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CSCMP Edge 2018: How to Build a Future Supply Chain

Experts from Amazon, IBM and Nike weigh in on how to stay ahead of the supply chain game.

Every day, every employee at online retail giant Amazon wakes up ready to go to war for their customers. That’s how David Bozeman, vice president of Amazon Transportation Services, describes the laser-like focus he and his colleagues have on customer service, or as Bozeman calls it, customer obsession.

“We know our customers want things faster,” he says. “They want ordering from us to be as predictable and automatic as entering a room and turning on the light.” And to make that possible, Amazon taps into deep machine learning technology to identify what its customers want and how they want it.

Bozeman was part of a keynote panel discussion at CSCMP Edge 2018, held in Nashville, Tenn., titled, “Consumer Attractions: How Iconic Brands Are Building the Future Supply Chain.”

Joanne Wright knows a little something about machine learning herself, as her company, IBM, is home to Watson, one of the best-known AI programs in the world. And according to Wright, IBM’s vice president of enterprise operations and services, it’s intelligent technology that will give companies the supply chain edge they need to compete and win.

“It’s important for all of us to be early adopters of technology since the whole nature of the supply chain revolves on the pace of change,” Wright observes. “We’re looking at a future where people will be able to analyze situations and scenarios much quicker than ever before. Intelligent technology will enable us to go to market quicker, with the right solutions for our customers.”

“The speed of change is accelerating,” agrees Mike Brewer, vice president, global sourcing and manufacturing, with sports apparel manufacturer Nike. “You have to embrace technology. You have to experiment and learn from the successes and failures. Our customers expect us to innovate.”

Nike’s supply chain focuses on sustainability, Brewer explains. “We exist to serve athletes, whether professional or amateur, and that includes improving the environment they live in and the air they breathe. Developing a sustainable supply chain isn’t easy, but once you make a commitment to it, it gets easier because you focus on it and you commit resources to it.”

At Amazon, there’s “divine discontent when it comes to satisfying the customer,” Bozeman adds. “You need to always innovate and anticipate the customer’s future needs.” To do that, Amazon’s efforts in the way of automation and robotics have addressed three key areas: quality, speed and delivery.

And yet, for all of the attention paid to Amazon’s technology pushes (drones, warehouse robots, AI), the secret to its supply chain success, Bozeman says, is to focus on the basics. “Your supply chain has to be nimble and flexible, but at the same time you need to be solid on basic supply chain and operations work.”

Brewer agrees, offering this bit of advice to supply chain professionals: “Focus on what you’re trying to do. Stay true to your mission so you can retain your competitive edge.”

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