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2019 Supply Chain Symposium: Execute Today, Accelerate Tomorrow!
Created on 4/29/2019 4:22:21 PM

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Disruptive technology, a changing workforce, and higher consumer expectations have transformed the way we live and work. Naturally, supply chain must adapt to keep up with these fast-paced changes.

On April 10, 2019, Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) explored these themes and more at its 2019 Supply Chain Symposium: Execute Today, Accelerate Tomorrow. Kicking off the day’s lively presentations, Errol Cerit, Senior Vice President, Industry Affairs & Member Services at FCPC, challenged participants to reflect on their preparedness, asking, “Are you driving change or being driven by it? How can we shape and embrace our future?”

The symposium explored those questions by delving into supply chain transformation in real-life companies, the changing consumer base and workforce, artificial intelligence in action, and self-reflection on how we adapt to change.

Supply Chain in Real Life

In a fireside chat with Errol Cerit, Rob Wiebe, Chief Administrative Officer at Loblaw Companies Limited, discussed key issues affecting their supply chain. Their priority throughout the supply chain, he says, is always the customer. “Our job in supply chain is to build in contingencies to satisfy and supply our customers, on time and with 100% product availability,” he said.

Other supply chain executives chimed in with their insights on challenges and opportunities in their businesses. Moderated by Lino Casalino, Partner, Operations Consulting, Retail & CPG from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the leadership panel explored the people side of supply chain, from the consumer’s perspective to labour shortage issues.

The panel included a wealth of knowledge from: Jennifer Askew, Vice President Retail Operations, DHL Supply Chain; Doug Munro, CEO and Owner, Maritime-Ontario Freight Lines Group of Companies; JJ Ruest, President and CEO, Canadian National Railway; and Rob Wiebe, Chief Administrative Officer at Loblaw Companies Limited.

When it comes to the changing needs of customers, Askew highlighted the “Amazon effect” in supply chain. “Our customers expect orders out within two hours,” she said. It’s all about optimizing, Munro added. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link. We need to be a strong part of that chain to back up our clients and meet customer demands.”

The panel also explored the internal side of supply chain with a focus on staffing and labour shortage. In order to attract a strong workforce, the panel outlined some of their key tactics. Ruest said that Canadian National Railway, “aims to be a place where people want to work.” At DHL, there’s a large internship program as well. “We are trying to encourage students to gain knowledge and experience, and then bring them back as full-time employees,” said Askew. Wiebe added, “We need to focus on hiring more women. Currently around 80% of our workforce is male and that needs to change.” Looking at talent acquisition for supply chain in general, Munro gave the symposium a call to action, saying, “As an industry, we need to pay at the top end for high quality, skilled people.” 

A Canadian Perspective: The economy and the consumer

Supply chain must certainly consider Canada’s economy and future trends. Dawn Desjardins, Vice President, Deputy Chief Economist at RBC Royal Bank reviewed Canada’s economic forecast in a time of global uncertainty. While the economy is not as strong as it has been, there is a trend of growth that will rely on businesses investing and a demand for Canadian exports. “When we look at Canada overall, we’re going to keep growing in the next 18 months,” she said.

Supply chain must adapt quickly to respond to the increasing demands of e-commerce, said Valerie Normand, Director, Parcels Product Development from Canada Post.  With more and more Canadians shopping online, consumer expectations and standards have changed, she said. “Eighteen percent of Canadians represent 60 percent of online sales. We need to make those people happy,” she emphasized. The key elements of meeting those high standards are: understanding your ideal customer; ensuring a positive delivery experience; and developing a painless, clear return process. Done well, these tactics will lead to returning, loyal customers.

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

Technology and artificial intelligence has certainly disrupted supply chain. From a practical perspective, AI removes highly repetitive tasks, letting humans do what they’re good it like decision-making. Gary Saarenvirta, Founder and CEO of Daisy Intelligence, reinforced the idea that suppliers can use AI to determine the best mix of products with their optimal prices, taking the guesswork out of promotions.

In a large-scale example of the impact of AI, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba wrote the book on disruptive technology. By tapping into endless amounts of data, Alibaba’s AI drives disruptive technologies like car vending machines, see-now-buy-now fashion shows, and micro-customized customer purchasing experiences. Alibaba’s consumer data mining has infinite possibilities to change supply chain and customer service. “We personalize every visit to improve the customer experience. It’s personal but also fun,” said Lee McCabe, Vice President of Alibaba Group.

Building on McCabe’s example of AI in action, Tom Wujec, Founder of the Wujec Group, insisted that, with technological developments in the AI space, “the age of guessing is officially over.” With universal availability of AI, manufacturing and supply chain must adapt. Tom Wujec urged the group to pay attention to the changes inside and outside your industry, innovate by building infrastructure and new things, and create the best toolsets and mindsets.

Accepting Change

With the speed and vastness of technological advancement, how can people and organizations adapt to changing environments? Sean Verhoeven, Senior Vice President, Facilitation at HORN, asked participants to reflect on their own barriers to change, like negative self-talk and resistance. To break down those barriers, people can do practical things such as break big tasks into smaller tasks, challenge assumptions, and celebrate the small wins. 

Supply chain experts left the event invigorated by stories from similar organizations, examples of AI in action, and a challenge to act as change agents rather than change resistors.


See FCPC's upcoming events here.