What are the key skills supply chain professionals should be developing in an AI-enabled future?
“I’m a great believer in great passion,” says Ron Castro, Vice President, IBM Supply Chain. And it’s just as well given that Ron is responsible for all strategy, execution, and transformation of IBM’s US$70Bn global end-to-end supply chain, delivering to clients across more than 170 countries.
“Always be as bold and as fast as you can,” he says. “I’ve never looked back in a transformation and thought ‘Darn it! I wish I had gone slower.’ There’s always room to be bolder and to go faster.”
On Day Two of Career Boot Camp, Ron speaks to us about the greatest challenges and complexities of his role, the importance of leadership, and the key skills that supply chain professionals should be developing in an AI-enabled future.
Building a cognitive supply chain
“We’re at a point when new technologies are truly enabling us to take advantage of all kinds of data and giving us actionable insights close to real time,” Ron says.
“In our case, it all started several years ago when we built our transparent supply chain across [all] processes and systems, which gave us an excellent platform to apply advanced analytics and manage our business by exceptions. We set a very clear goal to become the first cognitive supply chain. This is based on our strong belief that with machine and human interaction we can truly augment supply chain professionals’ daily decision-making,” he says.
Ron points to several emerging technologies that provide incredible opportunity – AI (Watson, in IBM’s case), machine learning, blockchain, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, and 3D printing.
“Humans and machines always get a better answer than machine alone or human alone. With that principal we’re training Watson with our best supply chain experts [and] letting it observe our decision-making in digital resolution rooms,” Ron says. “Watson is learning in real time with us so it can help us to identify risks, predict issues and, as a trusted advisor, suggest our best course of action. How were similar problems tackled in the past? What are the risks or alternatives? Who should be involved or advise us on what actions we should be taking to manage the situation better and faster?”
“As we map the future of our supply chain it is crystal clear that we are getting the most value of our capabilities as we start to stack technologies together,” he says.
The challenge that’s keeping supply chain leaders up at night
“I have the pleasure of leading one of the most talented supply chain teams in the world,” Ron says. “I really love the adrenaline and all the variables that you need to be able to optimise it and the challenge of ensuring the right balance between demand and supply while [delivering] the highest quality and [focusing] on managing revenue cost.
“We are sensing and responding fast in the most intelligent way to any changes in the supply and demand equation, whether it be the introduction of new products, reacting to a natural disaster, geopolitical issues or supplier constraints,” he says.
But Ron also acknowledges that the tech industry is changing by the minute.
“[T]he challenge that keeps me up at night is are we transforming, are we moving fast enough and, more importantly, are we giving our team the tools they need to be successful?” he asks. “At the end of the day [are we building] an organisational culture that’s primed to leverage new technologies, unleash innovation, and challenge the status quo? Do we truly have the skills for the future?”
The making of a supply chain leader
Ron always sees the need for strong leaders. “Some of the fundamentals [of leadership] don’t change; passion, perseverance, global and holistic thinking, collaboration and the value of diversity, [and] building a culture of feedback and continuous improvement,” he says.
Ron believes all these factors, indicative of a high-performance culture, will become even more critical in an AI-enabled future.
“We need leaders that take risks and drive a clear vision around digital supply chain and the need to be innovators; leaders that value experimentation over perfection [and] are willing to try new things and correct fast as needed,” he says.
Ron believes that leaders need a deep understanding of technology and where the trends are heading.“Disruptions are coming and they will hit us faster than ever so the ability to react becomes essential,” he says.
Ron advises aspiring supply chain professionals to take a step back and ensure that they are holistic, global, and horizontal thinkers. He encourages them to embrace new ways of working and collaborating with one another in order to become agile thinkers.
“In this new world the basics of supply chain are still critical so you can optimise a supply chain holistically from an end-to-end perspective. But you also need to be technically savvy,” he says. “The machine-human interaction will continue to increase and all these technologies will continue to become even more critical in supply chain.”
Data scientists will also be highly valuable, Ron says, as the ability to gather insights and ask the right questions will become critical for supply chain professionals.
Ron Castro is speaking on Day Two of Career Boot Camp 2018. Sign up here (it’s free) to listen to his podcast now.