Supply chain management is critical for companies as it could be affected by unforeseen events such as natural disasters, terrorism, or political unrest. For instance, heavy rains in Oregon caused flooding in the northwestern region of the United States. A few weeks ago, floods in the coastal city of Chennai in India, resulted in the disruption of normal life. The movement of materials and shipment of goods is gravely disrupted in such instances and could affect the supply chain process of organizations.
It is for this reason that many forward thinking companies are invoking the power of technology to handle supply chain operations. As a matter of fact, this is going to be a requirement for manufacturing companies in the future. According to IDC, with the changing customer demands and innovations in technology, the next four years will see widespread transformations in manufacturing supply chain processes – new software technologies being a key inclusion.
In a recent article by Josh Bond titled, “2015 Software Usage Survey: The pursuit of supply chain compatibility” published in Logistics Management, he quotes John Hill, Director at St.Onge Company and their experiences in implementing new Supply Chain Software. Hill suggests the key to ensure successful implementation of the new program is “fully on-boarded workforce” – this means employees at all levels are trained about the new software and it applications as relevant to their specific jobs. However, as with any new software and technology, there is bound to be skepticism and reluctance regarding its acceptance.
Here are the top 5 difficulties that supply chain management staff typically face when they have to use a new software.
1. Unaware of how the new system integrates with existing ones
Often, employees are unaware of how the new system will integrate with the existing systems and software applications. Change is always difficult and if employees do not get the big picture of how the change will actually be beneficial to them individually and to the organization as a whole, it will be difficult for them to adapt to the change. They may also be unsure about their role and its impact on the entire supply chain. As a result, they may not appreciate and support the intended changes resulting in delays in reaping the benefits.
What to do: Before rolling out any new supply chain software, all the stakeholders involved in the supply chain should be oriented about the intended changes and how it will work alongside the existing processes, systems and software applications. Typically, there are a host of software programs that companies use for supply chain management. So if change is only in one area, we need to inform how the change will impact other systems. If a new platform is going to be replaced, like in the case of Flextronics, then, you need to invest in giving employees information about the end to end solution and how/where they fit in individually.
2. Inability to comprehend how the new system will improve operations and reduce costs
Another challenge that organizations might face when implementing a new supply chain software is the skepticism about the impact of the exercise. The staff may not realize or understand how the changes will actually result in efficiency and reduction in operational costs.
What to do: Most of the time, new software is introduced only with the view to make things better. However, learning to do things differently is always a challenge and results in teething problems. When the management is certain about the benefits of the new system, the onus is on them to ensure that it is communicated to the employees at all levels. It is essential to bring them on-board about the intended changes and get their buy-in for a smooth transition to the new system. This can be done through training and if employees are spread across the world, online training is a good option.
3. Absence technical support when employees work on the new system
As mentioned before, there are bound to be teething problems when a new software is implemented. Providing a one-off training session will not be sufficient to address the problems that employees face when actually using the system. Several questions might arise, software bugs might develop. Technical support is essential and the lack of technical support or guidance when having simple operational hiccups might dissuade employees.
What to do: Such experiences can be avoided by having online resources so that employees can refer to them when in doubt. You can create digital eBooks, FAQs, troubleshooting tips or videos that address a single issue.
4. Difficulty in understanding the new system due to poor training methods
Training on new software programs has to be hands-on. It cannot be done in a theoretical manner. At the same time, a one-day session will not make employees experts on the software. Each day they may encounter a new problem or doubt and they may need to re-visit the training content many times.
What to do: Online training that simulates the software program and provides opportunities for employees to try the software under various situations would be helpful. Short modules that are easy to access and complete would be advantageous as employees can revisit a particular module easily that will directly enable them to clear doubts or refresh their knowledge.
5. Vendors do not provide required support to the end users
Vendor technical support is also listed as one of the challenges for an effective supply chain software program. Absence of vendor support or delayed vendor support can be frustrating. Lack of training content and resources can also de-motivate users.
What to do: Ideally, you need to negotiate a training clause and annual maintenance contract with vendors. However, if it is not possible for vendors to train all your employees, the onus of training them is on you. You can ensure that vendors provide all the documents and supporting resources to you. If they are well drafted, they can serve as training manuals to your employees as they are. However, it is best to create a customized training program that addresses your specific training needs.
Training is one way to ensure that employees acknowledge the need for the new software implementation and understand and appreciate the need to make it successful. Hence, it is important that organizations invest in training their supply chain staff at all levels on the new processes and systems.