Posts Tagged ‘Supply chain’
In the enterprise software world, the quality of everything is getting better. The salespeople care more about customer outcomes. Marketing people are (starting to) communicate more like normal humanoids. More founders and CEOs are genuinely driven by providing business value to their markets, rather than trying to slap up a product in a hyped sector and sell the company to the first keen suitor. Ironically this is because there is a lot less money to throw around thanks to a combination of financial austerity, customer disillusionment with first-generation software and people finally seeing past the FUD and embracing things like Cloud computing and open source. These factors and others have forced software vendors to regroup and genuinely put customers at the centres of their businesses. Most people who had been working in the enterprise software industry purely to make a fast, easy shilling have moved onto other get-rich-quick schemes.
In an example of the free market working as it should, the quality of industry analysis is also improving. The early, large enterprise analyst firms went through many years of consolidation alongside the industry and later spun out disruptive new firms like Ventana Research, The 451Group, and Altimeter Group, headed up by entrepreneurial, contrarian, original thinkers. These and other upstarts are now spurring on some of the mavericks in the larger firms like IDC and Gartner to come forth with bolder, fresher insights.
One unfortunate legacy of analysts’ good intentions to help customers navigate the dizzying array of vendors and their products and services, was that in doing so they invented and propagated a huge lexicon of terminology and acronyms to describe enterprise software categories and functionality. While these new terms made it easy for analysts to categorise vendors and map them into their graphs and reports, to this day customers never really connected with them. The lexicon became the foundation and inspiration for the impenetrable enterprise software ‘marketing-ese’ that people in communications largely get blamed for inventing and which frustrates tech journalists, who have no choice but to translate it into language their readers (customers) can understand. Thankfully, a new generation is coming into the workplace and displacing this lexicon and the ‘relational’ mindset that gave birth to it. Now that we can ‘tag’ things, we don’t need to put them in silos anymore.
Jargon becomes really dangerous when it starts to obscure the essence of things and severs ties between important, related concepts by putting them into silos. In this way jargon can actually stifle problem-solving, creativity and innovation.
Lora Cecere of Altimeter Research is one industry analyst who I admire greatly and actively seeks to overcome the perils of jargon in her work. If you’ve watched Lora speak in the past few years at supply chain events, she might have ranted about the ‘alphabet soup’ of acronyms in the planning world – S&OP, SIOP, IBP – all of which analysts and vendors have fought to ‘own’ and distract our attention from solving the fundamental problem. They are all referring to the act of integrating different business processes, which is the basis of effective planning.
By rising above the acronyms and focusing on the underlying concepts and problems, Lora is making important connections outside what would have normally been her ‘silo’ – supply chain management. Recently in her superb Supply Chain Shaman blog, Lora wrote about the potential for bridging supply chain and Big Data, the latter of which normally gets chucked in the ‘BI’ silo. In this post “The ‘IT’ that needs to be in IT” Lora outlines the truly exciting possibilities for Big Data Supply Chains to combine structured, unstructured (e.g., social media), sensor (e.g., RFID, GPS) and multimedia data (e.g., voice and video) to answer BIG questions like, “what did my customer really want to buy (as opposed to buying what we had in stock)” and “when is my supply chain at risk?” This is truly ground-breaking, inspirational stuff that makes me believe that enterprise software can really provide the needed tools to support business growth.
Lora Cecere is this week’s Round Earth Leader because she is brave, passionate and incredibly generous with her knowledge, experience and convictions. In an industry that tiptoes gingerly around the egos of anyone with a bit of budget going spare, Lora never compromises her integrity and never shies away from giving paying clients ‘tough love’. In this way, Lora shows great respect to worthy people in the industry by patently refusing to humour them. She clearly believes that it can perform much better and ultimately live up to the grand promises inherent in all the jargon.
This is completely speculative because I’m not sure yet what I think of Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO. But as someone working with keen interest in the supply chain industry, I like the idea of his appointment and I hope it is part of a nascent, positive trend to promote supply chain professionals into to the director’s chair.
More traditionally in the tech industry, we witness either ruthless sales guys like Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel as CEO or visionary engineers like Steve Jobs and Diane Greene. Tech industry CFOs rarely get promoted into CEO roles unless the company is struggling financially or operationally (think Iris Software) or there’s recently been a catastrophic breach of governance.
I can understand why first stage CEOs come from sales or engineering. These are the more natural evangelists, driven either by the prospect of making lots of money or their passionate convictions about technology innovation and design. But people in these roles can become less capable of continuing the journey when their companies mature unless they actively work to widen their fields of vision. Relentless emphasis on recognizing revenue can lead to customer satisfaction disasters, product recalls and class action lawsuits, all of which have taken huge chunks out of many an enterprise technology vendor in the boom years including my old company i2 Technologies. Emphasis on engineering excellence at the expense of usability can result in very cool, sophisticated products that have no practical use in society or yield low or non profit margins. This discontinued fabric peripheral keyboard by erstwhile British tech start-up Eleksen is an example of the former and was once the company’s flagship product.
The most talented supply chain professionals must, by nature of their roles, view their companies in a joined-up way and therefore cannot make decisions that rob Peter in customer service to pay Paul in sales, if that doesn’t benefit the company as a whole. They are much more likely to explore ‘what if’ scenarios like: “if we reduce our inventory at the Omaha warehouse to save money this quarter, what will be the impact on our ability to fulfil customer demand over the Christmas holiday?” or “If we source raw materials for our handsets from the Congo, will enough women in Australia still want to buy them?” The ability to answer these types of questions in order to minimize operational risk and maximize profits is exactly what the modern, organization with all its inherent complexity needs in order to thrive and sustain.
That and enough personal charisma to be able to move people on from the occasional ‘bad hair day‘.
I will be following Tim Cook’s progress with great interest to see how his supply chain expertise contributes to the next stage of the company’s growth.
As ever, I welcome your comments on this topic and would particularly like to hear anecdotes and examples of supply chain professionals in positions of executive leadership.