New software isn’t enough:
The value of supply chain services

Since the beginning of this decade, global supply chains have been in flux. Manufacturing and logistics disruptions have become more frequent. Consumers expect omnichannel inventory visibility and order fulfillment. Competition is global, and it’s intense. That’s why all businesses need to modernize their supply chain using intelligent digital solutions.

For many supply chain leaders, this isn’t news. However, merely knowing that you need to go digital (or go further) isn’t enough to achieve the results you’re looking for. Digital transformation is a complex process, and the tools and methods that practitioners use typically change every few months.

You’ll also need to map your organization’s unique needs to the right set of digital solutions and workflows to adopt. However, staying up to date on the dozens of popular options for your industry is a full-time job.

It’s just as important to find the right starting point. Successful, sustainable digital transformation requires a clear roadmap that shortens time to value. If it takes too long to see meaningful results, securing and maintaining internal excitement and executive buy-in become serious roadblocks. The value from these early wins also tends to compound as your digital footprint expands and matures.

However, supply chain leaders (even the most tech-savvy innovators) aren’t digital transformation specialists. They have many other strategic objectives to attend to. That’s just one reason why engaging a dedicated digital transformation expert yields better business outcomes than internally managing supply chain innovation.

 

If you want to go far, go together

Embarking on your digital transformation journey without expert support is a high-risk, low-reward strategy. Above insights already mentioned the importance of knowing which digital improvements to make and in what order, but there’s more to consider.

Working alone, neither your supply chain team nor your IT team offer the right mix of expertise. Can they identify your organization’s knowledge and procedural gaps? Can they recommend ways to address those gaps using effective digital technology? Each internal team can contribute to your transformation initiative, but it’s unlikely that either one can drive it.

Coordination across these teams is usually a core challenge. They may both work with supply chain data, but it doesn’t take long to realize that they live in different worlds and speak different languages. It’s essential to have a “translator” that can operate in both circles and communicate each group’s challenges and capabilities to the other.

 

Transformation is a process, not a product

Imagine you’ve conducted extensive research, settled on a highly recommended set of digital tools, and charted a sensibly prioritized implementation path. You then purchase enough user subscriptions for each tool to support your team and that’s that, right?

Not so fast. Those tools need to be configured to match your organization’s needs and standards. Your team will also need to be onboarded and trained. Also, successful solution implementations require users to be convinced of their value before they’re rolled out.

Everyone wants to complete each of these activities in a single session, but an iterative approach usually yields better results. Initial configurations will need to be tweaked. Trained users will have follow-up questions. However, many software vendors don’t provide ongoing service of this kind, at least not as part of their standard pricing model. They get you set up, conduct an orientation session, and then limit their involvement to basic technical support.

Suppose your vendor has configured a SaaS application, it’s gone live, and your users have all been trained. How do you measure user adoption? What do you do if your team members fall back into their old patterns and find ways to avoid using your new digital tool? The software vendor probably won’t be of much help. They may conduct another round of training, but won’t go as far as discovering the root cause of your low rate of user adoption.

 

Keeping your digital transformation nimble

Your business goals are also a moving target. Strategic and tactical goals evolve, and your digital tools need to be adjusted accordingly to ensure sustained value. Otherwise, your team will begin to drift away from those tools as each new task enters their workflow. If the software doesn’t support it, they’ll return to spreadsheets, email, or even pen and paper. Only a highly engaged and invested digital transformation steward can stave off the specter of process entropy.

Whether you choose perpetual licenses or SaaS subscriptions, your business software will eventually grow stale. Desktop software requires major updates after every year or two. Web apps typically receive frequent feature updates, but even then you’re left to figure out the best way to evaluate and adopt those features in your business process flows.

 

Accommodating occasional business needs

As you begin shopping for new digital solutions, you’ll need to ask yourself some tough questions. Should you invest in software that helps you manage tasks that your team performs once a quarter? What about once each fiscal year? Tasks like holiday planning and annual audits come to mind. Sure, it would be nice to have all your functionality in one self-serve platform, but is support for those rarely performed tasks actually worth the extra investment?

It would be so helpful to have access to experts that could answer these questions. Better yet, they could perform those infrequent business tasks for you, should the need arise. If you agree, a full-service digital transformation partner may be just what you need.

 

Digital transformation services: the most comprehensive future-proofing

Whether we’re talking supply chain processes or any other set of business functions, expert digital transformation services bring a lot to the table. Your transformation partner can perform a detailed analysis of your existing processes, goals, and requirements. They can orchestrate large-scale change that spans multiple digital tools and technologies. You can opt for more advanced or more specific solution configurations. Plus, the depth and duration of your ongoing support can be adjusted as you see fit.

For digital transformation, a “managed services” delivery model offers more value than “point” services that have a narrowly defined scope and a fixed end date. Instead, managed services provide a continual cycle of analysis and enhancement for your digital tools and processes. Your dedicated transformation partner remains on the lookout for opportunities to improve the efficiency, productivity, resilience, and impact of your business processes, usually for a flat fee.

Managed digital transformation services enable superior change management. You aren’t forced to chase perfection during the initial solution configuration, which gives you the freedom to iterate and experiment. You won’t feel the need to hold on to processes that have lost their usefulness in the months and years since the solution rolled out. With a transformation partner by your side, your technology footprint or your solution’s current configuration can no longer hold your business processes hostage.

Research suggests that most digital transformation initiatives suffer from low user adoption, which can decimate the value of your digital investment. Engaging a dedicated transformation expert can ensure a high adoption rate through user orientation, onboarding, and training in the initial stages, followed by analysis, user surveys, and focus groups after go-live. Those later touchpoints are invaluable for detecting unanticipated user behavior, misaligned expectations, and opportunities to make the solution more user-centric.

Finally, the best professional services providers go beyond typical digital transformation and are also available to perform some of your business processes as an extension of your organization. This could be lost-sales analysis, master data management, or any other business function that you aren’t sufficiently equipped to handle yourself. Access to talented professionals that can reliably perform high-value, low-frequency tasks is an incredible asset for business agility and resilience.

For more information on digital transformation and other managed services that Algo offers for supply chains and other business functions, get in touch with an Algo expert.

 

About the author

Algo

Combining human centered AI with deep domain expertise, Algo’s analytics enriched supply chain intelligence platform helps suppliers and retailers plan, collaborate, simulate and execute a more efficient supply chain.

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