Acing The Supply Chain Business With A Mix Of Technology

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General Mills has been serving the people with great taste since 1860. Despite being a 150-year-old venture, the company with the mindset and innovations of a start-up is still leading the perishable goods industry and delivering quality results to its clients. Vivek Gaurav, Head – Planning and Logistics for Export Markets and Head-Trade Compliance For AMEA, General Mills in a conversation with Logistics Insider talks about the fading boundaries between technology and supply chain, the blend of speed, cost and reach in a supply chain and his maiden book.

Q) Since you have led supply chains for both domestic and international businesses, how are the challenges in supply chain faced at the global level different from the ones at the national level?

For most companies, the share of international business is increasing tremendously.

Hence, for the modern-day supply chain leader, having a great understanding and expertise in operating global supply chains and international trade, is not only desirable, but necessary.

When supply chains operate at a global level, all the dynamic and challenging aspects of cross-border movement of goods come into play. The challenges faced by global supply chains are a heady mix of both internal and external factors, uniquely characterised by high reaction times in case of any disruptions.

The topmost challenge faced by international supply chains is very high transit lead times, which would need higher planning horizons.This simply leads to higher response time in case of any variability in demand. Hence, there is high pressure on the need for accuracy.

High lead times also lead to serious challenges with respect to ensuring products of right shelf-life on shelves. For businesses which run on perishable or low shelf-life portfolio, managing global supply chains is a huge challenge.

Another key aspect of International Trade is the complex Go-To-Market models. For a company, GTM Models are very unique and different in each country.

In some markets, companies are present through big consolidators, and in others, they partner with global retailers, or local distributors with deep pockets. This leads to a high complexity in supply chain with respect to visibility of demand data, control on cost, new product launch planning, varied incoterms, tax structure and above all, ensuring business predictability.

The most important factor which makes global supply chains complex is the
dynamism in global environment like trade embargoes between nations,
economic sanctions, increased cargo risk due to stressed political relations,
fuzzy understanding around export/ import classification, FTAs, country of
origin regulations, etc.

Q) Agility is an important aspect of supply chains of every FMCG company. Having worked with some of top FMCGs, how have you been planning your supply chain to stay ahead in the market and deliver products in a timely manner?

Simply put, supply chain is a right blend of speed, reach and cost. And I strongly believe that the supply chain has to be designed & operated in line with the stage of lifecycle your business is at. In other words, it has to be in synergy with what your business stands for at a particular point of time.

If the business is in a fast growth phase, I would plan my supply chain such that the agility and speed to market takes precedence over pure cost.

In this case, supply chain needs to enable the business to expand its distribution footprint, tap newer markets faster and ship smaller loads at higher frequency,be it at a higher cost than the steady-state situation.

If your business growth is driven by launch of new products at break-neck speed, the supply chain’s core competency should be to develop external manufacturing partners rapidly and that too, the ones who are cost-lean
and highly flexible, while driving strong in-house planning, logistics, quality & R&D capabilities.

For companies on steady growth trajectory, I would plan my supply chain to drive incremental improvements in bottom-line, through efficiencies in supply chain operations, efficient sourcing practices, greater data visibility, automation, outsourcing etc. Collaborating with technology partners
becomes a key factor to avoid big investments upfront and keep the supply chain lean. A lean supply chain has direct influence on product cost, working capital and capital expenditure, hence, helping the business to drive towards its vision in a robust manner.

Q) Technology has become the key to efficiency. How is the technology road map evolving in Indian Supply Chain scenario? What technology trends are driving smooth and efficient supply chain?

Technology is not only the key to efficiency; it is now the essence of business.

Hence, technology and supply chain cannot be treated as two separate subjects. They are becoming highly intertwined.

Supply chain leaders need to create an ecosystem in the organisation, which brings out right information and actionable insights, by exploiting data and visibility.

In order to achieve this, the next major task for the organisation is to envision a technology road-map for supply chain. And since this technology road-map owes its origin to the Business priorities, it needs to have a complete buy-in and sponsorship of the CEO of the organisation.

Now, if I talk about the technology trends in India, Internet of Things (IoT) is the current big wave sweeping across the logistics space. Connectivity of assets across the value chain right from the vehicles to the warehouse
bins, to the retail shelves, has given immense visibility, traceability and flexibility across supply chain. It has become the backbone to operating omni-channel supply chains.

Blockchain is already finding a befitting place in logistics and supply chain especially driving efficiency and automation in process flows and compliance-intensive transactions.

I can also see a lot of shared service businesses and knowledge centers increasingly use robotics in order to automate the processes which are recurring in nature and are high in number of transactions.

Another big element of technology is data analytics. supply chain organisations are increasingly identifying key business objectives and improvement areas and are trying to address these through data analytics. Right from analysing logistics spend from every possible lens to tracking
unplanned movements to providing inventory visibility on real-time basis to tracking under-loading or route-deviations, Data Analytics is beginning to make a marked difference to Business results.

Q) You have 14+ years of experience of handling supply chains of various businesses. What lesson you would like to give to the new-age entrants in the supply chain domain?

I have been tirelessly saying that I am very much impressed with the new-age talent in the supply chain space.

The budding leaders in this space are highly aspirational, have amazing learning agility, have a broad perspective and possess a fair degree of clarity at a young age.

My advice to them would be to embrace the reality of fading boundaries between supply chain, business and technology.

Supply chain is business and business is technology. And hence, they cannot take the risk of choosing one of these and going after that. They need to develop themselves into leaders who have strong hold on all three.

Another advice would be to break the shackles of ‘Process’. Since times immemorial, supply chain professionals have been proudly associating themselves as process-driven, SOP-focussed and follow-set-rules-of-the-
game kind of breed.

Its high time that the folks move out of this closet and turn themselves into creative mavericks, questioning all boundaries and processes, to achieve transformational results. And, since being process-driven is in their DNA anyways, they have the capability to be absurd while staying within the bounds of policy and compliance.

But this capability can be developed best when they are budding managers and are at an early stage of their career.

Q) You have recently authored a book named “Life is a Wordplay. Go. Win.” What inspired you to write the book and what does it hold for the corporate readers?

In my book, I am attempting to inspire my reader to be a winner, by providing them with a lens for looking at life and its elements in a different manner, through my own and original, witty, playful, yet deep one-liners, quotations, punchlines and satires. The overall theme is to drive better and easy understanding of life and its elements in a witty and playful manner.

My inspiration comes from the fact that I am a keen observer of life and everything around me. I have a passion to articulate my observations in the most witty and creative way, by playing with words.

I realised that if I share my one-liners, quotations and commentary about life with readers, it will help them start looking at life in a more fun and ‘light’ manner, hence help them ‘win’ at every step in life.

Since we spend a significant time of our day at our workplaces, our corporate-life plays a massive role in shaping our behaviour, beliefs, values and above all, determining our degree of happiness and contentment in life,
as a whole.

Through my 14 years of corporate journey, I have been fortunate enough to gather my own little treasure of reflections and observations about life at a workplace. In my book, I have tried to put them across to my readers in the most light and funny way, through a web of creative wordplay. Here are a couple of examples:

This quote of mine from my book is my biggest learning from my corporate life, which I am practicing in personal life also.

“Would like to Sleep over an Issue instead of Losing Sleep over an Issue!”

The quote below is my fun tribute to the folks who love analyzing their Performance Appraisals and Annual Pay Revisions very critically.

Perhaps, the wit and the fun underlying these quotes, may help my readers take their worries, challenges and performance pressures of a working life, into their stride. In the end, they should be able to laugh them off as they move on. The following quote surely fits the bill.

“Beyond a point, it’s not worthwhile to centre your happiness around salary & calorie!”

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