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Driving supply chain value

SCMAO conference looks to future while offering tips for the present at annual conference


November 3, 2016
by Michael Power

Nicole Verkindt, founder of OMX and a "Dragon" on Next Gen Dragon, addresses the audience at the annual SCMAO conference.

Nicole Verkindt, founder of OMX and a “Dragon” on Next Gen Dragon, addresses the audience at the annual SCMAO conference.

TORONTO—The focus was squarely on innovation, technology and the future during the 2016 Supply Chain Management Association’s Ontario (SCMAO) chapter’s annual conference, held in Toronto on October 21. The event saw topics such as the Internet of Things (IoT); Via Rail’s vision for the future; flow casting; and supply chain innovation take centre stage during both education sessions and keynote addresses.

During the event’s opening keynote address, Nicole Verkindt, founder of OMX and a Dragon on Next Gen Den, discussed the networked economy which, she told the audience, is changing consumer expectations surrounding how they consume products. Amazon, for example, allows readers to download books immediately. “If I can buy a book on Amazon in nanoseconds, why should I—when I show up at your credit union—fill out all this paperwork?”

These shifts are changing the way many people earn income, Verkindt said. The Canadian economy took a big hit when oil dropped, she said. Still, the country recently added 67,000 jobs which she noted was three times the number of positions created in the US. But many of those jobs arose through online platlforms, or the so-called “gig” economy whereby people work freelance. Many are creating full-time positions through working several such gigs. “These people aren’t suffering,” she says. “They’re doing exactly what they love.”

In the last five years, the way in which people access information has changed from computers to mobile, Verkindt said. As well, the “internet of everything” promises to connect cars, refrigerators and other everyday items. While this is new, the asset is information and companies are working towards building up that data. The next wave, Verkindt noted, was to make sense of the data.

All these trends started in the business-to-consumer (b2c) realm, said Verkindt, with the b2b world the last to adopt them. “But it will happen,” she told the audience.

The theme of innovation continued when Blair Morrison, CPO at BMO Financial Group took the stage during a session called Innovation to Create Increased Supply Chain Value. Innovation is hard, Morrison told the audience, and diversity will drive the best results.

People are important in the innovation process, he stressed, and any organizations not yet talking about Millennial workers should begin doing so soon. That group represents the largest in the workforce and they have an affinity for mobile technology. To capitalize on the role of people in innovation, organizations should look at where talent is coming from, and whether their workforce is curious and willing to innovate. As well, the ability to take many groups and put them together is good, since there’s a need to bring people together to drive innovation.

Regarding process innovation, Morrison said that people want control of what’s happening, with the ability to make their own choices and decisions. Airbnb and Uber are examples of this, and users now want to rate whatever they’re using, including services like teachers and doctors. “It’s constant these days,” he told the audience.

Don’t go for perfect all the time because it will slow down processes, Morrison warned. An organization can have great goal setting, brand, vision statement and so on, but it’s still necessary to ensure that processes are aligned. “It’s all about processes,” he said.

In conclusion, Morrison suggested the audience approach innovation with an eye on risk management and change readiness. All organizations need to move quicker these days, but doing so leads to risk and mistakes. How a company deals with those factors defines them. Procurement can drive innovation when it integrates people, processes, technology and leadership, which can result in a fully engaged workforce.

The Internet of Things
Later in the conference, an industry panel discussed the Internet of Things (IoT) and its effects on business. Several ingredients are necessary for the IoT to work, said panelist Jeff Lundgren of Microsoft Canada. Actual objects or “things” are needed, such as airplanes, inventory, and so on. Also needed are connectivity, data and analytics tools, Lundgren noted. By 2020, 30 billion of these “things” will be connected to the Internet, he said, and they will generate massive amounts of data and business stand to realize tremendous value from that. So regardless of the actual business, every organization should become a software company to stay competitive.

The IoT is driving digital disruption in the physical world, noted fellow panelist Kurt Dionne of IBM Software Canada. Much of the technology has been around for a while, but the cost has been high and only justifiable in large, expensive products like airplanes. “But now, that’s not the case,” he told the audience. “Your cell phone is an Internet of Things sensor.” Lots is happening and there are IoT tools available for companies to leverage, Dionne noted.

Many new, connected products exist, said BlackBerry’s Aaron Lalvani. Smart TVs, wristbands, fridges and other products now dot the technology landscape. But the question now is: what does it mean and how can businesses harness the capabilities of the IoT? It’s not only about products, he said, but also business models. Amazon, for example, has algorithms that have predictive capabilities. Such capabilities also help provide visibility into our supply chains. “Complex business decisions will be made in minutes, seconds and nanoseconds,” he said.

Organizations must ask how technology will affect business, Lalvani noted. The business case for adopting IoT technology includes decreased operating costs; better asset and labour productivity; better asset utilization; and happier customers, he said.

Overall, the conference provided not only tips and best practices for the present, but also a glimpse into how current trends will shape the future. The event truly lived up to its slogan of “Driving Value Creation in Supply Chain.”