All posts by Elaine Porteous

How to Manage Unwanted Supplier Gifts

In days gone by, Christmas gifts from suppliers were the norm. Now it’s no longer the case. But how do you turn them down without offending anyone?

unwanted gifts
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

Way back, towards the end of the last century, year-end gifts from suppliers were not only abundant but also expected. It was common practice for suppliers to spend serious money on lavish trips, dining out and sports tickets for their procurement friends.

Sometimes they would send you a fridge or a TV to your home address. In return, it was expected that they would receive preferential treatment.  Gift policies, if they existed, were generally ignored.

Fast Forward to Today 

Most companies have a gift policy or at least a code of conduct which provides guidance on the acceptance of gifts from suppliers. Amazingly, these vary widely from zero tolerance to those which are too loose and therefore left open to interpretation. 

Some companies allow staff to accept nothing, not even pens and calendars.  Some are more realistic where luxury food items, flowers and low-value branded gifts are acceptable, usually up to a fixed value.

Julian Friedland, a US ethics professor and philosopher, believes that ethical businesses tend to succeed better over the long term. He says, “If you don’t have one [a gift policy], then you open yourself up to a credibility, liability problem. Whatever product you happen to be selling, whether it’s a service or actual object of any kind, can be compromised by the appearance of some conflict of interest.”

“A good policy will preclude employees from accepting anything that increases their self-worth—such as cash, stocks and shares, or expensive presents.”

Communicate the Gift Policy

Ideally, every organisation should clearly communicate its gift policy to any external party that could influence procurement behaviour. This includes not only current suppliers but aspiring suppliers, potential employees, consultants, business advisors and other associates.

A firm communication should have the effect of at least limiting the problem. However, it may be too late for the upcoming silly season.      

Managing Unacceptable Gifts

Despite the above, unacceptable gifts will arrive.  There are quite a few options here, each has its problems:

  • Return the gift to the supplier

Emphasise that, regretfully,  your policy precludes you from accepting this wonderful gift. (Did they know about the policy?). This action may run the risk of souring the future relationship a little, but too bad.

  • Share the spoils between members of the procurement team

This should have the effect of ensuring that no-one is influenced to act in favour of the supplier. The risk here is that end-users and any subject matter experts (SME) could be aggrieved and upset at being excluded. It becomes even more complicated when the procurement team is decentralised.  

  • Raffle the gifts internally and donate the proceeds to a chosen charity

Ideally, the charity or NGO should be one that is already supported by the organisation.  It is best not to choose the CEO’s favourite animal shelter or any unregistered charity or one with only minority support.

  • Donate the actual goods to a charity that would directly benefit and advise the supplier of your actions

This may conflict with your corporate social responsibility policy so check first.  This action could even have some upside for the supplier who could claim this as a form of sideways philanthropy.      

Review your Gifts Policy

It may be too late for this round but let’s do it. The gift policy should state whether employees are allowed to accept gifts both within and outside of the work premises.

If a gift is allowed, the policy should define the acceptable top value and type of gift permissible. It should also note any exceptions that need the approval of a more senior-level employee. 

“A good policy will preclude employees from accepting anything that increases their self-worth – such as cash, stocks and shares, or expensive presents.”

Top Tip: Keep a centralised record with details of all gifts accepted and make it open for reference. This keeps everyone honest. 

It’s So Quiet in the Office – Where is Everyone?

It’s the time of year where the office gets really quiet. So how are you going to use this quiet time productively?

quiet office
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

We’ve all now started the long wind down towards Christmas. People are tired and losing focus and everyone is trying to spend as little time in the office as possible. But this is the perfect time to think about you want to achieve in 2020. I know my first priority is to get out the calendar and pencil in my proposed vacation days!   

Seriously though, what do you need to do to get where you want to be by the end of next year? It may be expanding or updating your current skills, actual re-training for a new role or adding to your formal education. 

Whatever it is, start planning it now.

Update Your CV   

Even if you are content in your current role, updating your CV is not a waste of time. Mergers and acquisitions often result in reduced office headcount, strategy changes may mean that your project is canned or your department is closed. No job is really secure.

Spending a couple of hours over the holidays on your CV will pay off later, even if you are only looking for an internal promotion.

What to take out:

1. Check for obsolete words and phrases. Remember Windows Vista and  Word Perfect and MS-DOS? Neither do new employers! Clear out any references to old technologies which date your skills.

2. Your high school results are irrelevant for anyone over 21. Many companies are claiming that they do not consider university education important either, but we are not there yet. Include your tertiary qualifications (provided you did successfully complete them). If you graduated in the 80’s it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to give dates. If you dropped out, don’t mention it.   

3. Any early work experience or entry-level jobs from more than 10 years ago are of no interest. Ageism is alive and well in recruitment, take steps to make your CV age-neutral as far as possible. If a role needs you to show 10 years’ experience, only do that. 

What to put in:

  • Design your CV for the role that you are seeking.  Highlight projects that directly relate to the skills in the job listing you’re targeting. Respond to what exactly is asked for. 
  • One concise page is better than two with padding. Recruiters and hiring managers have short attention spans. Too much information is a turn-off.
  • Update your list of skills. Add new bullet points for technical skills acquired since the last CV update, especially focus on those in short supply. Highlight your achievements in team-leading and collaboration, especially if you aspire to a management role. 
  • Add in any reference sites where published work can be found including informative articles and blogs. 

Your Online Media Presence  

Despite the downsides of having a personal presence online, it is still a benefit to have a professional profile there.  You can’t hide from social media so pick a favourite and use it wisely.

LinkedIn is the most useful tool for business professionals.  With more than 20 million companies listed on LinkedIn and 14 million open jobs, it’s no surprise to find out that 90 per cent of recruiters regularly use it.

There are plenty of places where you can express your personal opinions on politics, religion or details of your pets, etc.  LinkedIn is not one of them. When updating an online profile, make sure that the content aligns exactly with your CV.  Astute hiring managers will pick up any anomalies. 

Sad to say, but recruiters also scour Facebook and Twitter looking for “background”, so review your content there too, even if you are not actively job hunting. The safest place on-line is having your own website (where you have full control of the content). 

Getting an Interview  

If you are actively looking for a change, think about your cover letter.  This is your opportunity to showcase and what you can offer, in your own words.  It can also highlight what you want which saves wasted time on both sides. A good cover letter will get you the interview. 

Jim says “I got rid of any reference older than 10 years, but what got me lots of interviews was the T-form cover letter. I put a two-column table in my one-page Word doc cover letter where their main job requirements are placed in the left column and how I have met or exceeded them on the right side. This provides a fast screen for the HR or recruiter and in most cases, I ended up with a face to face interview after the initial phone screening.”

Fortunately, the need for procurement skills will not decline, but the requirements are definitely changing.  Employers are looking for those with new skills such as understanding how to manage big data in the cloud, how you can contribute to sustainability and the triple bottom line. Will you be ready?   

6 Sure-Fire Ways To Become A Head Of Supply Chain

We explore six ways that can guarantee you that dream head of supply chain management job…

head of supply chain
By fizkes/ Shutterstock

Firstly, take time to find out what the job is really about. At its simplest level in manufacturing, for example, it means leading the sourcing and procurement of direct and indirect materials from suppliers, production, warehousing, transport and the distribution to the customer and/or end consumer.

A simple supply chain

Secondly, jobs may not even have similar titles: it could be Executive Vice President of Global Supply Chain, Supply Chain Director or just Head of Supply Chain. The job content differs widely across industries so no two jobs at this level are the same.  There is no one definitive job description.

Whatever the title, the Head of Supply Chain is responsible for integrating and optimising all the processes that are involved in every stage of getting a product or service to a customer. If your desired role is in an industry such as agriculture, healthcare, or I.T and telecommunications, there are other considerations including security, waste, safety, managing returns and many other different risks. 

In reality, it has become much more complex. It may rather look like this.

Let’s look at the 6 ways that can get you that dream job.

There is no substitute for experience

Prospective or current supply chain managers that aspire to reach the top job in supply chain should acquire in-depth working experience in at least one of the functional areas within supply chain.  Heads of Supply Chain, in the list of the top 25 leading global supply chains as identified by Gartner in 2019, have all got extensive and relevant work experience, usually in their industry sector.

In fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG), global leaders also need expertise in distribution technologies, emerging markets and sustainability.  For example, Sandra MacQuillan, the Executive Vice President, Integrated Supply Chain at Mondelez International, has “a wealth of international expertise in sustainable supply chain and technology strategy, with vast experience in packaged goods at global companies where she has built world-class supply chain capabilities,” according to the CEO.

Get an educational qualification   

The competition for the top jobs is tough, without a recognised qualification it is almost impossible to get hired. An exception may be where the candidate has a spectacular skill in a tight niche where there are no other suitable applicants, but this is rare.   

The most common route into supply chain management is to take a foundation business, finance or engineering degree, and then an advanced diploma or certification in an area such as logistics or procurement within supply chain management.

Demonstrate the required technical skills

As a leader, it may not be necessary to be an expert on all the technical skills that exist in your teams, but some level of proficiency in most of these will provide you with a certain level of respect. 

  • Knowledge of the raw materials, manufacturing processes and distribution methods in your business
  • An understanding of business and management principles and strategic planning
  • Well-developed analytical skills and attention to detail
  • Knowledge of economic and accounting principles, ERP/MRP systems, forecasting, and budgeting

Show your ability to lead others and drive change

Building relationships and influencing others are fundamental to the role.

Change management is ultimately about people and your capability to guide them in a particular direction.  Some of the elements that lead to success in leading a team are:

  • An open and participative style when collaborating with influential stakeholders and their teams
  • Well-developed verbal and written communication skills and the sense to know when and how to use which channel 
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced dynamic environment while keeping calm under pressure
  • Solving problems based on available information
  • Dealing with ambiguity while providing positive outcomes and minimising risks.

A leader will spend a fair portion of their time on employee competency development, building capacity and understanding what people need to perform well.

Keep up with the program!

Because the role is essentially process driven you should be comfortable when implementing new technological solutions. Digital technologies are inserting themselves all over the supply chain from data analytics and e-sourcing through to automated picking and drone deliveries.

The implementation of digital solutions is redefining supply chain operations at leading companies such as BASF, Cisco, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, BMW and many others. As Head of Supply Chain you may not need to be head geek, but you will need to understand the basics of the various applications of each type of technology and be alert to trends. 

Have a global view with a local focus

The head of supply chain often has global responsibilities that entail maintaining supplier relationships across continents and cultures. Understanding these complexities is essential in supply chain planning and its execution. 

It is becoming increasingly important for supply chain leaders to have had global business exposure, either from working in virtual teams or preferably having completed international assignments.

David Cutter, as President, Global Supply & Procurement, for Diageo, a major supplier of alcohol beverages, is responsible for a world-class supply chain delivering their brands to over 180 markets around the world from over 100 production facilities located in some 30+ countries.  

Leading firms are looking for those people with process-driven experience, often in similar size companies, attained from outside their home country.   

There is no one accepted preferred career path or basket of skills that you need to become the head of a supply chain.  However, you will need to be able to apply modern methodologies and solutions to a wide range of responsibilities across the entire supply chain. 

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Is Blockchain The Next Big Thing For Supply Chain?

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

By Oleksandr Nagaiets/ Shutterstock

Few people working in supply chain roles have a clear understanding of how this fledgeling solution called blockchain is, or could be, applied in their organisations. There is much hype and misinformation in the marketplace and much of it is due to the unproven nature in practice and unknown long-term costs of blockchain applications.

So what is blockchain?

Without getting too technical, the underlying principle of blockchain is to provide a secure environment where encrypted business transactions between buyer and seller can happen without the need for third parties such as banks and clearing agents to intervene. According to McKinsey,

blockchain is an internet-based technology that is prized for its ability to publicly validate, record, and distribute transactions in immutable, encrypted ledgers”.

Immutable, in this case, means that each link in the blockchain is completely secure and unbreakable. Blockchain’s format guarantees the data has not been counterfeited and that information can be read by any authorized party.

There are two main types of blockchain applications, one private and the other public. In the commercial environment, the networks are mostly private, this type of operation is sometimes referred to as “permissioned”.    Read more detail about how Blockchain works here.   

The world before blockchain

This diagram below is typical of a traditional sales transaction with many intermediaries.  Currently, these intermediaries process, verify and reconcile transactions before the ownership of the goods or services can pass from seller to buyer. How many people does it take to move a container of avocados from a Kenyan seller to a UK buyer?  At least thirty, but more importantly, there are over 200 individual transaction events and communications involved. 

What traditional buyer-to-seller transactions look like today  

What supply chains could look like tomorrow  

The world after blockchain

In a private blockchain network,  the procure-to-pay process is streamlined so that documents are matched triggering payment and creating a verifiable audit trail.   Nestlé is breaking new ground in supply chain transparency through a collaboration with OpenSC – an innovative blockchain platform that allows consumers to track their food right back to the farm.  The initial pilot program will trace milk from farms and producers in New Zealand to Nestlé factories and warehouses in the Middle East.

What does blockchain mean for your supply chain?

How can this fledgeling technology be beneficial? According to McKinsey, there are three main areas where blockchain can add value:

  1. Replacing slow, manual paper-based processes.
  2. Strengthening traceability which reduces quality and recall problems
  3. Potentially reducing supply-chain IT transaction costs  (maybe?).

The answer seems to lie in its potential to speed up administrative processes and to take costs out of the system while still guaranteeing the security of transactions.  Blockchain has the potential to disrupt or create competitive advantage, but the biggest barrier to its adoption is that so few have a good grasp on how it can be of use in their operations.

The potential benefits

  • faster and more accurate tracking of products and distribution assets, e.g. trucks, containers, as they move through the supply chain  
  • reduction of errors on orders, goods receipts, invoices and other trade-related documents due to less need for manual reconciliation 
  • a permanent audit trail of every product movement or financial transaction from its source to its ultimate destination.
  • trust is created between users through using a transparent ledger where transactions are immutable, secure and  auditable

What are the obstacles?

1.The cost

Implementing a blockchain solution may require expensive amendments and upgrades to existing systems which is both costly and time-consuming. Who pays and what is the return on investment?

2. Change management

There will be a need to convince all involved parties to join a particular blockchain and collaborate for mutual benefit. More openness will be needed, the old ways of protecting information won’t work. There is likely to be some mistrust initially especially around market share and sales data.

3. Rules and regulations

Legal advice is essential to understand what regulatory frameworks must be complied with. There are no accepted global standards for Blockchain that align with maritime law, international customs regulations and the various commercial codes such as Incoterms that govern the commercial transfer of ownership.  

4. Security

Is Blockchain really unbreakable?  Hackers would not only need to infiltrate a specific block to alter existing information but would have to access all of the preceding blocks going back through the entire history of that blockchain, across every ledger in the network, simultaneously. Even with encryption, cyber-attacks are a concern and cybersecurity costs money.

Transacting using “smart” contracts

Blockchain can be used to create “smart” contracts that execute the terms of any agreement when specified conditions are met. The “smart” part is a piece of computer code that predefines a set of rules under which the parties to that smart contract agree to interact with each other. Not recommended for beginners.

What industries will benefit most? 

Industries with the greatest potential are those that deal with extensive paperwork such as freight forwarding, marine shipping, and transport logistics. 

Tracking ofautomotive parts as they move between manufacturing facilities and countries is an attractive application as interfaces between motor manufacturers and their 3PL transport partners are complex and often not well-integrated. Toyota is venturing into developing blockchain solutions for its core parts supply chain operations.

Vulnerable and highly regulated supply chains such as food and healthcare

can benefit due to their need for transparency. Real estate has great potential due to the mass of records and documents involved such as transfers of land titles, property deeds, liens etc.  

Avoiding the hype

Gartner says that although blockchain holds great promise, often the technology is offered as a solution in search of a problem. They advise that “to ensure a successful blockchain project, make sure you actually need to use blockchain technology. Additionally, much of what is on the market as an enterprise “blockchain” solution lacks at least two of the five core components: Encryption, immutability, distribution, decentralization and tokenization.”  Gartner’s long term view is that blockchain will only move through its Trough of Disillusionment by 2022. 

Will it work in your supply chain?

The jury is still out on whether blockchain will really create a competitive advantage. Also, the cost of running a blockchain in time and resources is the unknown factor. For companies thought to have efficient supply chain operations with trusted partners and reliable databases, such a complex solution may not be needed. A supplier portal that is housed in the cloud may be more than adequate when coupled with an established ERP system.   

But wait, the blockchain action doesn’t stop here! Join us on October 15 with blockchain experts Shari Diaz, Innovation Strategy and Operations Program Director, IBM Watson Supply Chain and Professor Olinga Ta’eed, Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance in this webinar brought to you by IBM and Procurious. Click here to register for Blockchain: Supply Chain’s 21st Century Truthsayer.

5 Favourite Supply Chain Job Interview Questions… And Answers

There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly…

By djile/ Shutterstock

There is no limit to the types of questions that can be asked at an interview for a mid-level role in supply chain management (SCM).  We have selected five of our favourites which come up regularly but first, let’s pause for thought about what employers are looking for and why.    

Supply chain careers of the future

According to Unilever, a big global employer with complex supply chains, future opportunities are in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Data analysis 
  • Procurement
  • Transportation
  • Customer service

The accepted way top employers assess your specific skills and technical competencies and your future potential is by conducting a behavioural based interview.  You may be asked to describe situations or tasks you were involved in, your exact role and the results.  They may say “tell me about a time when ………” The skill here is to steer the answers to the best work you have done. Aim to demonstrate how you understand the challenges of today’s complex supply chains, especially theirs. This should lead the interviewers to outline their current problem areas. 

What competencies are employers looking for?  

Problem-Solving

Day-to-day supply chain management involves facing unexpected problems, failures and disruptions. Interviewers need to find out if candidates can identify issues and establish root causes. You may be asked to explain how you resolved types of situations or if you did not, what lessons you learned.

Analytical Skills

To stay competitive companies have to find ways to reduce costs, move goods more quickly and manage supporting operations. You will need to demonstrate your ability to find solutions and implement process improvements using available data.

Communication

Interviewers want to know how you can manage difficult situations such as an angry customer or unhappy service provider.  They will try and establish whether there is likely to be a communication barrier between you and others, both internally and externally.

Global Perspective

Businesses are becoming increasingly global; online connectivity is available 24/7. Interviewers are likely to try to establish your grasp of economics, cultural differences and current world events that may impact their business. 

Five favourite supply chain interview questions

Q1. What is supply chain management? or  What are the key elements of supply chain management?

A.   There is no one correct answer. Basically, the purpose of SCM is to make goods or services readily available to fulfil customer demand. One possible answer is “supply chain management encompasses the planning and management of all activities involved in sourcing and procurement, conversion, and all logistics management activities.” (CSCMP’s definition). Consider adapting your answer to suit the employer; its business may be more involved in services than goods.   

Q.2  What experience can you bring this role?

A.   This is where you can shine. Using what you know from the job specification, be prepared to explain what you have achieved in similar circumstances.  .The key is to be specific and factual when describing projects. Include actual values such as savings achieved, processes improved and size of teams. Go on to describe how these project s benefitted your employer.  Interviewers use the STAR technique:

  • SITUATION  you were in
  • TASK performed
  • ACTION you took
  • RESULT of this activity.

Important: do not overstate your level of experience. It is possible that the interview will dig deep. 

Q 3 How can you add value to our business?

A.  Your research into the current financial and operational status of the company and its place in the market is useful here. Listen carefully to any additional information the interviewer gives you on what’s important to them so that you can respond directly to their problem areas in the supply chain.  Explain about your ability to use the new tools and technologies available, how you would improve supplier relationships and what you would do to save them money, (e.g. reduce inventory, eliminate wastage, procure better).  The aim is to demonstrate your understanding of the role on offer and how you are a perfect fit for their needs.

Q.4 How much do you know about our company and our supply chain?

A.  Organizations expect you to know what they do, where they fit into their industry hierarchy and who their main competitors are. You have to demonstrate that you have done the required homework. They may ask for example: “what do you know about our products and services” or “what is our approach to sustainability?” Fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers and retailers are particularly expert at this. Interviewees at L’Oréal and Diageo have been asked for detail about product ranges, customer bases and global sales figures.

Q.5 How are you keeping up with the new developments in supply chain management?  

A.  Explainwhat you are actively doing to understand the new developments in processes and technology, especially as it affects their operations. However, be honest and realistic when you express how you will use this new knowledge to further their goals. The interviewer is trying to assess your future potential. Consider your answer to an imaginary question such “ what do you think we can do to improve our supply chain agility?”

A hot tip

Many inexperienced interviewers ask silly and irrelevant questions. Some questions are just pointless such as “what is your greatest weakness?” or “how would you describe yourself in three words?”  Read up on these inane questions beforehand and be prepared to address them with stock answers.

At the end of the interview

Ask questions about any areas that you feel have not been adequately covered to your satisfaction. Remember, they may be interviewing you but you are also considering whether you want to work for them. After thanking the interviewer, ask about the next steps in the process and a possible time frame for an offer. This is the point at which you have the opportunity to close the deal. 

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Where Does Your Supply Chain Begin and End?

Supply chain professionals are no doubt an important link in any supply chain but it is but one link in the end-to-end process.

By releon8211/ Shutterstock

Working in any supply chain management role can be all-consuming as well as challenging -but we can’t work in a vacuum. Supply chain professionals are no doubt an important link in any supply chain but it is but one link in the end-to-end process.

In the simplest type of supply chains, items and services are sourced from suppliers and converted into products and delivered to the customer or end-user.  During this process, both products and information move forward through the chain.   In the same way, products and related information move back up the chain.   

If only it were that easy. 

Any supply chain involves interactions between people, entities, information, and physical resources that combine, hopefully harmoniously, to sustain a company’s competitiveness.  It also has an objective to reduce overall costs and speed up the production and distribution cycle. As supply chain professionals know very well, if a supplier is unable to supply on time, and within the stipulated budget, business is bound to suffer losses and gain a negative reputation.

Q.  What is the main goal of an efficient supply chain?

A.  To get the customers what they want, when they want it, at least cost.  

If a company fails to focus fully on the consumer or end-user its ability to surviveis severely at risk. 

How to improve your supply chain

Sourcing is an early activity in the supply chain but demand planning comes first. By sharing projected requirements with your suppliers you can assist them to manage their own sourcing process and their inventory. Any forecasts that you supply them may not be cast in stone but they help to take the guesswork out of your order process.    Your Tier 2 suppliers, i.e. your supplier’s suppliers, are the ones that provide the items and services needed to fulfil your orders.  What products do they supply, what are their costs and what are their lead times?   

 The automotive industry is particularly good at this.  Modern vehicles are made up of more than 30 000 component parts.  Most leading vehicle manufacturers have a close grip on their Tier 2 suppliers: the parts suppliers for engines and equipment and computer software and hardware needed to make them run.

Technology in the supply chain 

The use, speed, and capabilities of technology are defining the trends in modern supply chains.  The cost of these technologies is starting to decrease making automation more affordable for mid-size companies. 

Demanding and techno-savvy customers are effectively re-shaping supply chains in the e-commerce world.  Customers expect to receive their order within a day or two whether it’s food, fashion or new bed linen.  They can choose not only what to buy, but who to buy it from and how to buy it.  E-commerce is creating new challenges throughout the supply chain from demand planning through procurement to warehousing, distribution and logistics.  Whether a customer is shopping in-store, on their laptop or mobile device, they expect their experience to remain the same, wherever they are in the world.  Retail companies that can adapt their supply chain operations to the new era of e-commerce will have the best chance of success.  

Global supply chains

Global supply chains are becoming very fragmented and dispersed and so require lots of resources and technologies to function well. Complex supply chains such as those in aerospace, hi-tech, chemicals and pharmaceuticals are becoming more difficult to design and manage.   According to Gartner, some of the most efficient global supply chains are in fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) companies such as Unilever, Nestle, Nike and Inditex (Zara).  These companies have close relationships with their suppliers, even owning some of them, which is contributing to their successes. 

Johnson & Johnson is a confirmed leader in the healthcare industry due to its on-going focus on its supply chain capabilities such as end-to-end visibility.  The company prides itself on being a customer-centric organization.  It is an early adopter of new technologies such as 3D printing which it is using to enhance its manufacturing and distributions operations and unlock new opportunities.  Its global team has played a large part in streamlining the sourcing processes for both ingredients and packaging.    They realized that their supply chain was not as nimble and agile as it could be, and they weren’t leveraging their global scale in sourcing enough.

The professional association for supply chain management and the leading provider of research and education (APICS) provides a supply chain operations reference model (SCOR) on which you can assess your current abilities. It identifies steps in four measures:  process, performance, practices and people.    

The SCOR Model

APICS proposes that to improve your supply chain you need to:

  • Analyse your supply chain business processes and their dependencies with the SCOR framework in mind
  • Document and design your supply chain strategy, processes, and architectures to increase the speed of system implementations
  • Design internal business processes while taking organizational learning goals into consideration
  • Simulate the process to identify bottlenecks, gaps and process enhancements to improve supply chain performance

Underlying any successful supply chain is a strong organizational structure, up-to-date technology and strong leadership. An organisation’s supply chain is a significant source of competitive advantage and business leaders are embracing it as a strategic capability. 

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

3 Success Factors In Building An Agile Supply Chain

Adaptability and agility in the supply chain are crucial in responding to fluctuations in demand and shorter product cycles.

By Nadezhda V. Kulagina/ Shutterstock

Today’s global marketplace is volatile and fast-moving.  Adaptability and agility in the supply chain are crucial in responding to fluctuations in demand and shorter product cycles. Agility within this unpredictable market requires that your supply chain is responsive and can deal with any sudden variations. According to most experts, there are three main success factors in effective and agile supply chains: your supplier relationships, your people, and the effective use of the supporting technology.

The FMCG sector

Organisations involved in the fast-moving consumer goods sector (FMCG) need to be able to adapt to unanticipated external shifts in customer demand.  Any company that has a constant stream of new, innovative products and services,   and is selling direct to the consumer (B2C) in the e-commerce world, needs to be doubly flexible.

Fast fashion poses real challenges. If you launch 10 000 new designs per year and you have more than 1 700 suppliers across 50 countries, you need to be both agile and quick.  Inditex, one of the largest fashion retailers in the world and the holding company of the Zara brand, does this successfully.

What contributes to its success is:

  • Market sensitivity.  Teams of retail and commercial specialists plan their products based on sales data collected on the fashion trends of target customers around the world.
  • Postponement of production.  Less than half their garments are sourced as finished products from low-cost producers. At least half are manufactured at short notice, mostly in Europe, depending on demand. 
  • Flexibility.  Manufacturing activities including labour intensive finishing operations are accomplished by a network of 300 specially trained subcontractors. 

Zara has gained accolades for its ability to swiftly implement decisions and deliver new clothes to stores faster than its competitors.  It has a supply chain that is not only agile and flexible but incorporates many lean characteristics into its processes, especially when overseeing the operations of its subcontractors.  In a lean approach, anything in the process that doesn’t add value for customers is eliminated.  Lean supply chain management is essentially about lowering the cost base and reducing waste as much as possible.   

The manufacturing sector  

In the manufacturing sector, being agile means that your supply chain must be responsive enough to deal with late deliveries and non-compliant suppliers.   The need to move raw materials, components and finished products across borders and over longer distances adds complexity.  This has resulted in longer planning time and increased levels of inventory.  Improving speed in logistics and minimising disruptions are important to gain competitive advantage and to reduce costs.  

Lean and agile supply chain solutions are often offered as an either-or option but many large global companies such as Unilever and Kimberly Clark are now embracing both approaches in their diverse operations. Having a hybrid supply chain strategy by using lean and agile approaches in combination is becoming commonplace.

Technology companies need to react quickly

 Communications and information technology company Nokiacommitted to achieving agility in its supply chain when it decided to move its manufacturing away from its home base in Finland. The company aims to refocus lower-value activities closer to component sources, thereby increasing supply chain responsiveness and streamlined logistics. “We are aligning our manufacturing strategy to increase competitiveness,” said Nokia spokesperson Mona Kokkonen. “We need to optimize our manufacturing operations so we can collaborate more closely with suppliers and be more responsive to customers’ needs.”

An I.T. systems company such as Cisco hasa highly diverse and extensive supply chain that spans the globe. Cisco has increased its agility, resilience and ability to scale by implementing new business models, a single ERP instance, standardization and automation throughout its supply chain.

The three success factors in building an agile supply chain

1.Focus on effective supplier contracts

If a key supplier fails it is necessary to have an alternative plan to avoid delivery crises and disappointing customers. In this situation, and especially if there is a sole-supply agreement, contingency plans must be put in place. Multiple supplier relationships for the same goods or services are sometimes necessary to reduce risk, but this comes at a cost. 

2. Build an agile team

The most effective people are those who are alert to external changes and market trends that may affect the business. They need to have a sense of urgency as well as being flexible. Exchanging information with suppliers, listening to customers and being aware of impending disruptions are all activities that, when acted upon, will set you ahead of the competition.  

3. Apply the right technology

Leaders in agile supply chains connect their supply chain partners on a shared technology platform, often cloud-based, so that they all have access to the same data in the same timeframe. Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Wal-Mart both speed up decision-making by analysing data on order status, inventory, shipments, documents, and payments.  The resulting information provides insights into future demand and facilitates forecasting.  

Supply chain agility delivers results when a company can quickly detect changes, opportunities and threats in the external environment AND act on this information speedily. This responsiveness depends on the ease of accessibility of usable real-time data and the electronic means by which to share it. 

Competition is fierce so organisations need to be alert and responsive to turbulent changes in the external environment.  As industrial and retail supply chains become more complex agility will become a real factor in a company’s survival. The use of appropriate technology will be a key success factor but only with the active involvement and support of both employees and suppliers.

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.

Making Supply Chain Your Organisation’s Competitive Advantage

In order to succeed, a business must be able to deliver more value to customers than its competitors. How do you make supply chain your organisation’s competitive advantage?

By ShutterStockStudio/ Shutterstock

In order to succeed, a business must be able to deliver more value to customers than its competitors. It is becoming more difficult to find, develop and sustain these opportunities in the rapidly evolving business landscape.  The free movement of people across borders, developments in technology and real-time communications add complexity to global supply chain management. World trade is highly competitive, constantly changing and volatile.

As a result, supply chains today need to become more strategic. They are multi-layered, integrated manufacturing and distribution systems that, to work efficiently, need to be optimised on a continuous basis.

Technology

Automation of manufacturing using robotics and self-driving equipment in factories is now commonplace.  Software solutions and telematics improve information sharing, processing, and analysis of data which is converted into usable information to inform policy and operational decisions. However, it’s important to ensure that technology investments are based upon business needs – and not just the newest tech available.

Areas of competitive advantage

Many global businesses now compete on the basis of their supply chain capabilities rather than only on their product lines.  Leaders with efficient supply chains such as Wal-Mart, Proctor and Gamble, Tata Motors, and Unilever focus on rationalizing each activity in their supply chains. They constantly monitor costs, demand patterns, lead limes and administrative processes to achieve competitive advantage while applying relevant technologies.  

Cost of goods sold (COGS)

Reducing the cost of goods sold can be achieved through a more focused approach to procurement including price negotiation and strategic sourcing.  Inventory, distribution and freight costs are specific target areas where the potential to save can be found.  Walmart runs a retail compliance program that defines when, how and where their supplier must deliver. This helps the company reduce its costs by adjusting its storage and distribution needs in line with customer demand. This means lower prices for the customer.    

Freight costs can be managed down by outsourcing delivery logistics where there are potential economies of scale.  Telematics is used extensively by third-party-logistics providers (3PLs) to provide visibility into the movement of goods, both in the warehouse and in transit, and ensure their safety.   

Shorter lead times

There are many delays experienced in supply chains.  Some of these are because of slow processing of orders due to cash flow challenges, batching of orders, organizing shipping and freight and slow communication processes.

One of the main methods by which a business can drive increased value is by decreasing these lead times. Both business- and consumer-facing companies are experiencing increased demand for faster shipments. Speedy deliveries can have a significant impact on sales. Amazon Prime customers will often pay more for guaranteed next day delivery.

Flexible demand management

Technology now provides us with forecasts of future customer demand using artificial intelligence tools. Predictive analytics are extremely useful in determining the optimum seasonal stockholdings and allows us to prepare suppliers for increases in demand. 

A flexible supply chain can quickly adjust to fluctuations in supply and demand keeping inventory down when interest is buying is low but being agile enough to respond to spikes in demand.

Documentation and administration

Streamlined and slick documentation and administrative processes in the supply chain are a great competitive advantage.  Reducing re-work and duplication, increasing visibility and smoothing communication channels are real advantages.  Supply contracts and service level agreements are often neglected areas that create hold-ups and expensive errors.  Some progressive organizations are using blockchain technology for maximum visibility and security.      

Insource or outsource?

The decision of whether to outsource manufacturing and/or services depends on in-house capabilities. Ideally, areas where competency or capacity are lacking are prime candidates for outsourcing.   Some larger organizations have the capital and resources to manufacture their own products, others will typically outsource their manufacturing to white-label providers.   Building internal warehousing, logistics and distribution facilities is a major undertaking and capital intensive. Successful outsourcing contracts in this category have robust service level agreements and detailed contingency plans. 

Supplier relationship management (SRM)

SRM is a huge topic and ranges from simple tasks such as paying suppliers on time to developing long-term collaborative partnerships with suppliers for mutual benefit and to promote innovation.  Leading companies in SRM such as Nestle, Toyota and Coca-Cola treat key suppliers like collaborators to get them integrated and prepared to take extra steps to ensure quality and speed.

Sustainability

A sustainable supply chain makes long term business sense.  Consumer awareness of environmental and social issues is growing around the world. IKEA is one of many companies that work with suppliers on a variety of challenges, from energy efficiency to sourcing materials responsibly.  Ignoring this trend may create reputational damage that takes years to restore.  

Conclusion

Effectively making use of rapidly advancing technology could be the key to leveraging your supply chain to get ahead of the competition. Difficulties in supply chain management occur due to evolving complexities and interdependencies. Companies that work on achieving continuous improvement through consistently and persistently working on strengthening linkages will drive competitive advantage.  

If you’d like to read additional related content or get involved with thought provoking discussions check out the Supply Chain Pros group – a one stop shop for all your supply chain needs.


The 6 Stages Of Your Procurement Job Interview

How to you prepare for (and ace!) your procurement or supply chain job interview?

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There is no shortage of general advice available online on how to prepare for and behave in an interview situation, and it’s free. That’s all very helpful, but what about preparing for an interview in supply chain or in a procurement role, how is it different?

1. Before the interview

The basics are the same whatever the role, preparation is vital.  Do research the following:

  • The background of the company, its culture and the industry it is in.  The more information you gather before the interview, the better prepared you will be to answer leading questions during the interview. Be fully prepared to answer the questions “How much do you know about our company?” or “Why do you want to work here?” 
  • The interviewer (or hiring manager).  Who is he or she?  What is their work background and experience?  This will help you find some common ground. 
  • Know your TCO, RFI, P2P, SRM and the rest of the acronyms. Interviewers may use these in conversation. It may unsettle you if you don’t know what they mean.   
  • Make sure you really understand the skills that are required and how much experience is expected. If you don’t quite fit their view of a dream candidate, motivate how you will grow into the role quickly. Think about the types of questions that you can expect and prepare your answers in advance. 

2. At the interview

Job interview formats go in and out of fashion:  you can be asked to do a video or panel interview or even one that includes end-users or stakeholders.  Whatever the format, you need to demonstrate your suitability for the role on offer and how your skills and background will provide tangible benefits for them.  

3. Functional skills

You will probably be asked about your experience and skills in relevant supply chain technology and related tools, e.g. SAP, Oracle, Ariba or other e-sourcing software. You may be asked about direct and indirect categories that you have worked in (make sure you understand the difference) and about your particular expertise in certain commodities or services.  In both these areas be careful not to embellish or over-represent your knowledge or achievements as your interviewer may know a lot more than you do. If you claim that you saved your organization £5 million in spend last year you will need to be able to substantiate it.  Currently, employers are looking for people with specific experience in complex procurement categories. In these types of role they expect candidates to be already familiar with the external marketplace and key suppliers. 

Questions sometimes start with “Tell me about a time when…”, where the interviewer will work through the STAR technique:  

  • The SITUATION 
  • The TASK or problem that arose
  • The ACTION you took
  • What was the RESULT

Prepare multiple examples in advance and rehearse them well so that they tell a story. Be ready for “tell me more”.  Make sure that you demonstrate that you have good critical and analytical thinking skills, are a good communicator, have time management skills, and are flexible, i.e. show that your expertise is transferable to them. 

4. Behavioural skills

Behavioural interview questions are very common in supply chain and are designed to elicit specific and detailed responses about inter-personal and conflict situations which you have been exposed to. How did you handle the issue, what actions did you take and what was the outcome?  Your answers will show that you understand effective ways to deal with suppliers and internal clients.  Listen carefully to any clues the interviewer gives you on what’s important to them so that you can respond by giving your own examples. You need to be able to articulate how you would be able to bring about change and implement improvements seamlessly, where required.

5. Do you have any questions?

An interviewee will almost always be asked this. Understanding how to communicate your interest is very important so have your questions ready.  This is not the time to discuss the remuneration package or benefits that may be offered. Genuine questions about how the company manages its procurement function and how the different elements of their supply chain operate will be welcomed.  If the interviewer is interested in you they will demonstrate it by asking a variation of the following, ‘why our company, why this position and why you?’  This often is your most critical response during the interview process.

6. Where it can go wrong:

Feedback from senior managers and top recruiters says that where candidates fail most is in:

  • Not being fully prepared and having to refer to their CV for details
  • Did not know enough about the company and its operations
  • Did not have the right attitude/did not demonstrate any energy for or interest in the role offered.
  • Could not provide examples or explain how they are suitably qualified
  • And arrived late for the interview!

Displaying a positive attitude and expressing a sense of enthusiasm for the company and the role is an excellent starting point for landing that job. Cultural fit and good inter-personal skills may be the clincher; processes and applications can be taught over time to fulfil gaps in experience. 

Related articles

Want to get your wheels turning towards a supply chain career one could only dream of? Then don’t miss our upcoming Career Boot Camp with IBM – a free 5-part podcast series with some of the very best of the best. Check it out here: https://www.procurious.com/career-boot-camp-2019

Is Category Management Still A Career Choice?

Far from the predictions of many, category management is alive and well, but it is changing. Elaine Porteous explores how…

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Contrary to some predictions in the last decade about the demise and imminent death of category management in procurement, it is alive and well, but evolving.  In truth, it is becoming more complicated as third-party spend in the 21st century does not easily fit into historical categories.  There is more overlap and intersection in I.T. services as it merges with telecommunications, marketing services now include internet and social media and packaging is concerned with sustainability.     

Category management’s aim is to segment its spending on third-party goods and services into groups depending on function and end use.  The difficulty in defining category groups has increased due to the overlap between commodities and the rapid innovation in technologies.  Category managers handle more than strategic sourcing. Their role includes creating a category plan, handling supplier relationships and providing continual oversight in the category. 

Specialise in your niche and own the category

It is generally understood that difficult and complex indirect categories pay more.  Indirect spend refers to goods or services that are not directly incorporated into a product or service delivered to a customer, e.g.  I.T., marketing, facilities and professional services.  Experienced category managers can earn £75 000 per annum.    

Why are some categories difficult?  Partly because stakeholders in these categories resist procurement efforts to influence their spend and are protective of their incumbent suppliers.  It can also be because procurement people may be seen to be lacking in the knowledge needed to lead the supplier selection and contracting process.  

Professional services can be a bit of a minefield. Marketing, management consulting, legal and insurance are commodities that have unclear and convoluted pricing structures which take time to understand fully.   

Managing indirect categories requires behavioural skills as well as deep technical knowledge of the category. Aspiring category managers need persuasive skills, empathy and the ability to listen as well as to be decisive when the need arises.  They also need to act as change agents and diplomats.

Don’t try and change the supplier of food catering services without engaging with the users or there may be a riot.   

Information Technology

Sourcing and contracting I.T services is different from any other category. Without extensive experience or formal training, this category is going to be an uphill struggle. The advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), SaaS and blockchain will require constant study and awareness of how to apply new types of applications. Where the I.T. function is mission critical to the company operations, e.g. in banks and insurance companies, procurement and sourcing professionals need to be totally immersed in the category and its commodities which can include: software licences, hardware, peripherals, servers, data and telephony, 3D printing, warranties and maintenance.  Category managers are increasingly being hired from internal and external I.T. departments.

The organisational culture and landscape on the indirect side has many nuances that do not exist on the direct side. The procurement executive will therefore need to traverse the waters of indirect spend with unique strategies to ensure success.

Marketing services

This category requires focus, stamina and a long line in patience. The relationship between marketing and procurement works best when they meet to discuss and agree on sourcing and contracting strategy and when procurement takes over the pesky administrative details.   Traditionally advertising agencies have been the major recipients of marketing spend, some providing a one-stop service, maybe with no contract or service level agreement (SLA).  This is changing; the use of printed matter is diminishing, digital agencies are taking over so there is healthy competition for the overall spend.

See also  Is Marketing Procurement’s Blind Spot?

Legal services

Even though the legal services area is complex and services are expensive, it is possible to build credibility with the in-house legal team by finding out

  1. and understanding what their needs and issues are
  2. which areas have the potential for savings
  3. where better value can be achieved from external legal firms. 

The low-end, routine or commoditized legal services are the easiest to address. By learning the language of solicitors and attorneys you can express your sourcing ideas in words they can understand. Managing supplier relationships with law firms need to be focused on minimising bad behaviours and rewarding and incentivising those who provide accurate, transparent pricing and deliver excellent service and good advice.

Human Resources

HR has a wide remit in many large organizations with the main focus being on people management. Most HR professionals would agree that they don’t have an in-depth understanding of their suppliers’ cost drivers such as profit, overheads, risk and how these impact on return on investment (ROI).  They are beginning to realise the benefits of having their procurement counterparts with them around the negotiating table.  Procurement’s selling proposition to HR is to demonstrate its ability to deliver value by being a source of market intelligence and a guide to best practice. 

Depending on the industry sector you work in, some categories can take on greater or lesser importance. In fast-moving-consumer-goods, packaging, logistics and transport are vital to the success of all food, drink and healthcare companies. In insurance and banking, reliable technology is the key.  

Tips to help you succeed in difficult categories

  • Research the market by benchmarking the pricing of services to  establish the competitiveness of current suppliers
  • Develop a database for each type of service by evaluating current suppliers, their pricing structures and capabilities
  • Re-negotiate and improve the contractual terms and conditions, pricing models and rates on current agreements and/or go to market with a well-thought outsourcing strategy.  
  • Establish what deliverables and technical skills are needed for each type of service so that you can determine which suppliers can provide them
  • Identify incentives to improve relationships with your incumbent suppliers and aim to consolidate your base

There is a growing awareness of corporate social responsibility across most categories. Sustainability is becoming more than a consideration in categories that have the potential to have a detrimental impact on society and the environment. Job descriptions for category managers are already including responsibility for sustainability strategies. 

See also  Where Are All The Great Procurement Jobs?