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Stephanie Bond4 min read

Digitally transforming the supply chain [Podcast]

Slync’s Matt Gunn sat down with Emily Cook, host and producer of The Supply Chain Podcast which is presented by Supply Chain Digital, to discuss Digitally Transforming the Supply Chain. Specifically, the duo hits on the role that humans play in the change journey and how to improve multi-party interactions.

(You can also listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.) 

To kick off the conversation, Matt shares his background and what led him to the supply chain technology space. Then, in describing Slync’s focus and the company’s mission, Matt brings up a key point: “There has been a move toward cloud-based technologies, toward bringing people into a more expansive and connected view of the supply chain. However, there’s a need for context in whatever area of your operations you’re trying to solve.”

Context is often the missing piece in these million-dollar transformation initiatives. What are you changingthe process, the way people work, the technologies? And why are you doing it? Technology-driven transformations too often exist just to exist without a compelling reason for change. “Transformation has to have context, and it doesn’t have to be this big and massive thing,” explains Matt.

Making changes stick is extremely hard, especially within a supply chain organization. For LSPs, which make up the majority of Slync’s customer base, digital transformations are analogous to building a plane while it is 30,000 feet up in the air. Massive companies cannot stop their operations to make wholesale changes to their systems. They’ve invested a lot of time and effort into getting the systems they have in place to work and they have strong vendor relationships—both of which are ingredients needed for a successful digital transformation.

“What doesn’t exist are the means to capture that ‘messy data’those human interactionsto better understand the policies and processes that happen in your operations,” clarifies Matt. This data gap, which consists of emails, phone calls, and spreadsheets, is what is focused on solving. 

Emily remarks that “no two supply chains are the same” and asks Matt to comment on how companies can increase collaboration and communication across their supply chain partners.

“We’re still in this world where 80% of the information you need to run your supply chain exists outside of your own enterprise—it exists with your suppliers, your LSPs, your warehouses and consolidation facilities, at factories, and at banks,” explains Matt. “It’s going to be messy,” he goes on. “All of those businesses have their own needs and they address those needs with their own set of technologies.”

Knowing that we’re all inclined to fall back on familiar and easy forms of communication, Matt suggests the best way to tackle this multi-party problem is to stay focused on the people at the heart of it. From the human that sends the initial demand signal to kick start the planning process to the human that delivers the finished goods to the retail shelf or the buyer’s doorstep, the supply chain is full of people. And people are creatures of habit. So for any technology or system implementation to be successful, it has to add value. “If it doesn’t help people to do their jobs, or integrate into their daily lives, they’ll either reject it or not use it.” 

Either through process mining or some other kind of evaluation technique, you can discover what processes exist between companies, and then determine which ones you can automate and which ones you can augment your people so they can work smarter. “Keeping it human-focused is what drives collaboration and communication between enterprises,” summarizes Matt.

Reflecting on the last year or so, Emily then asks Matt whose responsibility it is to take action on enhancing the post-COVID supply chain. Whose job is it to protect from future disruptions?

“It’s a shared responsibility,” responds Matt. For better or worse, COVID-19 has taught the general population about the massive importance of supply chains and how they can affect everything from toilet paper and PS4s to those tiny ketchup packets. “It has become so personal.”

Going forward, Matt thinks that consumers will continue to drive expectations and affect change with their wallets. But it’s going to take the people who are making and moving things to really drive effective and meaningful change. Manufacturers will need to rethink how and where they source and supply products as well as the dynamic role of inventory and lean manufacturing. Carriers and LSPs should focus on how they can dial up capacity to respond to demand surges and how they prioritize demand within their own customer portfolios. 

“We all rely on a complex and interconnected ecosystem to procure, plan, make and move goods,” concludes Matt. “This last year and a half has been quite a journey...and it’s an exciting time to be in supply chain.”