Building beyond COVID-19

From the June 2021 print edition

The venue may have been digital, but that didn’t stop over 17,000 supply chain professionals from attending ProMatDX, MHI’s annual manufac­turing and material handling show. The online event, held April 12-16, saw attendees learn about supply chain equipment and technology innovations.

Among the keynote discussions was Beyond COVID-19, a panel focusing on lessons from the pandemic and building resiliency. Panelist Carmela Hinderaker, senior director of business continuity and customer support at C&S Wholesale Grocers, said that resiliency for her organization meant ensuring stores receive their orders within a window of 12 to 24 hours. For fellow panelist David Lusk, director, FedEx Global Security Operations Center, resiliency equals elasticity and the ability to flex capacity or the network. Rick McDonald, senior vice-president and chief product supply officer at Clorox, saw resiliency as preparation for unexpected events, responding quickly, then moving from disruption to a stable state.

To prepare for a crisis, McDonald said that Clorox runs efficiently at all times to model future capacity requirements. The company focuses on supplier relationship management as well as operating on a continuous improvement model.

Lusk emphasized FedEx’s teambuilding, not only across the business but also industry segments. Teambuilding pays off when challenges arise. The company’s COVID-19 response was informed by past events, such as the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, he noted.

“All of that work has gone on the front end before you need it, and that’s critical,” Lusk said.

Technology focus
Each year, MHI presents the results of its industry report. This year, moderators John Paxton, CEO of MHI and Thomas Boykin, supply chain specialist leader at Deloitte, led a panel through the report’s main points. Panelists included Randy V. Bradley, associate professor of information systems and supply chain management, Haslam College of Business, The University of Tennessee; and Annette Danek-Akey, executive vice-president of supply chain at Penguin Random House.

One survey focus was technology and among those surveyed, 83 per cent believe digital will become the predominant model within five years; 22 per cent believe that model has already arrived.

The report outlined how much companies have adopted leading technologies, or when they planned to, tracking 11 technologies based on how they impact supply chains. The report found that 57 per cent of companies surveyed use cloud computing and storage, while 44 per cent have adopted inventory and network optimization. Sensors and automatic ID came in third with 42 per cent, followed by robotics and automation at 38 per cent. Overall, 30 per cent of organizations have adopted predictive analytics, while IoT weighed in with 27 per cent. Next up was AI (16 per cent), then AV and drones (21 per cent).

The report highlights skills that professionals will need over the next five years to work with digital supply chains. Project management and leadership ranked the highest, with 41 per cent citing it as most important. That was followed by strategic thinking and problem solving, at 40 per cent. Supply chain management (degrees and certifications) came in at 32 per cent, while 31 per cent cited analytics, modelling and visualization. Bradley said he was encouraged by the report’s findings that 49 per cent are still increasing technology investment. But he warned that investing too early can also be as detrimental.

The panel discussed developing business cases for technology adoption. Danek-Akey recommended highlighting core competencies that technology enables. Also, look within your own area when developing a business case. “If you want to talk about e-commerce investment, go to the person who is in charge of your e-commerce platform, or in charge of that P&L, and ask them, ‘what do you need from me to be able to create your business case and grow?’” she said.

Women lead the way
Another panel focused on women in supply chain, with panelists discussing steps to achieve success. Panelist Megan Smith, CEO of Symbia Logistics, stressed an integrated supply chain – a notion that’s critical due to the pandemic and recent technological advances.

Ensure your systems are communicating properly and that complicated integrations are seamless, Smith stressed. Don’t overlook simple integrations. Ensure there’s a strategy in place and someone who keeps stakeholders aligned.

Fellow panelist Erin Donnelly, supply chain development director at Home Depot, offered advice on prioritization. Understand where the starting point is, Donnelly advised, including analyzing the industry, competitors and other factors.

Skillful mentoring is essential to leadership, said fellow panelist Chaneta Sullivan, Esq., director, safety, quality and compliance, Chick-fil-A supply. Sullivan noted it’s equally as important to influence the team you’re on, as the team you lead, since that can make it easier to get things done.

“When your team wins, you win,” she added. “That’s helped me when I’ve led in that way.”

The winners of the 2021 MHI Innovation Awards were also announced during the online conference. This year, ThruWave, Inc. won Best New Product for its ThruWave X2 mmWave Imaging System. The Best IT Innovation award went to 4Front Engineered Solutions for 4SIGHT Connect Digital Gate. Packsize International LLC took home Best Innovation of an Existing Product with their Packsize X7 Automated In-line Packaging and Fulfillment Solution.