Supply chains are the most agile part of a company and change is to be expected. The pandemic has accelerated these changes but there are surefire ways to adapt and innovate.
Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Shauna Gamble, Chief Procurement Officer of Bombardier to discuss how to develop an agile supply chain.
Shauna shares insight into:
- Supply chain agility
- Identifying the right tools and training to lead remotely
- Auditing your supply chain virtually
Quartz Network: What effects have you seen on your supply chain due to COVID-19?
Shauna Gamble: There’s an immediate impact that we’ve seen in the aerospace industry. To be honest, anyone in the supply chain organization has seen our partners or suppliers impacted by employees not being in the office or accessibility to material. There’s been some restrictions on transportation, import exportation rules about people crossing borders, as well as transportation limitations, because a lot of our products may fly in a commercial aircraft versus just a designated transportation.
Of course, our partners have their individual state or province or federal regulations around COVID. That dictates who can be in the workplace and when and how many, and the most important protocols around safety. All of those attributes have, I would say, exercised our creativity and how we get as much productivity out of our partners as we possibly can as well as their own facilities.
Quartz Network: Are there certain processes and training that you’ve put in place to help deal with this?
Shauna Gamble: The amount of communication—you cannot over communicate. Normally in our processes we would do our supplier audits on site. We would have our intervention teams and our regular communications. That has changed to be significantly higher volume and higher frequency than we have in front of us. The flexibility needs to be there, particularly with our partners that are remote, on how we can still maintain the same level of productivity and address particular questions or issues like anyone has in their supply chain. But the impacts also had us look at master schedule changes and creativity and how we can make sure we can meet our customer’s needs.
Quartz Network: How do you ensure these new processes are aligned across teams?
Shauna Gamble: There is a very tight communication plan and path that we have right up to our CEO, and that is on a daily basis. There’s various degrees of information that you share up the food chain, they could be tied to what we see regulation-wise in certain regions, they could be tied to potential parts shortages, and that governance and that processing is through what we call daily management meetings, or DMS, which goes to my leader, and then to the CEO of the business. We’re also very tied into our external affairs, our communications, our engineering, and our operations teams, and we all do come together at least once a day to ensure there’s full transparency across all of the functions.
Quartz Network: Do you think a lot of the virtual interactions brought on by COVID will ever revert back to in-person?
Shauna Gamble: As humans, I do believe we are creatures of habit. But supply chains in any part of a company are the most agile and the most comfortable with change, and we need to be. Supply chain organizations deal with challenges every morning, noon, and night. The ability to adapt is fundamental.
Do I believe that we’re going to be more remote? I do. I really don’t think that the environment we’re in right now is going to change over the next 6 to 9 months. We’ve also proven that maybe resources don’t need to be in a corporate office and can work from home remotely. I would say though, that the physical interaction and being on the production line of our partners and our suppliers and looking at the output and walking them through QMS systems is something that we really do need to get back to. I just don’t see that part of it going away. But the virtual piece, the communication, I see a lot more of that.
Quartz Network: How agile do you think the supply chain is?
Shauna Gamble: There’s always going to be some restrictions that we have with regards to agility. We’re highly dependent on partners for transportation. We’re highly dependent on import-export controls, import-export legislations, customs brokers, and everything else. Like I said, the aerospace industry is one that’s quite regulated.
For those that are in a heavily regulated industry, that agility does have some limitations. The heavy capital investment on second sourcing, dual sourcing, may not be the solution for many companies in many situations, because it’s rather a heavy investment and also heavily regulated.
Agility with regards to how you manage your spares or your additional location of holding material, where you do that, transparency with your suppliers, and trying to create what I call that crystal ball effect are attributes of agility for us. You’ve got to look at that as a supply chain leader every hour of every day.
Quartz Network: What tools have you put in place to manage your supply chain virtually?
Shauna Gamble: Some of those tools are new cloud-based software applications that give us more instant pictures of how our supply chain is doing. Those applications are very, very successful for us.
The other things I would emphasize is that we do have a Procurement Academy inside Bombardier. In that Procurement Academy, we have added quite a few courses on how to be leaders remotely, how to be effective as a remote leader, and how to effectively negotiate with a partner or supplier through video versus being in person. That a very different approach because we can read each other, we can understand through body language. By not being in the same room, which is generally a very creative tool we use to make sure that we close contracts and negotiations where we want them to be, how do you take that remote attribute of it and exercise it in a way that’s still as effective as if you’re in the same room.
Now, when it comes to communication with our partners, we have very, very frequent senior executive calls with the CEOs and leaders of all our major partners. It’s an open forum for our leaders to communicate what we’re seeing in our part of the world because we are an international company. That frequency of that discussion and communication at the higher echelons is much, much greater than it used to be in the past.
Quartz Network: Any final advice for other leaders within procurement and supply chain?
Shauna Gamble: Make sure your peers understand your world. In a world that has significantly changed over the last 12 months, there might be some who believe, “Well, what’s the big deal? We still have planes moving products, we still have FedEx coming to the door, everyone has Amazon coming to the door. What’s changed right?”
Have full transparency in helping your peers in your company understand the challenges that you’re facing, and your partners are facing, and they’re facing down their food chain to provide awareness and understanding and better planning. None of us like surprises when supply chains are built to deal with surprises, but do everything you can to avoid them through that communication.
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