November 2, 2021

The Human Body and the Supply Chain, a Survival Story

Overcoming Obstacles to Your Digital Transformation

Greetings, fellow survivors. It’s week 86 of the pandemic. Or is it week 91? 104? Hard to say. No one is really sure when it started. For most of us, what we really want to know is when it’s going to end. We’ve been speculating on that since early summer of 2020, and even with all we’ve learned since, we still can’t definitively say.

Which begs the question, what if it never ends? Could we survive and live with this psychotic bug moving forward?

Probably. After all, we’ve managed to adapt and overcome every other unstoppable destructive force thrown at us so far. Smallpox, earthquakes, hurricanes. Reality TV. Social media. The ridiculous overtime in college football.

We’ll adapt.

Our bodies are amazingly resilient, handling so many issues that arise, automatically. Moreover, as a group, we human beings are a scrappy bunch, even when facing dire consequences. Especially when we connect and communicate, pooling resources and putting our minds together to solve problems. The vaccines are great examples of our extraordinary collaborative capacity.

So yes, we’ll strengthen our bodies to survive.

Perhaps our bigger concern is, will we be able to go on without same day or next day delivery?

Since that scenario might be too catastrophic to consider, let’s shape the question this way: will our businesses, our industries, indeed, our economies survive the massive blows this virus keeps dealing our supply chains?

Yes. If we make our supply chains a little more like us.

Giving your supply chain a nervous system

Imagine having to constantly concentrate on making your heart ship blood to all its critical destinations. Or typing in precise codes to get your lungs to expand and contract.

It’s remarkable how much automation exists in the human body. Especially under duress. When the body overheats, it cools itself. Experience a cut or a scrape and your systems immediately launch a recovery plan. Trauma, wherever it occurs on the body, triggers a notification, in the form of pain, that goes right to your brain.

Today, thanks to the Internet, artificial intelligence and the experience of some very sharp consultants, you can transform your supply chain to work much the same way.

Now, it’s not easy. Your supply chain can’t become the perfect functioning organism overnight, and you will experience a few bumps along the way. But with a clear vision and consistent communication, none are insurmountable. That’s because the source of almost all digital transformation challenges is, ironically enough, people. The same ones we’re trying to help.

The primary obstacles to digital transformation, and how to address them

Lack of support

You’ve probably got people on staff right now who’re anxious to automate. Your IT people are thinking, “Let’s go, it’s 2021. What’s the holdup?”

But this is more than an IT initiative. It’s an everybody initiative. And most of them are busy toiling away on billable jobs with deadlines. Their current list of projects is generating plenty of stress, and they may see streamlining the order-to-cash process as simply more work and additional pressure.

This is understandable and very common. The key here is to help them see that this transformation is going to relieve many of the things keeping them up at night right now. This may require recruiting some champions—key influencers on different teams—to sell the vision to your hardworking folks who need some extra encouragement.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell referenced Paul Revere’s success at spreading the word the British were coming. He wasn’t the only one racing from village to village. But he knew who to enlist early on, those influencers who could spread the word and make a difference.

Find your champions, communicate the vision and help everyone see how we all benefit from the transformation mission.

Resistance to change

Chances are you have an analog process, or several, that some think are fine as-is. “We don’t need to automate logistics, we’ve been doing it this way for years,” they’ll say, clinging to what’s familiar, arguing that it hasn’t cost you a customer and it’s not a big expense. Or is it? It might be holding you back, consuming the time and energy of someone who could be doing something more valuable. Perhaps something that could win you new customers or save big money.

People oppose change for a variety of reasons: fear of learning something new, concern over losing control, inability to admit there is a better way. And these are hard to overcome. Resistance to change is more than an employee trait. It is basically Newton’s first law, the law of inertia. A body at rest (or in motion) will remain so unless acted upon by a force.

The force required here is, again, good communication. But it should be an easy sell. This isn’t change that requires more effort. This is change that reduces tedium, adds flexibility and gives employees the freedom and space to increase their value to the organization.

Competing initiatives

Since enhanced visibility and efficiency across the entire supply chain is so attractive, many if not most organizations have some form of digitization-automation effort underway. In fact, the larger entities may have two or three such projects going at the same time. While this suggests a lot of good intention, dueling digital initiatives can be complicated and tricky to manage.

In such cases, the different teams have probably engaged different consultants, are employing different software solutions, and almost certainly are not communicating with one another. Money is going out in several directions without the teams aligning technically, tactically or philosophically. At some point, something has to give, tough calls must be made, possibly based on which vendor relationship is the longest, which engagement started first, who’s spent the most money, etc. Instead of which solution is best for the organization.

That’s why digital transformation requires a clear vision from the top. Leadership needs to share the organization’s goals, expectations and responsibilities up front, with everybody. It’s also a good idea to make sure the various teams affected will have a voice throughout the process.

Fear of job loss

How long have we been afraid now of machines “taking over”? We’d probably need some significant processing power to count all the movies that threatened our existence with some technological terror.

No one wants to give their job over to a robot or an algorithm. But this fear, while understandably human, is antiquated. In an indirect way, your digital transformation efforts should create jobs. When tedious admin tasks become automated, significant manhours can be redirected for other, more valuable work. So, you’re now getting more out of your current workforce. Especially if you’re willing to see those team members gain new skills, learn new roles, take on more responsibility, etc.

What’s more, the increased visibility and insights gained throughout your supply chain can spur innovation, inspire new business models and generate additional revenue streams, all of which will inevitably do what? Create new jobs.

Communicating this early on will help alleviate these unnecessary job loss fears and boost morale about what’s to come.

You will survive

You’ll notice that most of the obstacles you encounter along your organization’s transformation journey have to do, one way or another, with anxiety about the unknown or unfamiliar. That’s just human nature. Clear, thoughtful vision and open, consistent communication across the company can address and alleviate all those concerns. If leadership stays engaged and recruits the right champions for the effort, you’ll survive the transformation process, and your supply chain will be much stronger and more resilient moving forward, handling whatever adversity comes its way.