Saturday, 23 December 2017

Supply Chain Management Beyond 2020: Implications for Talent Acquisition

Article by : Prof. Sanjib Biswas, Assistant Professor (Area: Operations Management), Calcutta Business School

Supply Chain Management has been playing a pivotal role in enabling organizations to gain competitive advantage for last few decades. Irrespective the nature of business, organizations have recognized the importance of achieving excellence in supply chain management. However, the future supply chain leaders shall need to take appropriate strategy to sustain in VUCA world wherein organizations need to handle with intelligent supply chains while striving equilibrium among triple bottom lines. Future supply chains needs to counter disruptions from natural disasters to the global credit freeze, adapt to rapid and critical changes and be capable to promise. In true sense this transformation calls for forward thinking spread across a multi-year horizon starting from today. Success of supply chain operations beyond 2020 shall largely depend on how fast they respond to the market needs even before it arises through disruptive innovations and supreme level of transparency and connectivity among the partners. Doing such, organizations can ensure real time visibility across all nodal points in a supply chain or extended enterprise per se and in effect, can reduce time to market, capital expenditure and mitigate risks. In this context, Jeff Dobbs, global sector chair, Diversified Industrials at KPMG, mentioned

“Moving toward a demand-driven supply chain is probably the single most important step a global manufacturer can take today. When implemented well, a demand-driven supply chain establishes a responsive flow of product all the way from the end customer up to the furthest upstream supplier. The demand-driven supply chain is more responsive to changes in customer behavior.”

However, it posits a significant challenge as far as acquisition of talent is concerned. Along with need to grow at a faster rate with disruptive innovations, organizations find evolving nature of job roles and skill requirements. The recruiters are confronted with the challenge to design competitive job descriptions in tune with changing nature of business operations particularly in the domain of supply chain management. Next generation supply chains expect that employees need to be aligned with the broad strategic requirements of the organization, adaptable to new technologies and build requisite futuristic skill sets for remaining relevant and competitive.

Rodney Apple, founder of the SCM Talent Group. Employment agency in Asheville, North Carolina mentioned that

“Many students coming up through our educational ranks don’t even know what supply chain is or they perceive supply chain as a blue collar industry where you either drive freight trucks or load and unload them at a warehouse dock….. Many companies haven’t taken the initiative to develop best-in-class talent acquisition resources and programs. Companies that perform the best are the ones that treat the recruiting department like a strategic, value-added program versus a low-level, tactical HR cost center. In addition, many companies are being too strict and inflexible with their hiring requirements. Instead of defining the job when they write out their job descriptions, they focus on defining the candidate by listing out a ridiculously long and unrealistic list of skills and qualifications that the “ideal candidate” must have to be “qualified”.”

Over the last two decades, organizations have witnessed enormous changes in the way the supply chain are being managed. With the development in information and communication technology (ICT) area, organizations, particularly supply chains have provided with unprecedented opportunities. We are experiencing Industry 4.0 now which has redefined business operations as it advocates for human-machine interactions and rapid digitization. Development of smart cities, increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) in managing business operations, sensors, smart objects and networks have led to smart and intelligent supply chain management. Supply chains are flooded with data and being operated by automated machines and instruments. The point is how one can draw actionable insight out of this gigantic amount of data in structured, semi-structured and unstructured format and provide innovative solutions for meeting customers’ needs. In addition, designing and understanding automated operations and managing them, clearly demands for advanced skill sets, flexibility and innovative minds. The supply chain managers no longer needs to manage materials and fund only, they need to know how to use information as a strategic asset, they need to manage people as well as machines, they need to understand untold requirements of customers and subsequently translate them into technical requirements for designing, developing and delivering appropriate solutions to customers. In other words, supply chain professionals should inculcate creativity and advanced analytical capabilities in themselves. In this context, Jim Rice, deputy director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, contended that,

“We often think about cool and sexy technologies changing our supply chains, but it really looks like the work we have been doing in supply chains forever, basically doing things that reduce costs, cut cycle times and/or improve quality. A lot of time people expect supply chain innovation to disrupt an industry but 98% of the time, the process changes are not nearly as disruptive as the smartphone was for the mobile phone world. Instead, most of the innovations in the supply chain give you incremental improvement and are what Clay Christensen calls sustaining innovations…. Companies may need people with different skills – for sustaining innovation, you need people who can refine a process, finding improvements on an ongoing basis. It’s a different kind of person though who can completely re-vision the supply chain process, seeing the possible big changes. They tend not to get caught up in what won’t work, but instead can see what could work. Both are needed, but the latter are needed for disruptive innovation.”

Further, while you are operating with data in a shared and connective manner, question of security and privacy also demands attentions. Researches are being made significantly in the area of cryptography. Of late, we have witnessed increasing use of the crypto-currency aka Bitcoin while transferring funds. The Blockchain technology is re-defining supply chain operations. Some of skill sets which would be desirable for supply chain professionals in addition to fundamental knowledge on supply chain management are: artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, cryptography, digital manufacturing techniques, cloud computing, ERP based operations, Big Data management etc. In fact, it’s not the tool or technique, rather, it’s the human capability to design, develop and manage those tools and techniques which will decide the success or failure or supply chains, more comprehensively organizations. Hence, proper talent acquisition shall be a key factor. In this context, it is also not desirable to forget the lessons learnt from the Sociotechnical Systems approach to organizational development developed by Eric Trist and his colleagues at the Tavistock Institute. For acquiring appropriate talent, organizations need to develop their future employees. Hence, the role of HR managers as well as supply chain managers would be very critical tomorrow in a sense that, they will not only be required to spot and acquire requisite talent but also they will have to predict talent requirement for future operations and gear to develop that.

1. Deloitte Survey (2015) “Supply Chain Talent of the Future: Findings from the Third Annual Supply Chain Survey”.

2. Kate Lee (2016) “Hiring Supply Chain Talent: What to Look For”

3. Kate Lee (2014) “ How to solve the supply chain talent crisis: a supply chain recruiter shares his ideas”

4.Gary Forger (2017) “Next Gen Supply Chain: The Next Gen Interview”, an interview of Jim Rice, deputy director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics.

5. Beth Platow (2015) “Talent-retention and succession planning for the supply chain”

6. Biswas, S. and Sen, J. (2016). “A Proposed Architecture for Big Data Driven Supply Chain Analytics”. The IUP Journal of Supply Chain Management. XIII (3), 7-33. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21458.96966.

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