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Transforming supply chains with Elisha Herrmann, Digital Transformation Specialist

May 20, 2021
·
10
min read
Lisa Peng
Lisa Peng
Portrait of Elisha Herrmann, Digital Transformation Specialist

Elisha Herrmann, Global Supply Chain Strategy and Innovation Partner at Bayer Crop Science, shares her insights into digital transformation in supply chains garnered over 15 years of experience in the field.

Elisha Herrmann, Global Supply Chain Strategy and Innovation Partner at Bayer Crop Science, shares her insights into digital transformation in supply chains garnered over 15 years of experience in the field.

This AMA was edited for brevity

Elisha Herrmann, Global Supply Chain Strategy and Innovation Partner at Bayer Crop Science, shares her insights into digital transformation in supply chains garnered over 15 years of experience in the field.

What's the worst piece of advice you've ever heard on how to manage supply chain digital transformation? 

Probably that we should start to look at what we need when we “transform” by looking at what we have now. Digital transformation is more than just reporting KPI’s in a new manner, it’s transforming into a competitive, data-driven asset for the company. The transformation is everything from how we work, to how we supply and interact with users while acting environmentally savvy.

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"Digital transformation is more than just reporting KPI’s in a new manner, it’s transforming into a competitive, data-driven asset for the company."


What emerging tech are you most excited about in supply chain digital transformation? 

Surprisingly, I'm most excited about drone technology and IoT technology. I didn't really know of all the potential that drones have but I'm becoming privy to it. I learned that it uses less energy to deliver a box of pasta by drone than it does to cook it. If we utilize those technologies with edge computing the use cases are endless.

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What emerging tech is over-hyped? 

I think that data and analytics is over-hyped. I think we're still not to the point where we need to be at the higher, strategic level of bringing everything together. Everything that we're pushing now is kind of over-hyped at this platform level, until we are able to look at it from a predictive point of view. Many IT conversations go through the evolution of reactive, proactive, predictive. In my opinion it is still in the reactive/proactive state. Everybody's focused more on the APIs and just getting the data, but that's not going to be enough. So, really the predictive side is that auto driven supply chain that we hear about, that we think is this fictitious thing that will never come to fruition. But, I really do think it has to be that overarching layer that can bring those insights together instead of individual silos of data in warehouses based by product line or by country or by business unit. 

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What are the top supply chain challenges IT is facing? 

In my experience and my observations over the last 18 months, including the pandemic, the top challenges are really ensuring that the right product is in the right place. But also ensuring that all of the different segments, product lines, and service lines within the company itself are working in harmony. For so long everyone has thought of supply chain as just that—a chain. One ring connects to the other and to the other. What I think we've all come to realize is that it shouldn't be a chain. We're all kind of in one circle working together to improve the user experience and to make sure our product is delivered to the customer. So all of the data that has been in this chain all needs to be unlocked and work together. 

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"[For IT teams] the top challenges are really ensuring that the right product is in the right place."


How has COVID impacted supply chain digital transformation? 

COVID has accelerated innovation and transformation. I would also say the role of supply chain overall has moved from expense to asset. I would say there is a lot more visibility to the role in general, for a couple different reasons. The first one would be, looking specifically into the global trading world, in which I've had a lot of experience with supply chain, a lot of times digital transformation consulting was just considered an expense but once 301 tariffs came into play and then also the subsequent challenges within the pandemic, it all of a sudden had a seat at the table. How do we mitigate these extra expenses? How do we break down barriers when we have, say, five different steps in our supply chain to get this product produced? If you think about the auto industry, they are notorious for having multiple layers of production within different countries and then assemblies and sub-assemblies. The knowledge of the supply chain and how to pull the levers elevated the role in which the supply chain teams interacted.  


I think the second way that COVID has changed in the acceleration is industry 4.0. There is a lot of pressure to remain competitive and not be left behind because you aren't coming up with 4.0. Innovation and innovation acceleration is a big drive within most companies now, so my role has been more of a focus on that digital transformation. There is also a lot more visibility within companies and leadership because of the strategy going forward to get from where they are now to where they'd like to be in 1, 3, 5, or 10 years.  

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What is your #1 tip for someone working on supply chain digital transformation on an international scale? 

My advice would be to not underestimate the value of change management. To do so you must understand the culture and the starting point. Each culture is very unique in how a problem is solved, their methodology and ways of working. Equally as important is understanding that the starting point for different regions are different. In most international companies there are many unique regional solutions and the maturity levels of those solutions are also important. Operations automated in one region may still be manual in another and because of this change management is a challenge, but user adoption is key or there is not transformation. 

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"Operations automated in one region may still be manual in another and because of this change management is a challenge, but user adoption is key or there is not transformation."


What is the most common misalignment your role as a digital transformation expert has with executive management? 

I would say the misalignment is priorities. Currently,  I work alongside the IT leadership and executive team to help set priority and also ensure the voice of my customer is heard—my customer being these individual groups within IT and the business leads. I think overall the goals for the company are much wider vs individual practices. You might be undergoing an ERP upgrade or some sort of other keep-the-lights-on platform architectural type project that doesn't necessarily correlate to my role as a digital transformation specialist that is tasked with coming up with new novel ideas (like how do we do predictive maintenance and predictive analytics within the warehouse). That sort of spend in that sort of ideation doesn't always coincide with a big company transformation or a merger and acquisition that came up that is taking resources. So I would say the friction sometimes would come between just opposing goals, strategy and budgets that individual leaders would have. 

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How can leaders like yourself, who work closely with IT, help bridge the gap to the business so that IT doesn’t become the technical black box?

Yeah, I still think that the age-old joke that IT and business speak a different language is true. The crux of the disparity is truly understanding what the business user is doing. I think sometimes you gloss over those types of things where they could be easily fixed and lead to a happier end user experience. This comes down to putting on someone else’s shoes. It’s taking the time to learn the user’s job and what their goals are. It is also helpful to go through the change journey together and explain how the system works to suit their needs. IT shouldn’t be a black box as it’s a supporting role and only as good as what we as a team shape it to be.  

I also think one of the biggest things, from what I've experienced, is really that change management and culture of IT and how the business works together. I've heard there's a lot of worry that technology is going to replace jobs and other types of worries in job security there. So you have to really talk through what IT is doing and how it helps the business user. You don’t want to force it, but bring them along in the journey and make sure that they have a larger voice in the end product, so that they can really take pride in what has come up there. It's just making that friendly culture where it's one team together, and also trying to remove the barriers within language to really help the customer. 

The role of the consultant is to take the collective experience that they have and use that to make the adoption of a new technology as easy as possible for those using it. It’s a combination of business and technical acumen and a lot of emotional IQ. 

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