Recently Magnus Meier, Global VP Wholesale Distribution at SAP and Chris Glander, SAP Industry Advisor to Mills and Mining joined DataXstream’s Robbie Plourde for a breakout discussion at the virtual SAP International Conference for Building Materials. As true industry experts the thirty minutes of time they shared with us was packed with valuable information. Here I offer a summary of key points.
While it may be too early to analyze the many lessons learned from 2020, we can identify companies that have adapted well. Plourde asked Meier to highlight some of the actions that successful businesses are taking as they navigate the current situation. Meier pointed out that “success” may be measured differently during times of change, and the most successful businesses are the ones that can address changes brought by this past year while continuing to move forward. For example, those in the industrial sector find success when they secure supply, as they have contracts and commitments that need to be fulfilled. Glander notes that one of his customers had to change their forecasting to address the changes in supply availability. They went from quarterly to monthly, and in some cases weekly, forecasting at each layer of the supply chain. This was critical in helping them meet customer needs.
In discussing supply chain both Meier and Glander agree that insight becomes critical. In the Building Materials Industry, the supply chain tends to have many tiers. Multiple companies located in multiple countries can become an incredibly complex web. To illustrate his point in regards to “insight” Glander told a story about his own personal home improvement project. He said that when speaking with Steve at the lumber yard about materials and availability, Steve told him that he never knew what would be on the truck until it arrived. This directly affects pricing, availability, and Steve’s ability to meet customer needs. To further illustrate the importance of insight Meier relayed a comment from one of his customers regarding the Suez Canal incident. One customer did not know if their stock was on one of the ships waiting in the canal or not, and they did not know if their supply would be affected. If you have the data you can plan; substitute materials, substitute suppliers, or even work with your customer to reschedule the project if necessary. But if you don’t have the insight to know if your supply is affected, what can you do about it?
A second discussion point was the importance of customer experience. Customer interactions have changed for many reasons, and not all of them pertain to inventory availability. With the introduction of social distancing, many businesses had to take more of their selling online, introducing the many challenges correlated with virtual sales. Here Meier emphasized “liquid channel.” He emphasized to Plourde how important it was for businesses to offer seamless interactions across all channels of the virtual setting. For example, customers may interact through e-commerce, chat bots, on the phone, and in some cases, over the counter. The key is that on any channel, businesses need to enable employees to be consistent; “consume and expose the same information to your customer, regardless of channel.” Glander pointed out that businesses can facilitate the liquid channel approach by offering sales representatives a simpler user interface with a wholistic view of the customer.
So, what can companies do to move forward? Glander noted that the companies he works with are the most successful when they look for non-disruptive technologies that further the solution they already have. An example of non-disruptive tech might be a cloud-based solution, as that would sit on top of the current technology without disrupting it. Meier pointed out that customers who stay current in technology release cycles will have advantages over those who do not. Three years ago, the “intelligent technologies” that were being discussed might have been seen as something to implement in ten years, but COVID-19 has accelerated that timeline. Companies thought that e-commerce would be “nice to have” three years ago, but now it is a necessity. Technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning are becoming more essential, and companies that are current in their release cycle will be able to take advantage of new technologies allowing them to adapt and move forward.
This break out session, and many others, is available on demand to registered attendees. Please see the event website for more details.