Supply chain management refers to overseeing the processes that transform a raw material into a final product and ensuring that goods and services proceed smoothly from initial manufacturing to customer delivery. Effective supply chain management involves streamlining the flow in a way that maximizes the organization's bottom line and the end customer's value.
Experts believe the future of supply chain management will include increased automation, along with a focus on analytics, sustainability practices and complex supplier relationships. And women are leading the charge—according to a 2018 survey conducted by Gartner Research, there has been "sustained strong representation of women in the senior-most ranks of supply chain organizations relative to other functions. We also find more supply chain leaders spearheading their own initiatives to attract, retain and advance women."
To that end, I asked a few women supply chain leaders what they are doing to further their careers as well as the missions of their organizations.
Collecting data from a variety of sources and using it to derive relevant insights for the business can have an positive effect on supply chain performance.
Jill Keto, CMO of Easy Metrics, a cloud-based supply chain visibility provider, has moved up in her career by developing tools that help organizations optimize their largest controllable expense—labor.
“Using big data in warehouse environments to track labor is a strategy that has paid huge dividends," Keto says. “My customers see improved team engagement, 40 percent productivity improvement and 15 percent labor cost reduction simply by using data to capture the labor costs of every action.
Because I know what goes into making each component of a clothing item, I can come up with environmentally sustainable workarounds that most people would never think to try.
—Melanie DiSalvo, founder, virtue + vice
“In a tight job market where labor demand is outpacing supply," she continues, "and where customer requirements like same-day shipping and small orders are the norm, distribution operators are running into challenges that didn't exist before."
Keto leverages the interplay of the Internet of Things, machine learning and big data to bring a degree of calm to the chaos.
Before founding her company virtue + vice, which advises fashion brands on impact sourcing and sustainable supply chain management, entrepreneur Melanie DiSalvo worked in supply chain management, product development and production for major fashion brands.
DiSalvo's intimate experience with the fashion supply chain and global market trends, particularly strategic regional sourcing and operations, provided the know-how to launch her own company.
“My in-depth understanding of how each level of the supply chain works has gotten me ahead," she says. “My time spent living and working overseas in factories and mills was invaluable because it taught me exactly what's possible and what isn't, and shapes how I solve problems for my customers every day.
"Because I know what goes into making each component of a clothing item, I can come up with environmentally sustainable workarounds that most people would never think to try," she adds.
As a director at Corcentric/Source One, a technology-enabled procurement services provider to manufacturers with supply chain operations, Jennifer Ulrich has driven her career forward by maintaining long-term, collaborative relationships with her most reliable suppliers.
“I walk into every conversation expecting I'll work with that supplier again," Ulrich says. “That way, I can't let myself off the hook or treat them poorly.
"Recently, this strategy paid off in big way," she continues. "I negotiated with a supplier on behalf of a client, but the supplier was unable to win the business. Thanks to my relationship building efforts, however, they elected to become a client of ours."
Ulrich's supply chain management repertoire also includes seeking alternate suppliers.
“This is a strategy that has repeatedly served me well in the facilities management space," she explains. “Recently, I was approached by a linen rental and laundering services provider. The company was unable to meet customer demands, its technology was outdated and it was losing money.
"I invited its incumbent supplier—as well as several alternatives—to propose new and innovative solutions," she continues. "I included local and niche providers as well as larger options with more general capabilities. The results were 45 percent savings, a better product and a more sophisticated solution for managing inventory. Success came down to exploring a broad range of suppliers rather than sticking with what we knew."
Keto, DiSalvo and Ulrich have all become well-respected and successful supply chain management leaders. They infused old processes with creativity, ingenuity and innovation. We can learn a great deal from their specific strategies as well as their refreshing attitudes.
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