We are in a very strange times! On this third Digital Supply Chain podcast on the theme of Industry 4.0, I had chat with Martin Barkman. Martin is an SVP and the Global Head of Solution Management for Digital Supply Chain at SAP, so I was keen to have a conversation with him about that, but the conversation went a bit off track!
With all that is going on in the world right now it is difficult to avoid talking about the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic which has turned all of our lives upside down. So, despite not intending to, our conversation quickly veered into a discussion of the implications of the coronavirus contagion, and its effects on supply chains, manufacturing, and ourselves.
This is an extremely topical podcast, which ends on a positive note. I hope you find it useful.
Listen to the podcast using the player above, and/or see the full transcript below:
Martin Barkman [00:00:00] The first thing that I think in in times like this organizations have to understand this is what is my what is my supply? Where do I have products? Can I get the product? Am I relying upon regions that are even more hard hit by the particular crisis and whether it’s this viral situation or just in general I think companies are rethinking making sure that they have alternative sources.
Tom Raftery [00:00:29] Good morning. Good afternoon or good evening. Wherever you are in the world, this is the Digital Supply Chain podcast and I am your host Tom Raftery.
Tom Raftery [00:00:39] Welcome to the Digital Supply Chain podcast. We are in the series themed around Industry 4.0 and my special guest on the show today is Martin. Martin, would you like to introduce yourself?
Martin Barkman [00:00:52] Absolutely, Tom. And thank you for having me. I am Martin Barkman and I head up solution management for SAPs digital supply chain area based in the United States and super excited to be here talking to you today.
Tom Raftery [00:01:08] Thank you. Thank you, Martin. so, digital supply chain and industry 4.0. How are they connected?
Martin Barkman [00:01:16] It’s a great it’s a great question. I mean, there’s a lot going on with supply chain today. Obviously, the topic at the moment is everything the world is doing to mitigate the effect of this virus. But even before the virus, supply chains were becoming more prominent and more central to the conversations in company boardrooms and frankly, even amongst consumers. Geopolitically, we saw things like trade tariffs, and regulations coupled with uncertainties around the exit of Britain from the United, from the European zone. All of these put pressure on companies supply chains. And then at the same time, you also have consumers that are pickier and have more desires than ever before.
Martin Barkman [00:02:15] Whether it’s the personalization of products or even the speed…
Tom Raftery [00:02:21] They’ve been spoiled, consumers have been spoiled by the likes of Amazon who are now giving them deliveries same day and even, you know, sub-hour times and things like that. so, that’s gotta put huge pressure on supply chains as well.
Martin Barkman [00:02:32] Yeah, it’s interesting. So, you have governments, you have individual consumer. And then there’s this underlying thread around topics of sustainability. You know, consumers are starting to figure out that having the delivery truck come to their house many, many times every day maybe isn’t the most sustainable option. So, we’re seeing a convergence of a lot of these global trends, consumer trends, and it’s converging around the supply chain. And so, how do you set up a supply chain that can really accomplish all of this in a fundamentally different way? You asked about Industry 4.0, and it’s an interesting term. It actually originated in in Europe many, many years ago. And it was primarily focused around the automation of the factory or the plants. Now we’re seeing the concepts actually extend to the entire supply chain, to the assets that are deployed throughout the supply chain, all the way to the way distribution and logistics is handled. And it’s all about using technology and data to fundamentally change and take a step change in productivity. Other times it’s called industrial Internet of Things, so, I just wanted to throw that out there, that that’s also a term that’s often used.
Tom Raftery [00:03:52] Sure, sure. And I mean, we’re not going to harp on the whole Coronavirus thing because, you know, there’s lots of other people talking about that. And, you know, people better, better informed than us. But things like that are going to be putting huge pressure now, you gonna think on supply chains. I mean, particularly there’s going to be a huge increase in the requirement for logistics as more people, you know, stay at home and have a requirement to have things delivered to their home. so, that that’s going to that’s going to change the logistics industry. It’s going to grow the logistics industry, and it’s going to completely you got to think change how a lot of supply chains are organised.
Martin Barkman [00:04:31] Yeah. No, no, no doubt. And it is it is absolutely the topic of the day and what companies are focusing on. I mean, you know, the first thing that I think in in times like this organizations have to understand is what is my what is my supply? Where do I have product? Can I get the product? Am I relying upon regions that are even more hard hit by the particular crisis and whether it’s this virus situation or just in general, I think companies are rethinking, making sure that they have alternative sources identified. They understand the implications of those sources. They have the ability to switch and shift order volumes from one, one to the other. You know, so. That that I think is kind of step one in a time like this, of course, with that comes also an understanding of where you have inventory in the supply chain and how can you use that inventory to ultimately create new finished goods and move those finished goods to the point where they are most, most desperately needed. I think at the same time, demand is is really, really changing. We’re seeing spikes in demand for products that are absolute critical.
Tom Raftery [00:06:01] Toilet Rolls?
Martin Barkman [00:06:01] Whether it’s. But it’s not just I mean, it’s paper products in general. Right. Diapers and such. Certainly, in personal hygiene products. I mean, right now, Amazon is prioritising the delivery of those to consumers at the expense of maybe some products that are not deemed to be quite as urgent. I think for companies, what’s critical is understanding, you know, just by how much and where and to what degree demand has changed, because ultimately that picture has to be you have to form the unified picture of demand and supply and ultimately how you how you solve for that. so, you want to get your arms around. So, I yeah. This is a you get your arms around that. That demand certainly part of the supply picture is also the capacity. And you mentioned people are now working from home, certainly in some professions that’s a possibility. In professions like running a manufacturing operation, that’s not always the case. The customers we have that I’ve talked to are trying to keep these critical plants up and running plants that are involved in producing products that are more needed now than ever before. But the method in which you do that right, the way you run your shifts, the way you inform and encourage people to work when they are on the shop floor is different. Right. We can’t stand shoulder to shoulder anymore. We have to maintain the social distancing even in the workplace. so, I think its capacity, its inventory, its supplier and supply and its demand and forming that picture and understanding also what is it saying I need to do today? But what are the what ifs and the scenarios? We live in an extremely dynamic environment. so, this week is fundamentally different than last week. so, whatever I thought was my plan last week, it’s very likely that that plan now needs to change. so, I need an environment and an ability to rerun those scenarios very, very effectively. Once I choose a scenario and I say, OK, this is the one I’m going to operate, that, how do I put it into action all the way down to planning the transportation and understanding how to get it ultimately to the end consumer?
Tom Raftery [00:08:29] And demands have got to be swinging wildly as well at the moment. I mean, we talk about people working from home. That’s going to mean a huge drop in demand for, you know, petrol, diesel those kinds of fuels to get people to and from work. And on the other hand, there’s going to be a huge uptick you got to think and demand for things like webcams so, people can more effectively work from home.
Martin Barkman [00:09:00] Yeah. so, it’s interesting right now, I think we’re all trying to come to grips with what is the the new…the drop in, you know, what is the the drastic change in demand, and as I mentioned earlier, how do companies get their arms around that? But soon we will have to start to plan for the recovery. Is the recovery going to be like the letter V, where it’s a sharp drop and then a sharp rise, is it going to be like the letter U where it’s a drop and then it’s a period of really, really low band in general, but then an uptick. Or frankly, it’s almost gonna be like the letter L you know, the classic where we’re gonna be at a low point of demand for quite some time and then maybe we see a gradual, slow recovery. And the answer is, of course, we don’t know, and it may actually differ for different products. I also think we have to think about the possibility that when we emerge from this, yes, things will be fine, but they will be different. Right. so, if you think back to the 9/11 crisis, we started to fly again, but airport security was fundamentally changed. Will our way of working be fundamentally different when we emerge from this crisis? so, we have to understand how we will emerge and what the scenarios are so, that we can plan accordingly. But then let’s not assume that everything returns to the way it was. It may not be for certain parts of the economy or for certain industries or for certain types of products.
Tom Raftery [00:10:57] And how do companies plan for that?
Martin Barkman [00:11:02] Yeah, I think…
Tom Raftery [00:11:07] The 64-million-dollar question?
Martin Barkman [00:11:08] Yeah, look, I mean, you hear it said every day. Right. These are unprecedented times. Companies that have a good handling of their data, of their information and they’re able to bring it into one environment where they can run these scenarios. Not to pretending that they know exactly what’s going to happen, but they can say, you know what, if this happens, what if we have a quick recovery? What if we have a prolonged recovery? What if they make some more of our products coming out of the recovery maybe is a little bit different? What if a part of the world relapses later this year and the epidemic comes back in a limited form? so, I think companies that have that kind of digital environment are going to be able to plan these different scenarios. They may not know, but they can certainly weigh the different options. But I also think it’s interesting. Right? so, Industry 4.0 if we over time, are able to automate and run more critical parts of the supply chain in an autonomous or perhaps in a remotely controlled way. And this is already happening. I mean, I’ve been to see many production operations. You know, the people there are operating them behind a glass wall or in the case of milling and mining, significant parts of the operation might be controlled in a control centre that’s located hundreds of miles away and then using cameras and digital infrastructure they’re able to control the equipment. The interesting thing about that is when the next pandemic, and I hate to even say it comes, supply chains might be able to operate more autonomously, because people are not necessarily working and standing right next to each other. It’s not that we have eliminated the need for people completely, but we’ve eliminated the need for people to stand closely together performing the tasks and potentially risking their safety as a result.
Tom Raftery [00:13:38] so, Martin, I think one of the most important things at this kind of time is transparency in supply chains. Can you talk a little bit about that for us?
Martin Barkman [00:13:48] Absolutely. And it’s really interesting because supply chains almost by nature, right? You think everything happens in sequence from one step to the other it’s very linear oriented, and in many cases, it is, right? You start with a but raw material and you convert it into something that you ultimately distribute and sell. However, that’s a very simplified view. And what has been happening already is supply chains are becoming more networks. Right? so, you source raw materials more through a network, in many cases. Your manufacturing setup is a network. You have your own manufacturing sites and you have the ability to go out and work with contractors in a network type of capacity. Transportation. Same thing. You source transportation through a network and you work with a network of providers. And as a result, the supply chains are actually becoming less linear and sequential and more networked. Now, more than ever, visibility of what’s happening in your supply chain is very important. And because it’s more networked, you need the visibility through your network. so, you need to understand. Not just what’s happening within the four walls of your supply chain, but within your supply chain network. so, this is a topic that was already becoming important. I think now more than ever, it’s of upmost importance. Companies are setting up, you know, war rooms and crisis management centres to understand how to maximize their ability to serve their customers. And of course, information and visibility are very, very key to that. Now, beyond this pandemic, there are other cases where having visibility is very important. What if there’s a product recall? How do I ensure that I can trace the source of the recall or the cause of the recall through my supply chain and remove the product that is subject to the recall without overdoing it, without removing a product that does not have to be subject to the recall. so, there there’s just a lot of ways in which this connecting everything and then having that be rendered simultaneously more closer, if not real time. It’s becoming very, very important.
Tom Raftery [00:16:23] And for organizations who are in the throes of this right now, I mean, what would you advise them to do if they haven’t got the kind of transparency that they need or if they are starting on that project or if they’re even if they’re in that in that project and they’re looking to increase their visibility into their supply chain where we’re should. What should they do? What kind of steps should they take?
Martin Barkman [00:16:51] Yeah, it’s hard to think of a one size fits all, but. There’s a good chance that there are some pockets of places in their supply chain where the information resides digitally. Sometimes that could be very large pockets, large repositories. I would say an initial key step is assess what is the digital environment you have? What are the existing tools you have in place and look for ways to activate elements of those tools that maybe you haven’t otherwise activated. So, for example, we have customers that are running the SAP integrated business planning application to do the scenario analysis that I talked about earlier. It has inherent capabilities for things like visibility. We call it the control tower. Ensure that you’re leveraging those capabilities to the fullest, which in some cases, if you aren’t, isn’t a big undertaking to go do.
Tom Raftery [00:17:53] Okay.
Martin Barkman [00:17:55] And certainly that’s something that that companies can consider.
Tom Raftery [00:18:00] All these things are kind of on a curve so, they can move kind of further to the right on the curve to increase their visibility, you’re saying?
Martin Barkman [00:18:07] Yeah. I mean, it’s a matter of time too, right? And, you know, are there quick wins that can be attained right now? At some point, companies may look to say, you know, how do we how do we take a step change in our in our digital environment, in our infrastructure, so, that we can do this on an ongoing basis, not just when a pandemic comes across, but frankly, sometimes you see a spike in demand that you hadn’t forecasted. You would like nothing more than to meet that demand. But you don’t know if you can or what it would take to meet that demand. so, you need to be able to run these plans and rerun the plans more often. You know, that’s the kind of capability that I think companies at some point are going to start to say, you know what, it makes sense to pursue that.
Tom Raftery [00:18:53] Excellent. Martin, we’re coming towards the end of the podcast now. We’re at about 18 minutes, 19 minutes into the into the podcast. Before we end up before we finish up, is there is there any question that I have not asked you that you think I should have?
Martin Barkman [00:19:14] I perhaps one thing we should conclude with is, you know what what is, pandemics aside, if we allow ourselves the luxury and the pleasure of removing that that new lens just for a second, maybe what is on the other side? And what do we think is is of utmost importance to companies? And I’d just like to talk about that, because I think we have to allow ourselves the ability to think in those terms, right? For the future and to us and what we see from our customers is supply chain is moving increasingly, from a pure back office function to something that’s at the at the boardroom level, very much part of the discussion. And the reason is we are moving into an era where it’s all about the experience economy, meaning what is it that customers want to experience when they do business with you? What is it that your employees want to experience when they go to work? What is it that your shareholders are looking for you to accomplish right in your community? Same thing with the environment. And we think that’s very exciting for those of us that are passionate about supply chain, because how can you accomplish something on all those axes and on all those vectors without a really, really comprehensive approach to supply chain management, right? What is the point of selling a product that’s marketed well, if in the end the product doesn’t meet customer needs from a quality and functionality standpoint? What is the point of having the most perfectly manufactured product with all the bells and whistles if in the end it’s delivered late to customers? so, the supply chain is what brings that ultimate experience very much together. And we see companies making investments in supply chains in ways that traditionally wouldn’t have been wouldn’t have been thought of. And it’s so, that the supply chain can help the company be successful in the experience economy. And we think that’s exciting and we think that’s very much on top of minds of companies right now, maybe a little bit further back of their mind, given the urgency, but nevertheless, something that absolutely has to be continued to be addressed.
Tom Raftery [00:21:57] Excellent, excellent, excellent. Martin, if people want to know more about Martin or about supply chains or about business planning or any of the above, where would you have me direct them? I’ll put some links in the show, notes in the description, this podcast so, you just tell me what to put in there.
Martin Barkman [00:22:17] Sure. Let’s assume they want to know about supply chain more so, than they know about me. Certainly, I’m on LinkedIn. But for for supply chain and what we’re doing at SAP, I would invite everyone actually to go to SAP.com, and in there we have sections for supply chain management. We have a lot of interesting content of what we’re seeing are the big trends and what companies are doing. And we have a lot of testimonials from companies with whom we work. And I think that’s an exciting place for people to start to learn more.
Tom Raftery [00:22:55] Super, super. Martin, thanks again for joining us on the show today.
Martin Barkman [00:23:01] Thank you so, much. It’s a pleasure.