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Frank Vorrath, Executive Partner of Supply Chain at Gartner, explores the concept of transforming organisational structures

Part three of a six-part supply chain masterclass with Frank Vorrath, Executive Partner of supply chain at Gartner. Frank explains how to build a supply chain excellence operating system, enabled by a centre of excellence.

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Frank Vorrath, Executive Partner of Supply Chain at Gartner
Frank Vorrath, Executive Partner of Supply Chain at Gartner

One of the key things identified within your concept of a supply chain excellence operating system is two-directional thinking, where you’ve got people working in the business and people working on the business – could you elaborate on that, please?

Transformations are really driven by future growth ambitions of those organisations, or if they are looking and expanding into new areas and new business models. Lots of things are changing very fast and exponentially. If you look at that, that sets limitations for organisations to actually do the same things as they did in the past. From a structural point of view, your current capabilities won’t allow you to compete in the future. You have to think about how you are going to approach that.

There’s also a limitation in terms of resources. The concept of perform and transform is simple to understand, which means you still have to focus on your core business and create results and good performance, while at the same time transforming. The concept is almost like running a sprint and a marathon at the same time. If you think about what you can do with the same setup and structure you have without investing, and potentially a different set of excellences, then it’s probably stretching your current resources to a limit.

If you think about the transform activity you have to do as an organisation, you think more about what you need to do to be successful in the future. If you think about the sprints, you still have to focus on your core business and on day-to-day good performance, and you also need to think about what enables you to perform day to day, running these sprints, making sure you keep and stay focused on delivering performance end results to your business and to your customers as well meeting their objectives and needs, but also transforming the organisation at the same time and building the new muscles you need in the future related to the capabilities.

What sort of challenge does this balancing act, between the two areas, present?

If you do that with your current resources you have available in your business you may find yourself in a position that is too much a stretch for your resources: to be able to deliver on your expectations. Somewhere, you need to balance it. The question is can you balance that with your existing resources and the existing structure you have, or perhaps you have to set up a different structure – where you have people working in the business and people working on the transformation. Both are equally important to you as a business because one is really keeping the lights on and delivering the performance you need today, which is finding the capabilities you have to build for the future. That needs to be balanced. Is it easy? Probably not. But is it required? Absolutely.

Where does change management come into the equation?

With change management and transformations, it’s really shifting the mindset and the behaviour and actions towards generating more an improved and sustainable business performance and results. It’s about having clarity of the destination, and a clear understanding of why are you doing this, and what you want and need in order to transform.

The next important part of change management is role modelling. Your leadership plays such an important role here in championing the transformation with clear and defined specific communication and milestones. Taking people along with you on this journey and having an understanding of ‘walk the talk’, and being visible and aligned on a leadership level creates the pull in an organisation.

There’s also organisational capabilities, the resources I need, the financial commitment that an organisation has to make to transform, because it can be dependent on the maturity of that organisation. Sometimes you have to be able to invest first to generate the benefits later on. You have to be able to have governance in that model, which is strictly focused on priorities for the business as an outcome and is steering the organisation through that transformation. The culture and the mindset of the people, the knowledge and skills have to be in place, and it has to be somewhere measured and sustained.

Also, you have to be able to reinforce. How do you align your goals and objectives and your incentives structures on the two important activities, perform and transform, in a balanced way? Not just incentivising generating results today, but also incentivising transforming the organisation to be able to compete in the future. It’s not just continuous improvement. It’s building an operating system, considering what drives change, creating push and pull in an organisation, and really with the mindset of the future to improve, as well as building muscle, creating sustainable business performance and end results, and meeting the never-ending customer expectations in future.

How does a role model approach help overcome the challenges in change?

It has to start at the top of an organisation, which means you have to be very clear, very concise and compelling. People need to understand why you are doing this, and be very clear about the outcome, when you want to do certain things, and what it’s actually going to do for the organisation. Take people along the journey and bring them in a way in that they have a stake in the game, so they are able to participate and provide their input into the transformation. That’s really important when you start your change management and transformation.

You also have to somewhere create an excitement factor for your people to believe that the future you’re going to create for them is a future where they want to be part of, where they want to be proud of, so they are excited to actually take you as an organization forward into that future.

How do you bring the customer into the conversation?

It’s key to incorporate customers into it. Don’t be shy in asking your customer how can you serve them better. How can you create more a collaborative joint partnership together? It’s no longer about vendor and supply and customer relationship, it’s about a partnership on a more strategic level. As a business, if you’re able to figure that out and bring your key customers in, listen to them and make them part of it, or even make them a joint development in terms of building an operating system, even better. You may want to consider joint investments into building the capabilities you need in future, especially in areas when it comes to looking into talent related to emerging technologies, data, data scientists, etc.

You really have a scarcity and you have to build and think about how you want to build these kinds of talents in your organisation from a different perspective and different ways. You may want to do this jointly together with your customers, because they probably have the same needs like you have in their own business, and the same kind of limitation and challenges to find the right talents. Instead of just doing it on your own and being completely internally focused, combine the inside out with the outside in. The key in that is your customer or your customers.

How important is it to develop an end to end supply chain IT strategy and technology roadmap so that the technology and the procurement transformation are aligned?

You have to have an end-to-end view of your technology. Technology can’t be seen in isolation with what you are trying to accomplish with the strategic objectives of your business related to the value proposition you have. Technology and digitalisation, you can be taken from two angles and that’s what I’m seeing currently happening in the marketplace. On the one side, you see companies focusing and creating new business models through digitalisation related to their products and services, selling outcomes and solutions instead of selling products and devices.

On the other side, you see a lot of activity in terms of digitalisation in the supply chain. These two things are connected, but we also know that 70% of the initiatives currently in the marketplace are disconnected. Technology is creating new business models, using data to access and provide insights to your business for better and informed decision making. Data could also mean monetising that data and creating new business models. Technology, from your business process optimisation point of view, can create a new level of maturity in terms of efficiency.

That’s where a lot of companies are focusing on and deploying new technologies because they want to figure out if there are business benefits they can introduce to the business and to harness new capabilities and with automated processes that reduce time, errors, cost, and also increase the efficiencies they have in their business. To be able to do that, you need to have a blueprint and an understanding of where you are at currently with your technology landscape and your applications, and also where you want to grow in the future.

What is the overall journey of this centre of excellence system, where it starts with developing infrastructure, building supply chain excellence capabilities, and then reaching a stage where that supply chain excellence is woven within the organisation’s DNA?

The ideas of transform and perform, and the resource constraints that organisations are having by using the same resources has been recognised in the market widely and you have seen over the last couple of years more and more organisations actually building a centre of excellence. With a centre of excellence, you have to consider that there are different centres of excellence. Now you have to have a functional centre of excellence where you just focus on building the maturity in certain areas of your supply chain.

You could also have a logistics centre of excellence. You could have other centres of excellence, like a manufacturing centre of excellence. The goal is to design your centre of excellence and be aligned with the main activity across your whole value chain, which means if you are a manufacturing organisation and a supply chain organisation or procurement, you would organise your centre of excellence in a way that would incorporate the strategy element into that. There are different ways of structuring a supply chain centre of excellence.

My recommendation, if a business can afford it, would be to focus on end to end, rather than just functional, because if you just focus on functional excellence, again, your integration and collaboration across the different functions might be a bit of a challenge.

Is excellence an ever-moving target?

You always have to work on that. You’re never done.  If you really think about your plan of a transformation, does it stop after three years? No, it’s not going to stop.

What you’re hoping for when you had enough momentum, excitement and generated the results, is the building of a culture and a DNA. That is probably the longest part of a transformation which is never-ending, because if you think about it from a leadership point of view, when you build it with your team and operating system, you want to build something which is sustainable and not dependent on you as a leader or your team. It should be there, even if you move on. It should be part of the culture so that people and generations after can still build from what was built, to make it better.

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