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July 11, 2019

The Changing Skillset of the Supply Chain Professional

In this new era of supply chain management, the required skillsets have become more advanced. Mat Woodcock, Customer Success Strategist, LLamasoft explores the skills and behaviours businesses need to invest in

The beauty of technology’s impact on the supply chain is its power to add value by enabling faster and smarter decision making. However, while AI, machine learning and automation will continue to disrupt, organisations still rely on human talent to determine the correct inputs and interpret, understand and operationalise the outputs.

One of the areas in which this is most applicable is in the field of supply chain modelling, in which organisations place the complicated physical supply chain within the constructs of a digital model and driver smarter decision making by playing out different scenarios using the power of mathematics.

For the increasing number of companies investing in supply chain design and modelling technology, there is a direct correlation between the maturity of their internal competence and the speed, recurrence and magnitude of the benefit.

However, while this is a nascent technology with game-changing capabilities, the skills required to leverage it are both specialised and scarce.

In order to reap the significant benefits of today’s sophisticated supply chain modelling technologies, organisations need people who demonstrate a profound understanding of their organisation and its operational processes, the mathematical skills to represent and re-imagine the complex physical world in the constructs of a data model and the ability to communicate the strategic importance of supply chain modelling and optimisation projects to senior stakeholders.

While these skills typically exist across all large organisations, coalescing these within a single individual is no easy feat. So how do you overcome this?

Breaking down the problem

One of the ways in which companies can counter this challenge is to deconstruct the different roles. Depending on the skills already present and the size of the team, an individual may hold more than one role.

There are four main tasks in a core supply chain design team:

  • Leadership – this role is in charge of leading, defining, scoping and identifying which design projects to undertake

  • Project Management – this role is dedicated to running projects successfully, on time, within budget and with clear outcomes

  • Design – this role creates, validates and understands the model to produce concrete recommendations to answer business questions

  • Data – this role is dedicated to extracting, cleaning, blending, automating and understanding data to create a data model

The beauty of this approach is it also provides an approach for scalability of the team, skills development and succession planning.

Finding the people – make or buy?

On the one hand, you can bring in experts specifically who will have the required data and modelling skills, but will often have to learn your specific business, supply chain, stakeholders and culture. While this approach typically offers a rapid time to value, it can be expensive.

On the other hand, you can ‘grow your own’, building and cultivating a team of individuals already versed in your company’s specific challenges and supply chain. This is likely to be the better approach in the longer term, but is inherently slower when there is an urgent challenge to address.

Cultivating the skills – from science to art

Even where outside experts are brought in specifically, a key need is to establish a talent pipeline to commence developing the next generation for the team. LLamasoft customers with a high level of maturity in supply chain modelling have established schemes where the upcoming talent in the business has a rotation within their modelling team, with those showing potential being further developed. Attracting talented individuals to the team is usually an easy sell - after all, where else can you be involved in solving the key challenges of the business and engaging with senior stakeholders with a unique holistic view of the supply chain.

However, finding fully-baked supply chain designers is rare and many companies cultivate these skills in stages, starting with a solid understanding of, and interest in, the company’s supply chain.

At the same time, the best candidates will also demonstrate a natural aptitude for conceptually thinking about data, attention to detail and a mathematical approach. Within most organisations, the people with these skills are already present and known about. They may or may not have a mathematical or operations research background, but they will be the person who everyone goes to for a spreadsheet to solve a problem or how to use a new piece of software, whatever their formal role.

The next stage is to start exposing the individual to pre-built models, having them create and run scenarios, getting familiar with what makes the supply chain behave the way it does and which information is important. Those that show aptitude with the model running and instinctively start improving and challenging the models can move onto the designer level, where the focus switches from a science to an art. This involves the ability to take a business problem, break it into the appropriate questions and develop a modelling approach of the right level of precision and accuracy to be able to answer those questions.

With experience, these designers will often progress into the project management role, naturally combining the two, and then potentially adding in the stakeholder skills required to progress onto the leadership role, although it is also common to recruit existing people in the business who have these skills already where a strong designer is already in place.

There’s an app for that!

While it’s hard to foresee a time when companies no longer need people who can convert business questions into supply chain models, technological advances are making it easier for business users and stakeholders to consume advanced analytics without the need for specialist expertise.

Configurable application frameworks, better known as apps, are increasingly being used to enable business users to interact with sophisticated supply chain models via simple interfaces and workflows, extending the power of the technology across the enterprise. Cloud technology is also democratising access to supply chain design technology across geographical, functional and organisational borders.

This not only has the benefit of enabling the wider organisation to access the myriad benefits of supply chain design and decisioning technology, but also extends the breeding ground for the next generation of more expert users.
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