3PL Summit: from employees forming a bottleneck to the digital value chain

The pace of change, the turbulence it is causing and the need for agile supply chains – all of these things became clear during the Eye For Transport (EFT) 3PL & Supply Chain Summit held from 30-31 October in Düsseldorf. Human emotions sometimes get in the way of business decisions, according to companies, but at the same time that is one of the key benefits of ‘man’ versus ‘machine’. Human emotions also enable consumers to express their needs – and employees with the right skillsets to successfully identify them. And as for technology, it is being leveraged to optimize processes.

By Marysa Vos

Companies are undergoing digital transformations and shifting their focus. For example, Volker Schmitz, VP Supply Chain at HP, explained that the company has developed a digital value chain. Instead of being internally focused on its own data, HP now makes decisions based on community data and analytics. The technology market is growing, creating a rising demand for the production of computers and printers.

HP is eagerly capitalizing on the need for on-demand cartridges and 3D printers. “Ink is something you have to buy, but only when you really need it”, said Schmitz. HP’s Instant Ink subscription service supplies ink when that time comes. The smart printer transmits a signal when the cartridge is empty, so the consumer never has to go without. Hence, the value benefit of HP’s Instant Ink is ‘convenience’.

Besides that, HP’s 3D printers are helping to improve supply chain efficiency. Schmitz predicted that 3D printing will change the face of the manufacturing industry over the coming years. “3D printing is a catalyst of the fourth digital revolution, and 3D printing has helped HP to reduce 95% of its costs already.” According to the EMEA Supply Chain Operator, it is time to invest and innovate rather than wait and see.

When employees form a bottleneck

The speed of the fourth digital revolution (Industry 4.0) is requiring companies to be proactive and agile to respond to changes in the supply chain. Although the technologies must be transformational, the employees are even more important, stated Dirk Holbach, Corporate VP Supply Chain at Henkel: “Employees have to keep up with the pace of change, because they form the bottleneck when it comes to new technologies.”

Luis Miguel del Saz Rodríguez, Head of Digital Transformation Ordering & Logistics PZ at Airbus, echoed the importance of employee development. “You need to know a little bit about everything and always be open to learning more”, said Del Saz Rodríguez. But he added that companies who want to retain the right people and expect their workforce to keep up with the pace of change also have to meet employees’ needs: “If you want to attract millennials who have knowledge and experience of new technologies, you will need to offer them something in return.”

Keeping emotions out of forecasts

In the manufacturing sector, Industry 4.0 advancements such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will change the face of the workforce as we know it. According to Holbach, one of Henkel’s most important trump cards is that the company has employees with the right skillsets: “Last year we recruited people for roles with very different profiles than in the previous year.” He foresees a future in which there will be less interaction between people and processes as a way of keeping emotions out of forecasts, but he believes that ‘man’ and ‘machine’ will continue to collaborate in order to improve performance.