Integrate people to optimize digital supply chains

It requires a lot of people to send up the Mars Rover or a space probe. It is never technology alone.

Once the rover lands, a lot of people are required to work with the technology to monitor performance, remotely fix performance glitches, interpret all the data coming back, and adjust the module’s activity to focus on what is important.

It’s a symbiotic relationship – people need technology and technology needs people in order to fully realize potential.

The same can be said for your digital supply chains.

How well you integrate people and automation will dictate your digital competitive success. I’m not talking about the chip in the head stuff but the collaborative way automation and people can coexist to provide best outcomes.

Unlocking the constraints to this collaboration will also avoid some of the not-so-great experiences that cost you revenue, time, and image. Here’s one of my more cynical views on total automation. Please remember: I integrate technology and am not its foe.

Let’s take a totally automated delivery scenario; the automated warehouse autonomously loads the driverless truck which proceeds along the most optimal route as chosen by the system. When the business’ digital bandwidth is exceeded due to high volume of digital traffic, certain trucks stop in the middle of the highway and wait until the bandwidth is no longer exceeded. (Another angle is that the data coverage isn’t exactly what is advertised and the truck no longer has a digital signal)

Stopped trucks are perfectly logical. Waiting in the middle of the highway for a signal is logical, however: not so safe.

What if we had a contract with a national chain of truck drivers? These drivers contract to be ready to go out to your truck at a moment’s notice when a digital distress signal comes in. They physically drive the truck either to its next destination; or at least off the highway to a truck stop. They are the AAA of trucking. While a simplistic solution, it has a side benefit of providing business continuity.

To solve some of the problems you can think of concerning improper or incomplete integration people and digital tech, we must creatively innovate on number 3 below from HBR’s article on digital competitiveness.

  1. public-private partnerships on digital innovations;
  2. better integration of automation, data, and new technologies into the legacy economy;
  3. investments in reskilling workers and teaching students in schools the skills and thinking to thrive in a digital world;
  4. improving access to capital and digital infrastructure and reducing the many inequities;
  5. sensible regulations that keep pace with the transforming rules of competition and have a dynamic view of protecting consumers’ interests without stifling innovation; and
  6. reimagining U.S. competitiveness in terms of its digital economy and international data flows and thinking beyond traditional manufacturing and trade of physical goods and services.

Identifying the need for these items to be integrated into our business strategies isn’t enough.

The people and the technology must be integrated so closely that:

  1. we stop complaining about our schools and host specific learning events with local children – whether in or out of a school setting – so that digital becomes second nature. A second nature that enables how we have to do business.
  2. we stop complaining about lack of trained personnel and start finding/creating the exact training our digital-people integration requires. This is more complicated than just bringing in spreadsheet training. It requires close collaboration between the various functional areas, HR, and finance as well as knowledge of processes and business maturity levels to move forward. This is the very mix that forces us to be innovative
  3. we hire people who are open to ideas. There is no “one size fits all”. There is no “this is how it has always been done, we don’t need to change.” There is no “I and people like me know best”. We get the best possible mix of people and technology
  4. we do not try to have technology take the place of personal insight and innovation. Or the opposite.

No amount of personal insight and innovation can outperform personal insight and innovation combined with data collection, data analysis, and decision making aided with digital tool sets.

Your experience may be most of the way to the competitive answer, but nuance counts. I’ve seen CEO’s miss the mark when they rely only on gut feeling and miss the nuance.

Nuance is captured using a combination of personal insight and innovation with digital technologies that enable data collection, analysis, and synthesis

Decision making is improved, faster, and more reliable decisions are made.

Employing a framework such as SCOR allows you to outline exactly what is needed at each process as well as take care of how the process performance will be monitored. This lets you objectively track an early warning signal that indicates when a new level of maturity, and often a new level of digital – human interaction, is required.

Because you plan for this event in advance, you have people ready and trained when needed.

Because you are track business performance, changes are not made until they would show up in the performance metrics as a positive. The changes are targeted to exactly where in your supply chains you will receive the looked for improvement. You eliminate guessing and minimize opinion while employing human-digital integration for decision making.

One framework, multiple areas of simultaneous benefit simultaneously, and a more engaged workforce providing you with a competitive digital advantage. Key words and concepts: people, strategy, innovation, digital competitiveness, metrics, SCOR, supply chain, performance, process

About the author: Cynthia Kalina-Kaminsky with Process & Strategy consults with and provides training for organizations eager to increase their competitive value by helping enable growth, align performance, make and move product (even when the product is electrons). She is teaching SCOR (Supply Chain Operations Reference model) in Baton Rouge this October. SCOR is the framework Fortune 500 companies use to increase their performance.


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