Hype or reality? Jan Snoeckx, associate director of solution design with OM Partners, discusses how supply-chain executives can assess the maturity and value of tools to enable innovation.
SCB: How closely do you follow the Gartner Hype Cycle?
Snoeckx: We follow them closely. It's a good source of information for identifying potential new areas of innovation that connect with our focus industries. Nowadays you have many hypes. They follow each other very quickly, so the key is to be able to identify the potential value they carry for our customer base. It also connects with our current product strategy, and allows us to see which key differentiators they can deliver to our solutions.
SCB: It gives you a good sense of where something is in the hype cycle — whether in the so-called “trough of disappointment,” or at the stage of actual application.
SCB: With that in mind, what’s keeping chief supply chain officers up at night?
Snoeckx: A lack of control and visibility. It reflects the need for an overview of their supply chains in general. What they're lacking is the tools to allow their people to steer their supply chains in the right direction. It's not only about being informed about the actual state of the supply chain — the key thing is to be proactive. To generate robust outlooks on demand and supply. In order to do that, you need to unify not only your people, but also your supply-chain planning processes. You basically have to bring all of that onto one unified platform, across all functions and all stages of your supply chain.
SCB: What's the value of a user group? How does it help you to advance your understanding and application of these tools?
Snoeckx: User groups are a driving force of innovation. It’s a very creative process, and user groups allow us to tap into the common knowledge of all functions. They help us to prioritize what brings the most value now and in years to come. We do that in many different forms. We keep the conversation going through councils and conferences. They can be focused on addressing specific industry challenges, or they can be cross-industry in nature, to carry over best practices and innovations from one sector to the next.
SCB: I suppose you can’t understate the value of users being able to get together and exchange stories about how they're doing, and to have access to a vendor such as yourself, as well. It sounds like a really critical step.
Snoeckx: Exactly. These user communities are a fundamental backbone of feeding our roadmap and innovation plans.
SCB: Regarding supply-chain planning, what are some of the innovation drivers that can help us to understand just where that discipline is today?
Snoeckx: There are three key drivers. You have the increased complexity and skill of supply chains as a whole. Supply chain leaders feel that pain everyday. They struggle with achieving visibility across the whole chain, and it’s getting more complex from an operations point of view. In addition to that, we see industry getting more picky about solutions as a whole. They’re become more demanding, not only about the technology, but also the ways it gets implemented. And thirdly, there’s an innovation push coming from the technology itself. Think about machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. They’re bringing a potential to supply-chain leaders that wasn’t there before. It’s this third pillar that that’s making a difference in today's supply-chain planning world.
SCB: What do we need most in supply-chain planning today — better data, better communication of that data, or better use of the data that’s already available?
Snoeckx: We need all three. Yes, we need better data. Luckily, there’s a lot of technology nowadays that doesn't require you to improve the data itself, but get more out of it in an efficient and a timely manner. Supply-chain data will always be incomplete. You start detecting patterns, but before you know it, they’re outdated.
The connectivity aspect is key as well. It's about moving to open platforms, to systems that easily can exchange data. Whatever supply-chain planning project you're implementing today, a big portion of that effort is in data integration. So it’s important to make that easier, to reduce the cost and effort.
And thirdly, it's about making sure you get maximum value out of the data, and are bringing the right tools to your people. Supply-chain planning as a whole is probably still 60- to 70-percent done in Excel [spreadsheets] today. There’s a huge potential to create a unified platform that brings together all of the data in an integrated way, so that we can create reality-based plans that deliver the right outlooks on the future of supply-chains.
SCB: So, do you think we're getting close to chief supply chain officers getting a good night of sleep?
Snoeckx: It won’t be tomorrow — but the day after tomorrow.
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