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Interview with a Leader - March 2021

Every month in 2021, APR will share a discussion with a Leader in his/her field.

Great news, for this March Interview with a Leader episode, we are tackling the digitalization topic!

We had the chance to talk with Claire Milner, Senior Vice President of Kinaxis EMEA.

Kinaxis provides software that is enabling businesses to think differently about how they manage and plan their supply chains. Using technology to enable better human decision making and innovation. Historically, supply chain functions such as forecasting, planning, production etc have been considered as silos and optimised as such. Kinaxis connects every dot in the value chain to consider the supply chain as a whole, an end-to-end eco system and to bring transparency in every step of the process. Their vision of supply chain as a ‘living’ system, which is now truer than ever, is dealt with in their adaptive and simulative software.

Claire is the Senior VP of Kinaxis EMEA and has enjoyed every step of the journey that took her there. For the last 28 years, she has shared her career path with technology companies that were leading a shift in thinking. She has been by the client’s side not only to implement tools but also to help them drive transformation and change that in the end help the technology to be used and the benefit to be realised. Kinaxis makes sense to her, people matter whether you think about the company culture or their business engagements: technology will never replace humans.

Transformation and digitalization are currently two words in every mouth, but is there a difference between a pre and post covid digital transformation?

Claire reminded us that the call for change has been there for a few years now, so in some ways there are no differences.

Nevertheless, Covid has accelerated the process and the awareness of that need to change. She says, we have to think differently about how we plan our supply chains in order to become more agile, resilient and sustainable. She sees that there is also some bottom-up pressure from employees to change. Employees who think that we have gone through so much with COVID and are therefore pushing for change inside organizations.

But there is also renewed top-down pressure: senior executives who have focused their spending elsewhere (in R&D for example) are now rightly looking closer at how important supply chain is to the survival and proper functioning of their company.

Claire believes that supply chain often ‘just works’ because great people are doing extraordinary things every day to make it so, but this can be sustainable for only a certain amount of time. It can turn into a waste of employee’s motivation, and worst, of their imagination and ability for innovation.

Finally, Claire confirms that priorities have changed. Companies are realising that not everything can be predicted and that disruptions remain a daily matter in supply chain. We invest a lot of time and money to improve the accuracy of our forecasts, now we need to also be agile and be able to quickly simulate our options and pivot either towards another opportunity or away from danger. Or both!

There is a true shift in thinking simply because whilst forecast accuracy can bring you some improved economic performance, it’s agility that has the biggest and longest impact on the numbers. (whether that be return on assets, working capital preservation or stock price)

Behind the expression ‘digital transformation’, there are fundamental topics like agility, resilience but also integration: what’s your view (and Kinaxis’) on how to embed one in another?

Unfortunately, people and companies innovate and then rush back to Excel, this is still the most prevalent planning tool! If the tool isn’t accompanied with wider change or isn’t agile enough to adapt to real world situations then humans are enterprising and find ways around to solve their challenges.

But when data is pulled out of the system, control, visibility and transparency are lost: therefore, the integration of the tool is really fundamental to success.

Kinaxis created their user friendly ‘digital twin’ designed to give different levels of information granularity (the right amount of info a specific user need) but to keep the interconnection. Technically it can be an integration of hundreds of systems or only a few but the aim is always to provide the right amount of information and control for companies to manage their businesses.

Claire believes that those transformations should be thought less about technology and more about process and people: the technology does not drive the change on its own! If information is now at the fingertips when it used to take hours or days to get, we must think on the impact it could have on the company processes. Furthermore, the thinking and collaborating should become end-to-end, so should therefore the KPIs. Having planners understand the benefits of this change to them as well as the company is an important part of change management.

Kinaxis mission is not just about changing the technology but really about a partnership to drive change: it always comes back to people! Talking about ‘digital transformation’ is restrictive, Claire pushes to talk about also about ‘techniques’ as to transform it’s the techniques we use to plan also need to be re-thought. The technology is simply a tool to enable people to use their brain power to innovate and to collaborate with their colleagues and to be able to see the wider impact of the decisions they make on the overall company.

We could not resist then to connect this discussion stream to the talent question: considering those changes, what is the future profile of people in supply chain?

With only 27% of leaders in a recent survey believing that they have the talent needed to meet current supply chain performance requirements, supply chain is not any more about managing spreadsheets or it shouldn’t be: we have seen it is not that fun or stimulating! The use of modern tools and techniques enables people to use their hard learned skills to solve the complex problems we see in supply chains and change the course of a company future.

As agility becomes more and more a focus (it was visibility some time ago), if the technology they use can provide the insight they need quickly then companies can rely on people to use their brain power to intervene once the problem is identified or if we automate some of the more standard responses, to look forward and think about the what might happen instead of running to keep up with what happened yesterday: what is the next move, how to decide, what are the impacts of a decision…?

The whole industry is struggling to find successful supply chain talent. The next generation of supply chain talent will have a more varied background, businesses will need someone who can navigate with agility across demand and supply and whom have the deep domain expertise to handle exceptions and disruptions. Communication skills, analytical skills, business knowledge and the ability to adapt to change. The attraction for this new kind of role is increasing and talent is actively looking to move to a more modern supply chain environment. One where they feel they can make a difference.

Supply chain organizations are increasingly looking for creativity, business knowledge, personal resilience, or adaptability. The best of all attribute: the interest and mental agility in solving complex problems in a collaborative environment; in the end, that’s supply chain!

One last great observation: Claire has witnessed many more women in supply chain leadership positions over the last few years and its encouraging for the next generation of leaders. Supply chain brings a world of opportunities for anyone wanting a diverse, interesting career. The place to be !

To companies wondering if it’s the right time to jump: one last tip for a successful transition?

It is never too late!

There have been significant changes in the landscape in the last 5 years: learning and connecting from peers will get you one step closer.

Once you decide and have a vision of where you want to go, have a vision and onboard your organization so you can quickly see the value along the road of transformation..

Kinaxis has brought organizations major changes in less than 12 weeks, it is easier than you might think to get started on the path of transformation !

A trap to watch out though: Technology can get over hyped it’s the combination of the right technique, technology and people that will make the difference.

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