsterdam, ran alongside the 12th Logistics CIO Forum, attended by 71 CIOs from manufacturing, supply chain, logistics, and transport industries.

The Supply Chain Technology Forum was chaired by Hugh Williams, Managing Director of Hughenden Consulting who facilitated an exclusive interactive workshop on the 23rd entitled "Where should technology fit into the role of the supply chain executive?" which invited candid opinions on the role of the supply chain executive and 'dos and don'ts of supply chain technology".

The workshop was a collaborative session among 60 IT leaders from logistics companies (approx 70%), supply chain executives from manufacturers, retailers (approx 25%) and IT Solution Providers (approx 5%). A summary of the key talking points follow.

About the supply chain executive (SCE) remit:
Responsible for end-to-end flow of goods operations, costs, financial target.

End-to-end is subjective and the 'ends' needs to be defined better; should also include measurement.

Core task is the flow of goods and information with 'bridge' to manufacturing and / or procurement.

Must be responsible for manufacturing in order to answer for shortages, but not necessarily for manufacturing execution.

Should report directly to the CEO, although this was only the case today for one third of the companies present.

Must increasingly take environmental issues into consideration.

Emphasis moving away from a core focus on manufacturing goods and towards a focus on supplying goods is shifting the supply chain executive's remit.

About specific skills and characteristics of the SCE:
Must understand complex demand, planning and forecasting. Also responsible for optimizing resources.

Depending on reach and role, may also include manufacturing and materials.

Delivers key services to the company and its customers so must manage and define service levels.

Must define KPIs, manage performance, find differentiators and innovate to make the supply chain competitive by strategising across production and soliciting customer feedback.

Creates processes and procedures to bring products and services to the market in the most efficient way - not by controlling individual elements of the chain, but creating the environment in which the chain can succeed.

Technology Dos
 Eliminate major barriers to change and progress.

 Minimize business disruption.

 Support the goal of making more money. Any improvement or investment in supply chain should boost the company performance.

 From a strategy perspective support the KPIs, report data, give an objective stance.

From an information perspective, provide tactical access to data, converted into useful planning info, process design, improvement, measurement.

 Be an enabler, not a driver.

 'Make supply chain easier'.

Technology Don'ts
Provide features that add no value. Don't just think like an IT person and add something that's technology for technology's sake.

Be a solution without a problem.

Provide data for data's sake - it has to be useful, accurate timely and presented to the right people. It must help you to achieve optimization.

Debate on the role of technology in supply chain collaboration and visibility
 Transparency is defined as visibility.

Need transparency throughout the chain, both in monitoring and modelling of the chain.

 Data must be integral, accurate and consistent. Data must make sense from day to day so that accurate decisions can be made.

Technology can be a driver of the process change towards collaboration. Technology is more aware of what's coming and possible.

 Technology to improve visibility has been available for years but collaboration doesn't happen. If it was really a driver, we would be there already.

 Technology can help us, and enable, but we still don't do enough ourselves to create true visibility and collaboration.

Collaboration will happen when we jump the mental hurdle of trusting suppliers and vendors enough to open information up to them.

 Visibility is about having information about what to DO with the information. If people have had visibility information for years, have they been using it?

The more important factor is information support and strategic planning contacts exercising "what if" scenarios.

 The purpose of visibility is to enable the supply chain but also to be seen to be managing the supply chain.

 Collaboration is about process in the first place. If you don't have a strong foundation of processes, you won't achieve visibility goals.

After the conference Chairman Hugh Williams reflected: "Today's supply chain executive clearly has a golden opportunity to add both strategic and material value to the businesses they serve. Technology can be an effective enabler, but not without engaging people - including partners - and implementing the right processes".

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