“The Supply Chain Workforce of the Future is Digital” was the title of the discussion panel at the Global Women Supply Chain Leaders 2021 online conference on 25NOV21. Moderated by Jay Kostos, Director, B2G Consulting, it featured Ampy Cheung Aswin, Head of Supply Chain & Logistics Industry Sol. APAC at Google Cloud, Wendy Herrick, VP Digital Supply Chain at Unilever, and Radu Palamariu, Managing Director Europe & Asia Pacific, Alcott Global.
“The Present is digital,” is Radu Palamariu’s answer to the introduction of the discussion topic, adjusting the panel’s title. Digitalization is already here – the pandemic has more than highlighted this, as Jay Kostos also points out, with the past two years seeing “organizations fast-tracking the adoption of technology” and “the demand for supply chain talent has since changed dramatically” especially “because access to data and digital technology is changing the game. New operating models are springing up everywhere, the likes of AI, machine-learning, robotic processes, etc. The workforce is having to learn new skills…” Not just that existing employees are having to rapidly adapt, but also all companies, be they in logistics, IT, or otherwise, are competing for the same pool of digital talent when looking to recruit new staff. How best to proceed in such an environment?
Cross-pollination and Reverse Mentoring
On a company level, “cross-pollination” across industries is a good thing when it comes to digital advancement: learning from other companies and other generational mindsets, rather than seeing them as a competition or threat. Radu Palamariu cites two best-demonstrated practice examples during the discussion: “12-18 months ago, HP changed all their job descriptions to say that everybody has to have a digital component […], and they stopped hiring necessarily for experience and instead searched for fresh talent who they then matched with more experienced colleagues within the organization.” Match-making digital natives with industry natives within the company is one approach. He also talks about Unilever’s method in the Philippines to keep its organization learning and agile. There “the whole leadership team goes into a start-up and almost become interns for around 10 days, observing how the start-up works”. Unilever offers the same return “internship” to the start-up it has invested in, too. This fosters agility and a learning culture within both companies.
Technology and talent
Without the people, digitalization will not work, is the message all panelists underline time and again. Wendy Herrick emphasizes “digital is not just technology. […] You are digitizing processes in the organization, which is not functionally siloed anymore. It’s about the customer and consumer experience across whatever process that might be in the organization.” The shift to a more technologically efficient set-up requires a mindset change and above all, the right leadership. It is a delicate balance between integrating digital natives with the more traditional workforce, and “relationships need to be exactly right. How do you lead in this new world? You need to understand technology, but also be able to lead across the multi-generational workforce you have.” Jay Kostos summarizes: “Technology will make things possible. Talent will make them happen.”
The human value in the value chain
Ampy Cheung Aswin agrees: “Technology is an enabler. We still need to have the fundamental skill set of a supply chain practitioner, and that is critical. […] We have seen automation of hands, we have automation of minds coming in. I don’t think we’re at the stage where you are able to automate heart.” Empathy, she underlines, “the need for collaboration and the ability to connect,” are what put the value into the supply chain. She stresses the importance of fostering a collaborative environment within the organization and warns that it is “difficult for traditional enterprises to get rid of the trap of organization,” meaning that they need to break away from organizational structure thinking and the tendency towards “favoring stability versus agility, control versus collaboration, and efficiency versus innovation.” Digital design thinking is crucial to remaining relevant within the industry, and this requires end-to-end systems thinking that focuses on customer-centricity. Job functions should not be “boxed in,” she says, and Radu Palmariu, too, underlines the importance of the bigger picture: “if you understand what the client wants and how your role fits into the solution, then you and your organization are more successful.”
Digital transformation is overused
Digital transformation is an overused term, according to Wendy Herrick, and not really fitting, since it is not a one-off event, but a move to agile thinking and constant evolution. Companies need to be on the ball, and for that to happen, their employees need to embrace the mindset of life-long-learning. “Be a learn-it-all instead of a know-it all,” she advises. Ampy Cheung Aswin points out that “the rate of change is around every 2.5 years,” in digital evolution, so there is no sitting back and considering digital transformation done and dusted. When it comes to digital adoption, “the young generation is already there. People like us still need to catch up!”, Radu Palamariu admits, but also drives home the panel’s unanimous consensus: “Digital is a must, visibility is a must. Technology matters, but we should not forget: Relationships matter. Human to human matters, and this we will not get away from.” The future is digital, but it remains human, too.
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.