What is one misconception regarding the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the supply chain that you’d like to debunk for readers?

Shannon Vaillancourt: When people think about AI in any industry, they have this romantic idea that AI will magically solve the unsolvable problem in a nanosecond. The reality is that most AI functions are built to merely do what they are programmed to do: solve problems without emotions. When a system with AI plans a load or diverts a shipment due to an inventory need, it doesn’t consider a carrier’s relationship to make the decision.

What advice would you provide to a business who wants to use technology to optimize their supply chain, but doesn’t know where to start?

SV: I always recommend starting with data first. To leverage technology fully and gain the maximum intelligence, you need a solid data foundation to build the technology stack on. The data is what powers the technology to provide the optimal process. The data is also what’s used to monitor successful deployment of the technology. To continually improve the usefulness of the technology through clear and meaningful alerts, KPIs and reports, you need data. Without clean and complete data from beginning to end, all you have is very expensive spreadsheet software with zero intelligence.

Can you provide a few industry best practices for successfully executing a digital transformation strategy to optimize the supply chain? 

SV: Always start with the data. A company must first identify the data points that are important to its business. These data points or attributes will be used to measure and monitor its successful digital transformation. The company must then start collecting data with these attributes. This step seems simple, but I see many companies take the wrong approach because they haven’t honestly considered how they will successfully collect these attributes. For example, making the carrier your data collection expert will not be as successful as gathering and integrating additional data feeds from multiple sources. Finally, once the right data is collected the company must use it to make decisions, not justify them.

Why is visibility and transparency so important to supply chain professionals today?

​​​​​​​SV: Having visibility to a track-and-trace solution along with the financial impact, combined with transparency allows the supply chain professional to understand what is really happening. There is a difference between knowing the right answer and understanding how things work. That’s the difference between being tactical and strategic. By knowing the right answer, you continue to do the repetitive task which is reacting to bad outcomes. In contrast, understanding what causes good and bad outcomes allows you to be proactive to ensure that the good outcome is more likely to happen.

If you had to prioritize one skill to have in today's supply chain industry, what would it be and why? 

​​​​​​​SV: I would recommend becoming a technology expert. I don’t mean knowing how to write the software and understanding the bits and bytes; I mean understanding the concepts around how systems can talk with each other, how the data flows and the manual pieces being done by people that may be introducing inaccurate data. The whole world is becoming more digitally connected and more focused on what is the data telling you to do. In order to execute on what it is telling you, you have to understand how the systems work.

What technology is having the biggest impact on supply chains today?

Girish Rishi: Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming the way that companies plan and execute across the entire supply chain. Cognitive AI and ML algorithms can develop highly accurate, probabilistic short-term demand forecasts that go beyond traditional forecasting by managing and incorporating hundreds of disparate supply chain signals like never before. These include demographics, consumer trends, real-time visibility of parts and equipment, event data and even the weather. By automatically measuring and recognizing these external conditions, organizations can accurately calculate the true drivers of real-time demand, for the first time in history.

What advice would you provide to a supply chain professional who wants to digitize their supply chain, but doesn’t know where to start?

GR: First, highlight the trouble spots in your own supply chain that could be improved with automation — are you losing revenue, wasting inventory or falling behind on deliveries? Next, empower your organization and educate internal influencers on how a digital supply chain can prevent elevate your business in a fast-evolving business landscape. This is key to increasing the speed of change throughout your organization. Lastly, invest in a powerful solution that not only offers powerful analytics, but can also grow with your company and evolve to meet shifting market dynamics.

What is one supply chain trend that every business should be aware of in the next year? What about 10 years?

GR: Using data as a competitive advantage is still a new concept. As customer demand, heightened expectations and endless purchasing possibilities continue to grow, we will see more forward-thinking companies investing in digital edge technologies, such as AI and ML, to better leverage real-time insights, giving them more visibility into their supply chain and the ability to make smarter business decisions and drive more profitable business growth. Harnessing data and visibility of suppliers and any disruptions in their supply chain and upstream supply chain will be critical. Over the next 10 years, modern supply chains will continue to transform into highly-connected digital networks and eventually reach autonomy — by which they can self-learn, self-heal and self-prescribe.

What skills do you think are most necessary for supply chain professionals to have, or learn, today?

GR: Supply chain personnel are moving away from more manual, transactional tasks and towards more strategic, higher level tasks. They previously operated in the background and merchandising professionals were the go-to customer resource. Now, supply chain professionals not only know more about customer demands, but also market trends, products, technology and competition. As such, they need to be able to think more strategically and out-of-the-box than ever before. They also must have technical and risk management expertise, in addition to a data analytics mentality that enables them to effectively imagine and apply data and advance digital transformation.

Why do you think there is a talent shortage in the supply chain industry today?

Dr. Kevin McCormack: The demand for SCM talent is increasing as business improves. Also, many SCM professionals are retiring. Many areas, like health care, are realizing the need for SCM people.

What are some methods universities are taking to promote careers in supply chain management?

KM: We are getting guest speakers, writing articles, talking to high school classes and working with firms on internships.

How does a degree in supply chain management help empower career growth?

KM: The OPS/SCM degree is about the entire value chain, where most of the costs occur. Most companies are a network of suppliers that need to be organized and managed. If you want to improve the business, then the supply chain is where the action is.

How can workforce diversity contribute to a more successful business and supply chain?

KM: A diverse team provides high value solutions and has a broad perspective.  Better teams means better solutions.​

How is technology changing the skills as well as knowledge needed for individuals to excel in the supply chain industry?

KM: Technology is the main enabler of a global supply chain. It makes global communication not only possible, but free. Collaboration among diverse supply network members is now possible on your phone. Data security is now the challenge, not technology. Also, understanding what is needed to operate with different cultures, time zones and languages is now mandatory.

What are some methods universities are taking to promote careers in supply chain management?

John Impellizzeri: Since supply chain management is still not a well-known major to many students, we are educating parents and high school students so that they have a better understanding of the exciting possibilities for careers in supply chain management. We also promote it through case competitions and other forms of industry engagement including certificate programs for supply chain management professionals.

How does a degree in supply chain management help empower career growth?

JI: Business school students who study supply chain management principles understand how business gets done. All industries who deliver goods or services to customers have supply chains creating exceptional customer experiences. 

How can workforce diversity contribute to a more successful business and supply chain?

JI: The only way for a supply chain to be sustainable is for it to be diverse. As businesses continue to build globally integrated supply chains, diversity is a necessary characteristic. You need men and women from all backgrounds and cultures to create effective supply chain teams. We are proud that Rutgers Business School is part of the campus that is the most diverse in the country and our supply chain management students are representative of that global diversity.  

How is technology changing the skills as well as knowledge needed for individuals to excel in the supply chain industry?

JI: What attracts many students to supply chain management is the continual evolution of the science as it pertains to technology. Supply chain management is at the forefront of robotics, 3D printing, drone technology just to name a few. Our graduates are prepared to interact with technology at all levels and not just sit in an office in front of a computer all day.