An Interview on How to Use Technology to Prepare for Unexpected Disruption with Anand Singh
Anand started working in Procurement and Supply Chain at an early age in his family business. He was managing a small fleet of two trucks serving their most important clients, including Unilever. His father started the logistics and distribution company on the East coast of India.
From there, his career took him to the USA, where he has worked in many large organizations across different industries. These included Cooper Tire & Rubber in the automotive sector as well as nine years with Philips Healthcare.
With Anand, we discussed:
- How to be better prepared for unexpected disruption
- The impact of Industry 4.0 in the area of supply chain management
- How to get the most out of your technology and engage stakeholders
How and why did the pandemic impact the day-to-day of our supply chains in the way that it did
We started the conversation with a brief recap of the last couple of years and, most importantly, the lessons to be learned following an event that Anand sees as so predictable that the industry ignored it.
As he explains, “To begin with, I would say events will happen. The pandemic in the rear-view mirror was very predictable. If you ask people, they say ‘oh I could have predicted that,’ but the fact is, we didn’t. What we miss today is events planning. We overlook the most obvious scenarios because they are too predictable to be true.”
“So, long story short, the industry was not prepared for it. I would say the world of business in general [was not prepared] and is still not prepared,” he says.
How can you better prepare for unexpected disruption in your supply chain?
Anand believes that supply chains across industries and sectors should be focusing on mapping different unexpected events more holistically. “Consider how the most obvious events could connect the dots to something bigger that has not been thought about or is not in the prediction roadmap,” he advises.
Anand warns that everyone is so focused on innovating with more technology, while not enough attention is being placed on integrating with the technology we already have.
This led us onto the topic of how to get the most out of technology.
The impact of Industry 4.0 in the area of supply chain management
Anand is excited to see the changes that new technology is bringing in terms of moving to an integrated supply chain model. He explains, “Today, the projects I’m working on are dealing with ‘integrated supply chain,’ looking at the new model for supply chain.”
“In the integrated supply chain model, we are trying to set up supply chain in a way where there is a vertical and a horizontal integration.
So, the vertical integration is across the products of the company or the business units. And the horizontal integration is looking at all the different functions within the organization. Starting from finance, accounting, to marketing and so on.”
In his view, the evolution to Industry 4.0 has brought many changes that now should be leveraged to make supply chain more sustainable. In his words, “Industry 4.0 has brought in a lot of new technologies, especially in the AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) space. And supply chain plays a key role in leveraging those technologies. So that’s where I’m looking at the moment, in terms of how we make supply chain more sustainable and aligned with the evolution of Industry 4.0.”
What are the key differences between consumer-packaged goods and the healthcare/medical device sectors from the supply chain perspective?
Anand has broad experience, in particular within two sectors. First, the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and consumer-packaged goods (CPG) space. Second, within the healthcare and medical device sector. We asked him to share his thoughts on the changes he has seen in those areas and to talk to any differences.
As Anand explains, FMCG and CPG products mostly have a very short shelf life or are less durable. As a result, he says, “that sector was actually the first mover in trying to learn and adjust to more of a ‘just in time’ concept. They were trying to be the first movers in predicting consumer behavior, so that they could avoid excess inventory and waste in the process.”
“Meanwhile, within the healthcare industry and the med device sector, the supply chains have evolved more into an integrated model. Not that FMCG didn’t do that,” he continues, but adds, “I think the med device companies, however, have done better on that, because it’s a very closed loop supply chain.”
“The med device sector has evolved with Industry 4.0, where there’s a heavy leverage of AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) and other predictive tools, upstream and downstream in the supply chain. So, we’re getting a lot of good information on patient behavior, in terms of how they’re using these devices. And accordingly, the med device companies are planning ahead of time, as to how they can make the product better.”
Summing up, Anand concludes, “That’s where the evolution has happened: one had a first mover’s advantage in terms of how they wanted to predict consumer behavior; and the other, in the med device sector, they have been really good at integrating and creating a very new model. A closed loop model within the supply chain.”
How to get the most out of your technology by listening to your stakeholders
Anand places the biggest emphasis on listening to your stakeholders. In his words, “The most important part, when we talk about technologies, is we need to better understand the key stakeholders and the people involved in the game.”
The mistakes he sees people making is losing touch with the human aspect of technology. “When we talk about technology, we are just thinking of it in terms of a ‘non-existing human brain.’ We call it artificial intelligence, but that artificial intelligence is actually powered by human intelligence. Technology only enables what we plug in, as inputs. Inputs are basically collaborative human interactions and ideas, and that powers the success of a technology,” he explains.
Listening to the suppliers’ perspective
According to Anand, while trying to adapt to ‘the new normal’ with all the new technologies, we often forget about a particularly important stakeholder sitting at the very top of the supply chain – and that is the supplier.
“The supplier is one of those who can be your greatest partner in helping you to be successful. Or it could be the worst, where you will be losing a lot of business because the quality of your products is going to be really poor.”
“With that said, if there is a new technology which we are going to leverage to enhance our supply chain or to optimize our operations, then our suppliers need to be connected to that, not only from a decision-making standpoint, but also somewhere within that system,” Anand explains.
He points out that suppliers, “should have certain visibility and they should play a role. Because if they’re not a part of that journey, honestly, you cannot blame them in the future, if things are not going right in terms of their supply, delivery, quality, all those standards.”
Anand continues, “We should look at some of these companies like Toyota. Toyota’s relationship with the supplier is so strong that even when a tsunami happens, the supplier stands up for them.”
Technology is an enabler but key for success is always going to be good relationships
The pandemic scenario exposed how unprepared we were for disruptive events – and revealed in some cases how some relationships with suppliers had not received the attention that they deserved.
Meanwhile, the evolution of Industry 4.0 has introduced many innovative technologies into the world of Procurement and Supply Chain. The key to leveraging this innovation is to focus on integrating it within the context of the business, by understanding your stakeholders. Listen to them and involve them early in the implementation journey so that the tools will be useful and, as a result, used by them.
Supply Chain and Procurement are all about people. Anand explains, “Supply is all about people, business is all about people, and suppliers are human beings. They are not AIs. Having that live conversation, getting to know what their priorities are, what your priorities are, what technology you want to leverage next and making them a part of the journey is going to be key for success.”