Bridging the Gap between Supply Chain and Technology

Biren Gandhi, VP, Cisco [NasdaqGS:CSCO]
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Biren Gandhi, VP, Cisco [NasdaqGS:CSCO]

As a part of the Corporate Strategic Innovation Group at Cisco, our team’s mission is to lead disruptive innovation efforts and incubate new businesses around breakthrough technologies. As part of that broad charter, we are looking into various digital transformation technologies, such as IoT & Fog Computing, blockchain, drones, artificial intelligence, augmented/virtual reality and many more. Specifically, I’m leading Cisco’s drone program as we develop an autonomous systems platform that can make all drones smarter, safer and more secure, with the goal to drive substantial business outcomes.

We are working with NASA, FAA and other regulatory agencies; startups and mature corporations world-wide as part of multiparty traffic management and infrastructural solutions for commercial drone applications. We leverage Cisco’s Global Innovation Centers throughout the world to tap into local geographies and ecosystems to discover creative solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges.

Changes in Supply Chain Operating Model

The Supply Chain industry has undergone massive changes in the last few years. Globalization, fierce competition, multilateral trade agreements, democratization of knowledge, commoditization of goods and technology adoption have brought drastic changes into how traditional supply chain elements interact with one another. From sourcing & planning to making & fulfilling and, finally, to selling & supporting-all aspects of global supply chain have become more efficient but less resilient at the same time.

  ​Agility in technology decision making is equally important as agility in supply chain operations 

In the field, we are seeing unprecedented cycle times with the increased use of technology but without the necessary attention to security, connectivity and collaboration.

Goal of Cisco in terms of Supply Chain

Cisco’s overarching goal is to lead digital transformation journeys of various industry segments-including Supply Chain. Offering not just awareness and education, but providing highly effective and massively scalable, resilient solutions is one of the key objectives. As more devices become connected, discovering and operationalizing their onboarding, provisioning, maintaining, auditing, upgrading and securing becomes exponentially daunting tasks. However, collaborative multi-party exercises, such as the event Cisco organized last year in Berlin, can bring together top minds from relevant industries and make a difference.

All the pillars of Cisco’s innovation strategy-build, buy, partner, invest, co-develop-rely heavily on developing strategic partnerships. Digital transformation is happening anyway-whether we like it or not-and its scale is so massive that it is impossible for any single entity to solve all the problems. Open innovation is the only feasible approach to tame these unforeseen challenges of the supply chain industry and Cisco is fully committed to working with partners on that front.

Challenges

The biggest obstacle facing any business decision is “why”. In other words, decision makers are constantly seeking a plausible answer to the dreaded question, “what’s in it for me?” Many times, people tend to justify their lack of investment in emerging technologies with the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, that’s one of the biggest mistakes in my opinion. One should start thinking about improving things, especially when they are not broken. When something is broken, you’re under pressure to fix it ASAP and the decisions you make will most likely be short-term in nature.

Technology is progressing quite rapidly in the supply chain industry. In some instances, many hype-powered technologies vanish faster than they come to life. Obviously, leaders cannot and should not chase after each and every technology opportunity for improving their return-on-investment. Instead, they are better off paying careful attention to what sticks over a substantial period of time. Performing small, controlled and carefully managed pilot projects can unleash the potential and pitfalls associated with disruptive technologies and produce the valuable insights needed to make data-driven decisions about adopting a given technology. Relying entirely on gut feel perceptions and prejudices will render you irrelevant-sooner or later. Agility in technology decision making is equally important as agility in supply chain operations.

Change in Mindset

Human beings are change resistant by nature. The bigger the change, the more inertial pushback one is expected to get. To break out of this conspicuous loop of indecisiveness, innovative companies implement some simple, yet time-tested techniques.

(1) Have clear ROI justifications and expectations-to make sure all the stakeholders are aware of the benefits of doing anything new or different.
(2) Reduce adoption resistance by breaking down any initiative into smaller, bite-sized, measurable chunks.
(3) Celebrate small wins while still maintaining the long-term focus. Realizing tangible benefits, no matter how small, incentivize teams to progress in the right direction.

Service-oriented offering models are not new for many other industries. Take IT for example. CapEx-centric private data centers are phasing out in favor of OpEx-centric public clouds for IT infrastructure deployment. X-as-a-Service model is gaining sweeping popularity due to its simplicity, faster-time-to-market and little-capital-lock-up attributes. Drawing parallel to such successful use cases from other industries may help drive adoption of service offering models.

Roadmap

Although drones are useful to move supply chain innovation to new heights, the bigger impact may be achieved through ubiquitous adoption of blockchain technology.

Distributed ledger along with the inherent security and transparency it provides, could revolutionize the global supply chain industry. All major components of the industry are comprised of inter-connected and inter-dependent gather-scatter network of producers and consumers. Accountability, source-verifiability, predictability, quality and many other essential attributes of the supply chain industry could become intrinsic nature of the process with wider adoption of block chain technology.

Many other technology disruptions could be leveraged across all the phases of current and futuristic supply chain operations. Predictive context, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and many other technologies could have positive, sustainable and game changing impact on the future of the global supply chain industry.

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