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Improving supply chains through innovation

Posted: 09 Nov 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supply chain  innovation  risk 

Last month, I was at a prospect's site and they wanted to thoroughly test our product as part of the technology selection process. They tested it in two facilities, using it for a couple of days in each. Basically, we deployed our product in all departments and tested thoroughly for all functions. The folks from the second facility did a much more thorough job and also had some very impressive innovations in their distribution centre. These innovations were not necessarily in processes or products, but rather in the discipline, rigor, and daily habits, as well as within the overall culture of operations.

Where I live, we see green signboards on the highway that say this portion of the road is being taken care of by a certain organisation, or sometimes even by an individual. Even in the Great Smoky Mountains, there are portions of the road that individuals can volunteer to maintain as part of the "Adopt a Trail" programme and make a difference in the community. The folks at the second data centre took this great idea and adapted it.


Photo courtesy: Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia

Every aisle had a picture of the associate with a sentence that said, "This aisle is maintained with pride by" and then the name of the associate. The programme ensures every aisle is kept clean, without overstock items left on the floor. Every aisle has an owner who is accountable. This is a simple idea is one that can be replicated in any DC without a large investment. Above all, it fosters a great sense of ownership in the associates and inculcated a great culture by leveraging pride and creating an enthusiasm that is contagious. This is the kind of innovation that changes the culture and fosters innovation in the cultural DNA of the organisation.

Executive management can also encourage innovation. At one of our customers, for example, the SVP owns a patent for an innovative case used in their products. That sets the tone for the entire organisation, starting from the top down. In addition, small innovations can make a big difference. I have also seen some really simple but specialised tools that make things better. For example, one company gave workers a small L-shaped tool to cut corrugated boxes, so the height of the box could be changed quickly and the box used for a different purpose. This simple change saved worker time, reduced waste, and encouraged re-use of boxes, which cut costs.

Organisations can approach innovation in two ways: 1) By solving a specific problem that everyone is experiencing (i.e. fixing the existing mousetrap), or 2) By making processes and products better (i.e. building a better mousetrap).

Within an organisation, it is much easier to build momentum and acceptance for the first type of innovation. The second type required a lot more articulation of value proposition, better return on investment (ROI) and well-considered timing. To make it worthwhile, you need to create seven to 10 times more value on average to get traction with it. In short, it's sometimes better to look for ways to make the mousetrap you have better.

- Puga Sankara
  Smart Gladiator

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