Blog: Five Questions with a Supply Chain Expert

Featuring GAINS VP of Industry Strategy Amber Salley

Amber Salley is an award-winning supply chain professional and Vice President of Industry Strategy at GAINS. She has presented at major industry events across Europe and North America. She is known for her expertise in integrating cutting-edge technologies like AI, ML, and cloud computing into supply chain planning, blending technological understanding, and providing a human-focused approach. As a visionary leader, she sets new standards for innovation and excellence in the supply chain industry and offers her latest insights on the hot industry topics below.

You’ve worked in the supply chain for several decades. What have been some of the most significant changes, and how did you help companies weather them?

Throughout my career, my approach has always been to encourage companies to view their supply chains as strategic assets, not just operational necessities.

By doing so, companies can weather changes and seize opportunities to create value and gain a competitive edge. Companies at all maturity levels should think about structuring their supply chain to adapt to this VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) era if they haven’t already done so.

Another significant change has been the rise of the role of the Chief Supply Chain Officer or CSCO. This evolution marked a departure from supply chain responsibilities falling under the CFO due to the capital investment in supply chains. As a consultant and advisor, I’ve helped organizations understand the importance of this role and how to integrate it into their senior management teams to ensure supply chains have a voice in strategic decisions at the highest level.

One of the most notable transformations has been the evolution of supply chains from being seen as a cost center to critical profit centers. This shift entailed identifying ways to leverage core competencies – across supply chains to provide services to aid businesses in making their supply chains more efficient. Companies are now identifying ways to capitalize on their supply chain capabilities for internal efficiency and as a service to others.

How does your vast experience change your perspective on today’s supply chain challenges?

A collaborative approach is essential in today’s interconnected and interdependent global market.

My experiences in supply chain management as a Gartner analyst and industry practitioner have provided me with a unique lens through which to view current challenges, emphasizing the need for resilience, technological savvy, customer focus, strategic integration, proactive management, and collaboration. Having worked with various companies in this VUCA era, I have seen the importance of resilience and agility in supply chains. My experiences continue to reinforce my belief that modern supply chains must be flexible and adaptable to respond swiftly and effectively to unforeseen events.

The technological evolution in supply chains, from rudimentary systems to advanced Generative AI (GenAI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, has underlined the crucial role of technology in enhancing efficiency, visibility, and collaboration. It has also highlighted the challenges of digital integration, underscoring the need for a balanced approach combining technology with human insight. I’m also acutely aware of the complexities of transforming from a local to a global supply chain.

My experiences have solidified my view that supply chains are critical strategic assets, not just operational necessities. I advocate for integrating supply chain design into the core business strategy, contributing to competitive advantage and growth. This perspective underlines the importance of collaboration in supply chains, internally within organizations, and with outside suppliers, partners, and even competitors.

Is there anything that still surprises you?

Despite technological advancements and process optimization, it’s surprising that some companies rely heavily on outdated practices, such as manual data entry or paper-based systems.

The slow pace of digital adoption in specific industry sectors can be unexpected, especially considering the proven benefits of modern technology. Also, the resistance to change in some organizations, even when faced with clear evidence of shifting market dynamics or technological advancements, can be surprising. This resistance can stem from various factors, including organizational culture, fear of the unknown, or comfort with the status quo.

On a positive note, seeing the innovative solutions that some companies develop in response to complex supply chain challenges is often surprising and inspiring. The creativity and ingenuity displayed by supply chain professionals in solving problems, often under significant constraints, continue to impress me. The pace at which new technologies are developed and implemented can also be surprising. Innovations in areas like AI, Robotic Process Automation, and IoT rapidly improve supply chain efficiency in ways that were not conceivable just a few years ago.

Which current market trends are you most excited about?

In short, digital transformation. The potential of technology to transform supply chains from reactive to predictive and from siloed operations to integrated ecosystems is immense.

The trend of optimizing operations opens doors to new business models and opportunities. As these technologies continue to evolve, their impact on the supply chain will likely grow, making this an exciting area to be involved in. Digital transformation fosters greater collaboration both within a business and with external partners. Shared digital platforms can facilitate a more efficient exchange of information, aligning various supply chain components more effectively.

AI and machine learning (ML) technologies enable better forecasting, inventory management, and capacity allocation, reducing waste and improving responsiveness to market changes. Digital technologies allow a higher degree of personalization in supply chain operations, leading to improved customer experiences. Predictive analytics in supply chain strategy allows for more proactive decision-making. By analyzing vast amounts of data, AI can anticipate potential disruptions and suggest mitigation strategies, improving resilience and agility.

In today’s fast-paced market, quickly adapting and innovating is vital. Companies that effectively leverage digital technologies in their supply chain network offer a significant competitive advantage through improved service, cost savings, and agility.

What should supply chain executives do in 2024 to give them more resiliency?

Focus on key strategies. This approach is critical for navigating the complexities of modern supply chain management and the unpredictable nature of global markets.

2024 will require a multifaceted approach that combines technology adoption, strategic planning, collaboration, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Companies can enhance their ability to withstand disruptions and maintain efficient, effective supply chain operations by focusing on these areas.

To build resiliency, companies should:

  • Foster a culture of innovation where new ideas and approaches are encouraged. Regularly review and update supply chain strategies to incorporate new trends, technologies, and best practices.
  • Embrace digital technologies such as AI and advanced analytics. These tools enhance visibility, improve decision-making, and allow real-time responses to supply chain disruption. They enable predictive analytics and more intelligent, more efficient supply chain operations.
  • Implement a more agile supply chain process, allowing for quick adaptation to changing market conditions. This change includes flexible manufacturing processes, supplier diversity, adaptable logistics solutions, and responsive demand planning.
  • Develop comprehensive risk management strategies that include scenario planning and contingency measures. Regularly assess potential risks and have clear, actionable plans in place for different types of disruptions.
  • Build strong relationships with suppliers to ensure better collaboration and communication, especially during crises. Collaborative partnerships can lead to more transparent and mutually beneficial supply chain practices.

Closing Thoughts

As we look to 2024 and beyond, Amber’s advice for supply chain executives to focus on key strategies for resilience is timely. In a world where change is the only constant, the ability to innovate, collaborate, and continuously improve will be the differentiators that set successful supply chain operations apart.

Amber Salley’s contributions to the field make her not just a leader in supply chain management but a visionary shaping its future. Her insights remind us that the supply chain is a dynamic, integral part of business strategy, capable of delivering tremendous value and competitive advantage in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Ready to see what GAINS can do for your supply chain? Request a demo now to get started! 

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More from Amber Salley:

Blog: How GAINS Embodies ASCM’s Supply Chain Vision for 2024 by Amber Salley
Podcast: Let’s Talk Supply Chain Thoughts and Coffee: Supply Chains Top Trends and Revolutionary Releases
Blog: How GAINS Embodies ASCM’s Supply Chain Vision for 2024 by Amber Salley