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January 5, 2022

What’s the problem? What does success look like? What comes first?

Things business leaders ponder before embarking on a digitization journey

When do prospective clients approach Elemica? What challenge are they typically facing?


Well, as you might guess, no two clients are exactly alike. But there are some common themes. More often than not we are approached by a person at the functional level who’s trying to solve a particular problem: claims resolution is taking too long and eating up too many manhours, or they want to be able to track shipments more easily or get automated alerts at key milestones. Something specific.

But then what happens, and we see this over and over again, after our new client has been working with us for a few weeks, mapping out and assessing processes… they come to realize the thing they originally approached us for, that problem or challenge they’re having in one area, is really just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. With larger implications, and opportunities, than they originally assumed.

Let’s say we have a client who has been spending too much on shipping. We work with them to automate carrier selection and route planning, as well as have much better visibility into all their shipping procedures. Now they’re connected to a powerful carrier network and have access to so much more carrier data, putting them in a stronger position to negotiate rates and terms. Once they see the efficiencies and financial savings, it doesn’t take long to conclude that same level of connectivity and transparency could have a similar impact on procurement, order to cash, etc.

So, clients typically come to us with one specific issue. But ultimately all aspects of a supply chain are connected. We work to help our clients piece everything together and identify areas where automation could make a measurable impact on the efficiency and profitability of their business.

Overall, what is your perspective on how much success there has been in automating across the global supply chain?

As we all know, the first step in solving any problem is admitting there is one. Most major manufacturers and retailers, certainly the global players, will tell you they recognize the importance of digitization. Maybe 70 to 75 percent. Given the times, with supply chain issues in the news every day, and all the chatter about how to overcome the challenges and what do you do to make your supply chain more resilient, etc., digital transformation is top of mind. Especially for the folks in the c-suite. And that’s important because you need leadership driving such significant endeavors.

And of those who at least recognize the need, most likely have some digital transformation initiative currently in progress. In most cases said initiative is under way in one area. But very few companies can say, right now, they have a comprehensive digital platform for collaboration with trading partners across their supply chain.

In a perfect world, everybody would have this. Everything would operate better. Every company would adapt and respond to market forces more quickly. Innovation would flourish. New industries would spring to life. Until then, and especially right now, anyone who is on their way to true digital transformation stands to gain a significant competitive advantage. No matter what industry or market sector they’re in.

What is the number one thing you'd recommend to a business that's thinking about digitizing all aspects or a portion of their supply chain?

The number one thing, for anyone, really, no matter what business or industry you’re in, before you do anything else: map out your processes. It's surprising how few businesses have a documented, step-by-step procedure on how, for example, supplier management and customer order management processes actually happen.

Think about the complexity of your supply chain—the many moving parts, all the people involved, the countless actions that depend on other actions, and the timing of all these fluid elements. It’s quite a machine, your supply chain. Essentially, you’re taking a look under the hood. You’re making note of what you believe “should” be happening and comparing that to what is actually occurring.

But if you don’t have these processes documented, how can you realistically assess their effectiveness? Imagine having to repair and maintain a Formula 1 race car without so much as an owner’s manual.

Let’s start by making sure your supply chain has an owner’s manual. Map. Out. Your. Processes. What does your supply chain look like right now? What isn’t working like it should? What will it take to fix the problems?

The simple act of writing it all down often reveals the biggest bottlenecks and which areas to focus on optimizing first. It also makes it easier to determine which processes will be easier to automate, and which will likely take more time, effort and resources.

Taking on an organization-wide initiative like digital transformation seems daunting. Everybody has questions at the outset. Don’t be shy. Chances are, we’ve answered them before.