5 MIN READ
This is a guest contribution by Barbadian supply chain professional Wanda Downes. It is an independent piece and is not reflective of the views, thoughts or opinions of the author’s employer.
Technology isn’t dismal. It’s useful. We would’ve discussed this in detail in the article Overcoming Your Fear Of Technology—Even Partially—Can Potentially Improve Your Supply Chains. As useful as technology can be however, you should take caution against becoming a bandwagonist, hopping on and off trends for the sake of being current. Instead ask questions and take time to understand if a particular tech solution will truly be a problem-solving tool for your individual business.
Case in point—I recently participated in a trade management portal webinar used to tout “a cloud-based global procurement and collaboration platform that centralizes real-time order information, workflow statuses and shipment tracking”. It was very intriguing, and I could see the benefits of the portal especially as it relates to increasing visibility along my supply chain in areas where it is lacking.
In the webinar, the presenter used Apple as an example to illustrate how their portal works. Impressive, yes, but I had a few concerns as I operate from the small island of Barbados in a company that is relatively small as an individual entity when compared to the multinational behemoth that is Apple. How global was the “global” in this portal’s description?
I could see how a large company like Apple can insist on their vendors and other partners using this portal in order to do business with them, so I asked, “Do you have any clients that are smaller than Apple and have convinced their partners to utilize this portal?” For context, I added, “Our company has a relatively strong reach in Barbados and has multiple subsidaries across several of the Caribbean islands but some of our suppliers are very large—even larger than all of our group of companies combined—why would they be persuaded to implement this platform to satisfy the needs of our much smaller business?”
My questioning continued, “If we consider suppliers that are much smaller than we are, where our business contributes a great deal to their bottom line, they would likely be more willing to adopt the portal. However, if they are only using it to satisfy our needs alone, it may not be beneficial to them. Have you seen this occurring? What do you suggest in cases like these?”
Unfortunately, I have yet to receive an answer.
While technology, including portals like these, are valuable supply chain management tools, bear in mind that more often than not these tools are built based on operations that do not have the challenges peculiar to small island states like ours in Caribbean. This certainly does not mean that we are to be left out, just that questions like the ones I outlined prior need to asked and the answers fleshed out.
Below are 5 questions you need to ask—and have answers for—before adopting new technology for your supply chain.
1) Can it be integrated with my current systems and processes?
If it cannot that doesn’t mean you should not seek to find a way to integrate. The technology could be reimagined for your specific problems or processes. The point here is to be aware, start discussions and insist on answers so you can plan and cost implementation wisely.
2) Are my customers on board and prepared?
Know the benefits to customers, external and internal, and bear in mind that there will be an initial learning curve, which may cause some hesitancy. Customers have their own tech fears and misunderstandings; sometimes it may serve you well to create the offering and insist on its use before they see the benefits. By the same token, flashy tech might seem great but be careful not to neglect your customers’ needs by adding technology that won’t be used.
3) Can I test the new tech (use a beta version) to see if and how it will be used?
There’s a big, and possibly expensive, difference between people saying they like a new technology and actually using it once implemented. This is something I have seen too many times in my career.
An addendum to this is, “Will it support new or growing tech?” We all know technology changes very rapidly. You don’t want to invest in something now that won’t make sense in a few months and can’t be scaled if (when!) your business grows. Have trusted, knowledgeable advisors to help you make these determinations and keep an eye on changes in tech that will impact your business.
4) Will it help me be more competitive?
There are existing or upcoming creations for every part of your business: marketing, customer service, warehousing, logistics, procurement, quality control, operations and so on. Where you decide to invest should allow you to have a better offering than your competitors. This requires you to be knowledgeable of who your competitors are and how the technology can help you stand head and shoulders above them.
5) What are the risks?
You must know the potential return on investment if you add the new tech to your operations and what you could potentially stand to lose if you don’t. Also consider the possible disruptions in service if the technology is faulty and put a management plan in place.
Some other things to think about when assessing risk as suggested by small business expert Gene Marks of Business Know How (2016) are: Who makes the technology you are about to invest in and who supports it? Are there other services and technology attached to it required to make it work? Who else is using it and have you talked to them yet?
My final point, while not a question, is worth mentioning. I’m a firm believer in rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in processes you want to improve. You get insight that allows you to make better choices, especially since those who are actively working in the process may not always express their day-to-day activities in a manner that would be imperative for those choosing and implementing the technology. Large consulting firms like McKinsey & Company now have Implementation Teams that are charged with getting their hands dirty to ensure the right purchases are made and fully implemented, so don’t shortchange your supply chain; get your hands dirty too. Dive in so you know how to create value when choosing technology to improve your supply chain and by extension your business.
All these questions help with determining value and allow you to show it in a definitive manner. Of course, there are more that can be asked especially as you fine tune your choices to the needs of your individual business. Let me and your fellow readers know what else should be considered.
WRITTEN BY WANDA DOWNES
Wanda Downes is a believer that companies and individuals that do not have an understanding of supply chain management are missing out on great potential for growth. It’s not just purchasing or logistics!
Ella también está tratando muy duro de aprender español.
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MORE FROM WANDA
Overcoming Your Fear Of Technology—Even Partially—Can Potentially Improve Your Supply Chains
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