Interview with a Supply Chain Fan

The ability to forecast the future is a pretty nifty trick, for anyone. In business, it's especially handy. Just take a look at Tehseen Ali, co-founder of Charlotte, N.C.-based Verian Technologies, who zeroed in on the potential for supply chain...



Here's a typical example: Senior management in a particular company makes a decision to automate the procurement process, but the people whose jobs are affected aren't really excited about it. So, they get anxious. Or they object to the system's design. Or they drag their feet. [An enabler must] step back and try to include everybody in the evaluation and installation. We want them to understand how the system will improve their lives. [The enabler should] hold a stream of meetings, presentations, and planning sessions during which we solicit everyone's opinions and input. Then filter it all into a document for everyone to review. What happens is, employees buy into the process and have a real sense of ownership. A successful implementation is the direct result of employees' psychological buy-in at the beginning.


iSource: What about training?


Ali: When we roll out the system, we find it's more effective to help the organization do the introduction, rather than assume control ourselves. When we train people, they remember maybe 20 percent. When we train our customers to train their own people, the results are much better. So, we do a combination approach. We'll train a few people within the organization, then they train everyone else. The employees feel much more involved. It's not a matter of, How will the supplier help us, but How do we help ourselves?


iSource: Technology lets players within a supply chain collaborate much more intimately than before. Let's talk about the risks and rewards of that collaboration.


Ali: The benefits are obvious. Less waste, better information. But the drawbacks are pretty big, especially when competitors are working together. It sounds really good: competitors teaming up. But what if the economy goes bad? Then the competition between rivals becomes more intense. One party might ultimately try to sabotage the other. The whole thing could fall apart and become really messy. They have a lot of your information and you have a lot of theirs. It could turn into outright war. If we get into recession, I see many of these collaborations falling apart.


On the other hand, for example, if a big department store partners with a manufacturer to help streamline processes, I see a lot of benefits. Employees can more easily view available inventory and plan more efficiently. I see that as all for the good.


iSource: What's your philosophy about technology enabling the supply chain?


Ali: The goal of supply chain management is predictability in the planning and management of business processes. But without technology, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve any of that. Technology provides you with data that helps you get a high level of predictability and a higher trust factor. But remember: Technology is an enabler, not a problem solver. People solve problems; technology enables them to do that.


iSource: Tell us about the supply chain within your own company.


Ali: We have business processes. We have a corporate office and 10 satellite offices. And everyone sales, marketing, professional services, product development needs to collaborate with each other. Technology really enables us to communicate quickly with a high level of predictability through things like our internal Web site and e-mail.


A large manufacturer faces the same issues we do. Ours are just communication and knowledge-based, while theirs are product-information-based. Technology does the same thing for us that it does for anyone else, just in a different capacity.


iSource: Such a large company probably understands that the supply chain is something vital to the organization. But many smaller companies don't always feel the same way. Why do you think the supply chain is something that all companies have to take seriously?


Ali: In bigger companies, there's more money involved that's the bottom line. Bigger companies have bigger problems. So, there are more dollar savings from automation in large firms. But small companies have the same problems. They're simply magnified to a lesser extent. They just need a solution they can afford.

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