3 supply chain skills to help manage challenges and embrace collaboration

Author: Shane Schick

By developing supply chain skills, your organization can manage change, increase collaboration, and improve inventory management.  Enhancing supply chain skills can also help an organization avoid errors, duplication of effort, and disappointing customer experiences, no matter the size of the company or the industry.

The impact of a lack of collaboration is clear: North Carolina State University research found 59% of industry executives said the "major issue" of the industry was misalignment between those working procurement and the supply chain. Supply chain collaboration holds the key to creating that missing piece.  

Another survey by SAP found that 29% of executives cited a lack of skilled talent as one of the top issues contributing to supply chain challenges. The same study noted 52% of business leaders believe their supply chain needs much improvement, and half have already cut jobs in response to cost and pricing concerns. This could mean it will be more critical than ever for organizations to reskill and upskill employees in collaboration for greater productivity and efficiency.

What is supply chain collaboration?

Supply chain collaboration is about sharing information that gives stakeholders and business partners a view into each other's distribution operations to break down silos and work together for mutual benefit. Typically, The transport or warehousing of products is invisible to the organizations unless specialized asset tracking and supply chain technology are used to monitor goods.  

With the right investments in supply chain collaboration, organizations can unlock insights in areas such as near real-time inventory management (i.e., helping companies avoid running out of stock during peak seasons). It also means businesses working across the supply chain can provide timely alerts on weather events, equipment breakdowns and/or other incidents that jeopardize mission critical schedules.

Many technologies can help assist in this area including artificial intelligence (AI), which can help identify trends and patterns in supply chain operations to help companies streamline processes.

No matter how technology is applied, organizations still need to train employees to leverage and act upon the insights they uncover. Based on a 2022 PwC survey of supply chain executives about staff turnover, only 23% believe the teams left behind have the right digital skills.

Top ways to enhance collaboration in supply chain skills

Developing and maintaining a skilled workforce means, according to Supply Chain Quarterly, leveraging the “digital technologies to manage their area of responsibility (for example, new product development, supplier evaluation, supply and demand forecasting, production and operations, network analysis, logistics, and customer service).”

Training employees was once solely equated with gathering the team at a specific facility and effectively removing them from their day-to-day responsibilities for prolonged periods of time. That may no longer make sense as more organizations embrace hybrid work models and need their teams to focus on achieving their goals. The traditional way of training employees no longer applies to remote workforces equipped with virtual technologies. Because of access to on-demand webinars, via smartphones or laptops, employees have the ability and flexibility to schedule and take online courses from virtually anywhere.

Some of the ways to enhance collaboration in supply chain skills include focusing on the following areas:

1. Risk management and supply distribution
Stockouts are far from the only supply chain scenario companies need to avoid. Suppliers can go bankrupt unexpectedly. The goods that get delivered could be shoddy or defective. Partners may not be able to adapt to changes in business demand or customer needs.

It may be surprising, therefore, that only 11% of firms monitor supply chain risk on a continuous basis, despite the fact that 82% believe mitigating disruptions is a collective responsibility. This could indicate employees need to be educated on how to assess areas of risk and proactively collaborate with business partners to build greater resilience.

2. Digital transformation
Manual processes are quickly giving way to those that take a data-driven approach to continuous improvement. According to The Power of a Smart, Connected Supply Chain on Forbes.com, “Achieving visibility requires processing data through a set of business rules with common definitions of critical terms. Once harmonized, transformed and stored, these data are ready to be used. The value creation opportunities range from reducing out-of-stock scenarios to standardizing hold-and-release policies to exhibiting an overall greater resilience.”

Successfully transforming operations requires employees to deepen their understanding of the technologies involved. The advancement of 5G, for instance, can help them more quickly communicate internally and with business partners.  5G is more secure, with lower latency and provides an increase in bandwidth over existing methods of communication.  

Internet of Things (IoT) technology, meanwhile, can monitor, manage, gather and analyze data as goods move along the supply chain, creating other collaboration opportunities.

Employees increasingly want to use the latest technology—access to innovative tech was a top-five reason to move jobs. Providing technology training and subsequently elevating your team’s skill sets can therefore inherently improve operations and the employee experience, making you a more desirable employer.

3. Cyber security
Data sharing and collaboration is common between partners of a supply chain which bring inherent risk.  As supply chains become more integrated, the potential fallout from a data breach or other cyber attack can become greater than ever. The Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) found supply chain attacks increased dramatically from last year.  If a vendor is compromised this can often lead to dire consequences to your organization even though your company was not actually the victim of the cyber attack. 

Assessing supply chain risk helps to reinforce the fact that it takes a team to manage supply chain security. There should be clear roles and definitions of responsibility among everyone involved. Supply chain management mitigation starts with each link in the supply chain using safeguards such as two-factor authentication, biometric access controls (where permitted or applicable), and security and incident monitoring toolsSelecting a managed service provider to assist with ongoing threat intelligence can help to minimize any financial or other damage.

Technology for training

Instituting collaboration technology and enhanced skill sets across supply chain operations is a business imperative that leaders are prioritizing for their partners and employees. For example,

Fleet management software is playing a critical role in the key goals of streamlining operations and optimizing productivity.

With a distributed workforce, online asynchronous training can allow employees access to training when it suits them. Video collaboration solutions empower fast and easy face-to-face communications to help bring people closer together for more effective business communications.

For organizations using Microsoft Teams, Verizon is the first U.S. operator to offer Teams Phone Mobile, delivered as Verizon Mobile for Microsoft Teams. This solution turns your business-provided Verizon mobile phone into a Teams endpoint allowing employees to communicate and collaborate using Teams from wherever work takes them.

Discover how Verizon's voice and security technologies along with easy to implement managed service options can provide more opportunities to improve your supply chain.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.