Digital Supply Chain Challenge 2nd Edition

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The Digital Supply Chain Challenge Breaking Through

Introduction Strong convictions in a changing supply chain world

The challenges facing supply chain professionals are changing rapidly. These executives used to be expected to deal with working capital, operating costs and first order customer service. In many companies, supply chain worked in the background, trying to keep operations smooth and all the stakeholders happy. But change has been afoot for many years–just think of the challenges of starting up a supply chain from scratch today compared with 25 years ago. The rise of contract manufacturing as a prevalent, viable option has made the make-vs.-buy decision for small companies a much easier calculation. The use of third-party logistics providers (3PLs) has exploded. In the United States, for example, the 3PL market increased five-fold from 1996 to 2014.* These trends have quietly transformed the supply chain profession. There is now less emphasis on capital expenditures and traditional logistics skills like warehousing and transportation. Supply chain executives are finding that expectations of their role have moved to include more business-facing activities, particularly in the areas of planning and customer relations. Companies have begun thinking about end-to-end planning, becoming serious about demand planning and aligning different actors in the company such as sales and finance.

They have come to see customer care as an opportunity for competitive advantage in traditional distribution channels, rather than an order-to-cash service department. Opportunities for differentiation have emerged in working deeply with external supply chain players to improve costs, satisfy end customers and make decisions in the interests of the entire chain. At a time when business-to-consumer (B2C) companies might conduct 20% of sales through digital channels, the supply chain is now a key player in the definition of the go-to-market model. The impacts of these evolutions are still playing out. Supply chain managers have risen in prominence in many industries and now have an opportunity to influence strategic decisions in novel ways. Companies are striving to rethink their organizations to enable end-to end planning governance while maintaining sufficient local proximity to enact effective sales and operations planning (S&OP) models. Customer collaboration is now a prominent supply chain competence as companies realize that the most significant cost-to-serve improvements will come from working with downstream channel partners. And, of course, the eternal supply chain preoccupations of working capital, cost and service remain, while other managers expect that these should become easier because of the fundamental changes taking place in the supply chain.

* “US and global third-party logistics market analysis is released.” Press release. Armstrong & Associates, May 22, 2011.


Ralf W. Seifert and Richard Markoff

In the midst of this evolution come two more, both accelerated by the pandemic and the drumbeat of supply chain disruptions that ensued. The first is the emergence of the e-commerce retail channel and its progression into omnichannel. The continued growth of e-commerce and its impacts on traditional brick-and-mortar retail are well known. Although this growth has been quick, the idea that consumers can interact with retailers and brands through multiple devices, order products through these devices, choose from multiple delivery options and expect a seamless experience throughout is now coming to the fore even more rapidly. From a supply chain digitalization (SCD) perspective, this is putting pressure on traditional supply chains to improve their master data management, develop new data models for a customer base that is no longer “far removed,” and manage a new magnitude of orders and product availability complexities. In the space of a few years, supply chains have been asked to transform from picking and shipping to a downstream client to being agile, last touch ambassadors for their brand to the final customer and an engine for providing rich, valuable data that will drive future product offerings and promotions. Since the first edition of this book in 2020, the pandemic showed that companies with supply chain functions that quickly aligned with marketing and sales were able to focus their efforts, scale up e-commerce volumes, and emerge with increased market share. The final evolution is the growth of a web of technological innovations grouped together under the moniker Industry 4.0. The term “Industry 4.0” really entered the supply chain sphere in 2013. It springs from the idea that supply chain in the broadest sense (one that includes planning, distribution, manufacturing, sourcing and customer collaboration) is undergoing its fourth major reimagining in history. The first industrial revolution is the one taught in history books–the introduction of mechanization and steam power in the late 18th century and the social upheaval that came with it. The second is electrification, the assembly line and mass production in the late 19th century. The success of Taylorism created the field of scientific management, which Ford employed in his auto plants, and manufacturing began a transformation to large factories and economies of scale.

The third industrial revolution is perhaps the toughest one to guess. It refers to the introduction of basic automation and computers in around 1970. The implementation of programmable logic controllers (PLC) allowed companies to use simple robots to perform highly repetitive tasks and captured the imagination with futuristic images of robot arms in automotive plants. And, finally, there is the fourth industrial revolution –Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is an umbrella term that strives to describe a diverse mix of emergent digital technologies, each having a different value proposition to offer supply chain. There is no “normal” definition of Industry 4.0, and no formal list of technologies that it encompasses. But some of the most common elements that can be associated with Industry 4.0 are robotic process automation (RPA), collaborative platforms offered in the Cloud as software as a service (SaaS), machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), big data, advanced analytics, cobots, internet of things (IoT), additive manufacturing and 3D printing, blockchain and augmented reality (AR). This is a very short list of examples–we have seen lists with over 400 different Industry 4.0 technologies. To make matters more complicated, many consultants have begun to refer to supply chain digitalization (SCD). SCD has no universally accepted definition that we have encountered but refers broadly to the subset of Industry 4.0 technologies that impact the less physical parts of the supply chain. So SCD can be thought of as including tools like supply chain control towers, traceability, inventory management and order management systems, but excluding shop-floor level technologies like cobots or automated guided vehicles (AGVs). In this book we use the two terms interchangeably. As a marketing strategy, the “Industry 4.0” framing has been a clear winner. It has helped catapult Industry 4.0 into a term many have heard–although not everyone will admit to not fully grasping the concept. We have received calls from small and medium-sized enterprise owners who would like to “do Industry 4.0,” as though it were a piece of equipment or a new technique like lean manufacturing or design thinking. The experiences of the pandemic, the troubles in international logistics that followed, and now the working capital level uncertainty have led supply chain managers to rethink their supply chain capabilities. We believe the overriding motor of digital transformation will be visibility. The underlying driver of the digital transformation


The Digital Supply Chain Challenge Breaking Through

It is not an attempt to systematically explore each of the principal technologies covered under Industry 4.0. This book is meant for supply chain executives who are constantly burdened not only with the classic balancing act between service, cost and working capital but also with more intense cycles of promotions, launches and customizations. And on top of these imperatives, they have been asked to formulate an Industry 4.0 and SCD strategy to transform their organization, which may have to compete with companies that are digitally native, with business models designed for this new era. This book offers a way to separate the signal from the noise, the reality from the hype. The aim is not to provide a detailed exploration of the benefits and downsides of a laundry list of Industry 4.0 technologies. There are many resources for those who wish to find out more about a given technology. Rather, our ambition is to provide some perspective for the supply chain executive looking to understand where to begin on an Industry 4.0 or SCD voyage, how to think about organizing for change, what are the key success factors and why some technologies might be a better fit than others. We hope that this book will serve as a source of inspiration for supply chain executives about to embark on a digitalization adventure. The topics included provide valuable benchmarks to help executives understand where their company stands compared with peers. It isn’t enough to see the best-in-class success stories, it is important to be aware of the preoccupations and progress of other supply chain executives who find themselves in the same situation. It’s hoped that along with inspiration comes a sense of clarity. The focus here is on tangible, concrete issues, free of the hype and noise often associated with consultants, vendors or technologists. Themes The book is structured around four broad themes that strive to cover the whole of SCD transformation from a management perspective. Separating hype from reality In exploring the first theme, we share some views on the phenomenon of SCD in an attempt to keep things in perspective and avoid getting caught up in the overexuberance. There is a useful benchmark on the progress, or lack thereof, of Industry 4.0 and SCD transformation, plus a valuable framework for embarking

toward capabilities that enhance visibility is the need for resilience–the ability of the supply chain to resist and recover from a disruption. The quicker the disruption is identified, understood, and paired against live, updated information on the state of the supply chain, the better and faster decisions can be made to mitigate the situation. This emphasis on visibility argues for investments in supply chain control towers and transportation management systems. Control towers that include customers, consumers, and raw material supplies within their scope can enhance fast decision making, and integrated transportation management systems that provide accurate views on the status of current freight can power rapid decision making. Other digital capabilities that will merit consideration are tools that enable scenario planning, such as digital twins, which can game out various ruptures in company production and distribution capacity. This new stage of digital transformation will see a role for digital twins as a means to operationalize business continuity plans and keep them both current and relevant. All three evolutions are now intertwined and hard to untangle. It is difficult to talk about S&OP without slipping into advanced planning tools, supply chain control towers, big data, advanced analytics and even AI. Any examination of the role of customer collaboration risks entering into traceability technologies like smart packaging or blockchain-enabled smart contracts and provenance databases. It is impossible to define a business strategy for e-commerce without separating it from the supply chain capabilities needed to execute the strategy. The result for supply chain executives today is a world that is completely different from what it looked like in 2005. It requires an understanding of all aspects of the business, an appreciation of the constraints and expectations of upstream and downstream partners, and sufficient technological savvy to navigate the bewildering array of options presented by Industry 4.0 and SCD. The Digital Supply Chain Challenge This book is for supply chain executives facing this new challenge.


Ralf W. Seifert and Richard Markoff

Leading a digital supply chain transformation This book closes with some real-life cases of companies that faced the challenge of an SCD transformation, each with lessons and insights for managers. We also explore the human resources impacts of production concentration, impacts that could be undone by the growing trend for personalization, with clues about the next evolution in supply chain career opportunities. How to Use This Book This book is a distillation of our 50+ years of combined supply chain experience, both at the coal face and in the classroom. During this time, supply chains and their design and management have been rapidly evolving –and continue to do so–not least spurred on by digital developments. We have regularly shared our insights and observations in short articles and best-practice case studies, mostly published by IMD business school. This book brings this work together in one place and in an easily accessible format to help address the concerns and possible questions of supply chain executives as and when they arise. Each stand-alone piece is short, to the point and jargon free. We have updated some of the articles to reflect the current state of play, but as we have already mentioned, changes are happening so rapidly in some areas, e.g. e-commerce, that we are only able to provide a snapshot of a particular moment in time. Nevertheless, even if the precise facts change, the principles remain the same and provide food for thought. By its very nature, this book is not designed to be read from cover to cover. We encourage readers to consult it at different times during their SCD voyage, to find benchmarks, relevant insights or even just to help formulate the right questions along the way. It is a sort of handbook to the essentials of digital supply chain transformation.

on such a strategy. We examine the profitability challenges in the online grocery business as a reminder that exciting trends do not always yield business models with margins. There is also a look back at radio frequency identification (RFID), which at one time generated excitement as a revolutionary technology, similar to the enthusiasm for blockchain today, along with a sober examination on the progress blockchain has made thus far. And we also provide a counterpoint to the buzz around AI as a breakthrough for demand planning paired with a practical examination of where AI can add value. Proof beyond the promise The second theme looks for concrete wins brought by Industry 4.0 and SCD to help demonstrate where tangible value is to be had. We explore predictive maintenance, an Industry 4.0 application that might quietly serve as the pioneer for subsequent technologies. AI, too, has a role in SCD. Large Language Models offer an exciting future but for the time being perhaps “small is beautiful”. We also look at how personalization is integrating supply chain and new value propositions and might surprisingly help reverse a decades-long trend of production concentration. Moving downstream, we explore how food waste can be tackled using digital supply chain tools. And although online grocery has profitability challenges, a comparison of digitally native online players like Ocado and traditionally offline retailers like Tesco will help illustrate how SCD is becoming an essential element of business strategy. Successful execution of the basics It would be a mistake to look at SCD as an opportunity to leapfrog the basic fundamentals of supply chain management. The evolutions that are shaping supply chain management do not mean that doing ABC analysis or understanding the right way to measure service no longer matter. They mean that these basics are prerequisites that are even more important today. “Simplify, standardize, digitize” supply chain processes has never been truer. This theme also looks at the changing definition of supply chain’s core competency in fulfillment, and some novel insights into S&OP governance that must precede any investment in tools like supply chain control towers.


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