Remember during the pandemic when certain items weren’t on the shelves? Like N95 masks, baby formula and toilet paper?
The pandemic thrust supply chain dynamics into the limelight; this once under-the-radar industry became a household word, especially with ongoing manufacturing shutdowns, employee shortages and backlogged goods still plaguing many companies.
Supply chain disruptions aren’t new, “but today we are seeing more frequent shocks,” says Nirav Patel, CEO of Bristlecone, a supply chain technology provider based in Silicon Valley that was established in 1998.
War, internal conflicts, changing weather patterns and global medical crises are rapidly shifting scenarios. “You have to be on top of the ever-moving regulations that countries adopt regarding products going across their borders and child labor laws,” Patel told California Business Journal.
“It’s inevitable; you are going to get knocked down. Unexpected situations are now a given in any business, but do you have the ability to stand up again, very quickly? Think of the businesses that did well during the pandemic. They quickly figured out with their supply chains to find new suppliers and ways around problems. This is the thinking that leads to a huge competitive advantage.”
The pandemic resulted in companies rethinking how they acquire, make and move things from Point A to Point B. What was once on the back burner is now taking center stage.
“We found out that 93 percent of company executives plan to take steps to make their supply chains more resilient,” Patel says. “That is huge. And here’s another thing: about 80 percent of supply chain are investing aggressively in technology like AI and machine learning.
“Compare that to about only 30 percent before the pandemic.”
On a quest for talent
Recently named as one of the top ten leaders in supply chain services by world-renowned Gartner Inc, Bristlecone embraced innovative technology, integration software and AI solutions as it assists clients across consumer, life sciences, technology and industrial sectors.
Among the assistance Bristlecone supplies is creating a precise step-by-step “Eye in the Sky” scenario of where inventory is at any given moment, noting the condition/temperature of the transport container as items travel across borders and change-transit modes.
Having the latest technology is not enough in today’s competitive supply chain industry, Patel says. “You have to have the talent and expertise who know how to utilize these tools to its fullest.”
And in today’s market, it’s a challenge in light of the Great Resignation.
“The only way to solve this issue is not to poach talent from other companies, but to
invest in the next generation,” Patel says.
Bristlecone recently hired 400 new graduates, many from the University of Texas at Dallas. Additionally, a mass of NYU grads were brought in to focus on sustainable sourcing as a response to issues stemming from climate change.
“The passion of young people,” Patel says, “will drive the direction of the industry and will ultimately contribute to our longevity and leadership status.”
Patel tells students: “If you want to make an impact, whatever field it is that calls to you, whatever is your passion, you can do that by addressing and tackling supply chain challenges.”
In addition to investing in the next generation of up-and-coming leaders, Bristlecone has an extensive roster of seasoned experts who share their deep technological knowledge and model client interactions for the new hires.
Today, 2,600 employees work at Bristlecone’s Silicon Valley headquarters and at 14 hubs around the world. Recently, a new office opened in Dallas in a quest to be closer to the burgeoning retail market in Middle America.
“In 2004, Bristlecone became part of the India-based Mahindra Group, a $19 billion financial conglomerate that believes the supply chain organization has the potential to become a billion dollar business.”
Patel, who spent 20 years as an executive with Cognizant, was eager to take on the challenge, arriving at Bristlecone two years ago to shepherd the company.
“This is an exciting time for not just the company, but the future of supply chain technology,” he says.
Navigating an Unknown
Overall, Patel describes the trends he is witnessing that will have impacts for not only his industry, but all sectors.
• Specialization and fragmentation. “In the old days, a computer was manufactured by one company inside their four walls,” he says. “Now all those components are being produced all over the world, so we see vertical disintegration. Now it’s all about specialization. Companies want to know who is best in producing this chip? This part? This component? And how can we get our hands on it?”
• Massive reduction in SKUs/brands. Patel cites an example of a retailor that used to offer 60 different products for toilet paper. “Do you really need 60 different SKUs and brands for your customers? You have to optimize what you sell and not confuse consumers,” he says. “There is also a drive to keep the shopping and buying experience fairly simple.”
• And finally, companies have a more accepting attitude about anticipating issues and interruptions before they become emergencies. “It’s a new mindset of ‘Just in Case,’ which replaces the ‘Just in Time’ thinking,” Patel concludes. “Companies want to be prepared – and our industry will benefit.”