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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert
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Different roles - different understandings

A couple of weeks ago, Luke van der Waals, the Demand to Deliver Value Stream Owner for Planning & Supply Chain at SLB, gave a talk to our SAP Think Tank and shared his vision of how technology and talent can work together to create a digital ecosystem that enables supply chain performance and innovation.

SLB is a global technology company and faces a complex and challenging supply chain environment across the 120 countries it operates in. To manage this complexity and scale, Luke highlighted two foundations: people and digital. He compared running a supply chain well to managing an orchestra, where both talent and technology are essential to overall performance. He highlighted how SLB has built its digital supply chain in layers: a core enterprise backbone powered by SAP, a layer of innovation built on the SAP ecosystem or from custom solutions, and a decision augmentation layer that combines data and expert knowledge to enable better and faster decisions. Running through these layers is a digital trace that provides visibility and transparency throughout the supply chain.

However, Luke highlighted the reality of talent shortage in the supply chain field, with a recent MHI survey that showed that 57% of supply chain executives considered it their top challenge, and other recent studies showing the high turnover and demand for supply chain managers. He then offered some ideas on how to address this challenge and find the right people to create and use the digital ecosystem.

Based on Luke's opinion, the true power lies in using technology to assist experts in making better and faster decisions, as well as using it to “virtually upskill” less experienced individuals within the organization. The challenge is to translate the expert's knowledge into something which can be solved with technology and help those with less experience make informed decisions (keeping in mind the reality of a talent shortage in the supply chain industry).

Luke suggested that supply chain leaders should aim to do three things: make being digital-savvy a normal currency across the supply chain organization, create digital teams within the supply chain structure that can develop solutions for the business needs, and find and nurture the translators who can bridge the gap between the functional and the digital worlds. He called these translators the unicorns, as they are rare and valuable, but also possible to develop from within the organization.

He shared some examples of how SLB has done this, such as providing digital training and opportunities for all employees, bringing IT experts into supply chain teams, and supporting exploration and experimentation through events and hackathons. He emphasized the importance of taking some risks and giving people the freedom to fail and learn.

Luke concluded with these takeaways:

  • use digitization to create capacity for high-complexity supply chain roles.

  • make a digital culture and understanding pervasive throughout the supply chain.

  • go beyond automation and orchestration to focus on decision augmentation.

  • and most importantly, find, nurture and grow your unicorns.

This talk was another great example of how a supply chain leader can share his vision and experience of how technology and talent can work together to create a digital ecosystem that enables supply chain performance and innovation. It also provided some practical and inspiring ideas on how to find and grow unicorns that can translate between the functional and the digital worlds.