Today's IT Leader: A Key Strategic Supply Chain Partner

Darrell Edwards, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer, La-Z-Boy [NYSE: LZB]
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When many of us think about strategic technology benefits in our business, thoughts often gravitate towards some type of information technology system, perhaps a warehouse management system or a demand planning system, and clearly such technology has made our business life incredibly efficient. However, with that said, if we think a bit more broadly, maybe more strategically, benefit can also exist at the intersection of managerial thought and technology. In-fact, perhaps the greatest contribution your Information Technology (IT) business partner can offer, lies not within the literal function of data processing, but through thought leadership and being a key business advisor to your supply chain team.

IT: A Critical Link in the Supply Chain

So what exactly do I mean by IT being a critical link in your supply chain? Well, a question for consideration while developing your supply chain team might be, do most of your functional leaders have an IT member sitting on their leadership team? You may think such managerial and leadership thinking is commonplace and common sense, well, think again. Clearly at the most senior levels of the organization, IT strategy is considered, and generally well represented in firms, but what about one, or maybe two layers down; is this always the case, likely not? If such thought leadership is a bit abstract, why would I suggest IT professionals be integrated two layers down in the functional organization? A hint, the key word here is integration. By formally integrating IT talent as an active team member within the supply chain, efficient and effective decisions can be made with a comprehensive holistic view upstream. Such integrated thinking minimizes mistakes and reduces complexity. Simply put, my best response is it facilitates complexity reduction and effective decision making. Complexity is costly in any enterprise, and anytime the firm can streamline its decision making, and ultimately its process design, complexity is reduced and firm value is created. So if you haven’t done so, consider making your IT partners key members, deep within your supply chain lead teams.

  ​By formally integrating IT talent as an active team member within the supply chain, efficient and effective decisions can be made with a comprehensive holistic view upstream  

Today’s IT Leader; A Key Supply Chain Talent Advisor

Most leading supply chain organizations do critical talent reviews regarding employee development, succession planning, skills assessment, and a key advisor that should not be overlooked (they actually should be integrated into the process, there’s that word again, integration) is your supply chain IT partner. Consider taking inventory of the organizational importance placed on the IT function during your supply chain talent reviews. This critical advisor has the unique capability, and perspective, to offer an integrated holistic systems view of your supply chain, thereby minimizing disparate systems, increasing efficiency, reducing complexity, and ultimately creating value. When done well, and done so as a deliberate strategic initiative, more value can potentially be created from your IT partner’s thought leadership than created from their actual skill in systems execution and data processing.

IT Helps the People Side of the Supply Chain

In today’s environment of the almost instantaneous flow of information, the business community has been conditioned to expect practically any conceivable type of information will be available real-time, and in reality, it is. What if we expand this philosophical approach more broadly within the business, such as information sharing on the shop floor, in the office areas, or perhaps in the break rooms….well, you get idea? If we extend IT thinking past the transactional processing of data, and tap into the people side of the business, we can begin to create value by investing in our human capital. What do I mean when I say investing in human capital? Well, potentially offering interactive screens that list human interests’ information, allowing employee’s access to useful information that enhances the quality of their lives, perhaps personal financial information, or health and wellness information, or maybe community events information. Technology distributed through virtual information centers, sometimes called dashboards, kiosks, is effective, efficient, and insures the messaging is very consistent, and consistent messaging creates trust within the firm. Moreover, it converts messaging into a common language, again reducing complexity. Such a platform creates just another avenue where your IT partner can help you leverage the people side of the business through technology. Remember, your IT partner has the ability to architect a system that provides real-time useful information helping you make informed business decisions, as well as improve the quality of lives of those who matter most in your business, your employees.

Conclusion

The responsibility of leadership demands from its leaders, a broader perspective of knowledge transfer within the firm, and as such, every functional area must contribute if competitive advantage is to be created. Additionally, when all business partners contribute, a culture of collaboration is proliferated, and winning becomes easier. As a business leader, when you develop a deliberate thought strategy that integrates IT thinking within the business, and I mean deeply within the business, organizational value is created. Clearly, IT professionals are well respected for their technical ability, and rightly so, but just in-case, you may consider working to insure myopic thinking doesn’t creep into the firm, negating the valuable strategic insight your IT partner contributes to thought leadership.  So, as you develop your business plans around your talent, your human capital, your people, you might want to consider your IT partner as one of your chief strategists.

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