A Smart Supply Chain Starts With Smart People

Internet of Things technologies, on their own, will do nothing for the supply chain. But well-trained supply chain professionals could do quite a lot of good with IoT technologies.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 27, 2016

The supply chain has a bit of an image problem. The issue is not that the supply chain has a bad image, but that it doesn't have much of an image at all. Think back to meeting with your high school or college counselor. Did he or she suggest that you consider a career in supply chain management? Probably not.

Students "might go into engineering, or operations, or research," Abe Eshkenazi, the CEO of supply chain industry association APICS (formerly the American Production and Inventory Control Society), told me recently. "And then somewhere along [their career path] someone gets them to look at supply chain or logistics."

For an industry that is facing, according to multiple studies, a serious talent shortage (for example, Supply and Demand Chain Executive magazine indicates that the demand-to-supply ratio of jobs to qualified individuals is six to one, and could hit nine to one in the coming years), this lack of visibility, and the happenstance by which many people land with a supply chain career, is a problem. But that was not the focus of our talk. Eshkenazi wanted to express his concern over how Internet of Things technologies—and, more broadly, big data—are being deployed across the supply chain and logistics industries.

Eshkenazi says he is concerned that supply chain and logistics firms are deploying advanced sensor networks and data-collection platforms without adequately cultivating the skill sets within their workforces required to manage them. Within supply chain and logistics organizations, he explains, teams that are being charged with managing the IoT within their organizations "tend to have a lack of critical thinking" when it comes to how and why they're using the technologies. "They want to lean on algorithms without truly understanding the underlying issues, so too often they're applying wrong choices."

This is a problem not just because it can lead to inefficiencies, but because as big data grows, so do security concerns. "Just because data is coming into organization doesn't make it relevant [to that organization]," Eshkenazi says. "So the ability to not only sift through data and identify what is valuable, but to also know what can be done with it—and then, at the same time, deal with security issues that might be related to that data"—is not a small task, and requires relevant and ongoing training.

"So from APICS' perspective," Eshkenazi states, "training individuals and helping them know how to use technology is huge." And, here again, the more connected supply chain partners become, and the more data they collect and share, the bigger security concerns grow. "Whether through intentional hacking or information bleeding out, there are significant security concerns."

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