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5 Minutes With… Amy Heineike, VP of Engineering at 7bridges

In the latest instalment of our supply chain industry executive interview series we spoke to 7bridges VP of Engineering Amy Heineike about managing geopolitical and economic shocks, the importance of adaptability, the impact of AI tools and how corporate sustainability will be a big focus in 2023…

What have been the biggest challenges the Supply Chain industry has faced over the past 12 months?

We continue to jump between major economic and geopolitical shocks.  The war in Ukraine, escalating fuel prices, sky high inflation, widespread strikes, extreme weather, and the rumblings of recession.

Businesses have needed to respond quickly, bring down their costs, and look hard at how to weather the storms.

And what have been the biggest opportunities?

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  We’ve seen a shift towards the circular economy, interest in creating demand driven supply chains, and a renewed commitment to lowering emissions.  Ambitious goals that require prioritising smarter supply chains.

What is the biggest priority for the Supply Chain industry in 2022?

Adaptability.  Our past doesn’t tell us enough about the future – we need evidence on what is happening, options for how to respond, and the ability to implement decisions quickly.

What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2023?

Firstly, we’re expecting to see everyone needing to calculate their emissions, particularly as Scope 3 and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive have gotten the green light.  This will require gathering a lot of data, but also building processes that will last into the future.

Secondly, we expect to see supply chain teams having closer relationships with the commercial side of businesses. Supply chain leaders are going to be much more involved in strategy and there will be more collaboration between those parts of the business. Don’t be surprised if supply chain is a hot topic for the board next year.

What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

My career has been in building data and AI technology tools – so I’m probably biased here!  It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of change in the past few years – in the tooling for wrangling data at scale, as well as the types of models and computation that can be used. They are incredible foundations for technology to continue to rapidly improve in this market.

AI and automation have the opportunity to drive enormous change, and make it much more tractable for teams to manage increasingly complex modern supply chains in flexible ways.

Adaptability requires that we have options available to choose from, but playing out how those choices will ripple through a supply chain is really hard without some heavy computations, and it’s daunting if we don’t have automation to enact those changes.   For supply chains that have the tech in hand, we’ll see them making the most of a lot of opportunities – experimenting, learning and adapting – having smarter supply chains that benefit them and their customers.

In 2025 we’ll all be talking about…?

Smarter, demand-driven, data-powered supply chains. In this age of data, what is going to matter most is how you use it to make your supply chain (and your business) smarter. We’ve seen incredible things happen for our customers who are using data to make decisions, simulate scenarios and get real visibility of what happens in their supply chain.

Which person in, or associated with, the Supply Chain industry would you most like to meet?

As someone who’s learning as much as possible about the industry I really enjoyed reading Christopher Mim’s book “Arriving Today” which gave a deep dive introduction into the people and tech at different stages of a global supply chain.  It would be fun to discuss how the last two years may have refined his thoughts on future trends.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Supply Chain sector?

How much hard work and sweat still goes into coordinating supply chains.  The heroics and difficult decisions that are being made every day when, as consumers, we’re blissfully unaware.

You go to the bar at the Total Supply Chain Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?

I’d love a pint of a good English Cider.  Do you have those?

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

I really like to geek out on data, and the picture of the world it paints for us.  I like being around talented people who want to imagine whats possible, and who have ideas that surprise me and that are really deeply useful.

And what’s the most challenging?

Supply chains are complex beasts. We want to make sure that the software we build enables that complexity to be managed, but without it being overwhelming.  That requires a lot of careful thought!

Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things?

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.

5 Minutes With… Cory Haley, Solutions Engineer at 7bridges…

In the latest instalment of our supply chain industry executive interview series we spoke to 7bridges Solution Engineer Cory Haley (pictured, right) about supply chain resilience, the importance of being data led and why we should learn from historical trends…

What have been the biggest challenges the Supply Chain industry has faced over the past 12 months?

I think in general, the Supply Chain Industry is just coming to terms with its new prominence stroke celebrity on the world stage.  In no other time has a function been so dramatically relevant. Regardless of size, all companies are seeing the impact of the decisions made in supply chain management on their overall performance and at times ability to keep the doors open.

The knock-on impacts of Covid, political uncertainty, and a looming recession are producing challenges in ways never considered before, whether your business is selling high-end fashion, automotive parts, dog food, or life-saving pharmaceuticals, it’s your supply chain resilience that matters most.

And what have been the biggest opportunities?

The biggest opportunities for those organisations that incorporated the correct technology and resilience measures into their supply chain during the chaos of the past year were able to not only survive but thrive through uncertainty (and will continue to do so).

Being forced to be dynamic in a time of great change, not to follow the same old standard operating procedures, to invest in people and technology in equal measure, means that companies which were once heralded for their product innovation were now being spotlighted for their ability to get things done!

Companies that went from being so-called “data-led” (leaning on the historical past to drive decisions) to “futurists” by applying AI to that data set will continue to outperform their competitors and are less likely to suffer at the same level when the next global catastrophe.

What is the biggest priority for the Supply Chain industry in 2022?

To learn from the past and to ensure they are capable of promoting a world that applies new ways of thinking in a pretty archaic industry.  That coupled with a focus on promoting and implementing technology that can go beyond simple reporting on the environmental impact of a given supply chain, but being able to recommend and execute ways to minimise that negative impact.

What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2022?

As we approach Scope 3 requirements which will be here before we know it and supporting a shift to a greener supply chain, I anticipate much work being done on how companies can start to understand the environmental impact of their supply chain, and advanced tools and decision making on how to reduce the overall carbon footprint of their supply chain.

What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market this year?

Clearly, platform tools like 7bridges – which allow organisations the ability to go extremely deep into their potentially disconnected supply chain tools, will lead the way in ensuring companies can build both resilience and performance, capable of handling shocks.

In 2025 we’ll all be talking about…?

I used to think of flying cars and drone delivery.  But by 2025 I’m hopeful that the spotlight will be around celebrating organisations that didn’t just manage through crisis and conflict but rather excelled through whatever the next big event will be.

Which person in, or associated with, the Supply Chain industry would you most like to meet?

I’m not sure how to choose, to be honest.  I enjoy and get the privilege of meeting with so many talented people in this industry on a daily basis. To highlight one person alone wouldn’t do justice to the talent that not only exists in our industry today, but also the bright minds that are stepping into it.

But if you forced me, I guess I’d say Robert Gair… Gair is credited to being the Cardboard Box inventor – something he made by accident, and I love those kinds of stories.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Supply Chain sector?

It’s full of super dynamic, interesting and engaging people and stories.

You go to the bar at the Total Supply Chain Summit – what’s your tipple of choice?

Crown Royal on the rocks with a twist of lime.  Or whatever pint is on offer.  I’m not fussy.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

I have the unique pleasure of talking about an amazing technology to new organisations every single day.  Hearing where companies are stuck, what their goals are, how they approach problems, and that Aha!moment of finding the solution that ticks all the boxes.

And what’s the most challenging?

Convincing people that it’s ok to let their vulnerabilities show, and to share what they consider messy, meaningless data.  People have a pride about these things, and getting them over it can be a challenge.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My grandfather always reminded me that we have 2 eyes, 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.  That looking and listening outweigh speaking 4 to 1.

Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things?

I guess Peaky Blinders, but my Netflix watchlist is a right mess.

Getting more from supply chain data

In the last several years, businesses have faced an increasing number of challenges when it comes to operating their supply chains. From recession and rising customer expectations to the likes of Amazon making their logistics into a competitive advantage. And now digitalisation has created disruption in the way businesses manage their supply chain.

All of these challenges are underpinned by one big, singular issue that makes meeting business goals difficult: Data.How to manage it, how to respond to it, and how to wield it to your advantage.

Why supply chains need better data

Supply chain operations are complex data-manufacturing and -consuming machines, but they don’t always have the visibility and flexibility needed to make that data work for them.

Overcoming the challenge of data is necessary to address a range of problems:

  • Compatibility issues across different providers
  • Lack of actionable internal data
  • Over-reliance on outdated systems
  • Lack of insight into wider industry trends
  • Fragility and reactiveness built into the organisation
  • Meeting customer expectations is difficult if not impossible

The usual approach supply chains take to solve these issues has been implementing large change management programmes. Designed to overhaul the entire logistics operation, these are disruptive, costly and extremely time intensive. Instead, working with data specialists and bringing AI on board can make the job much more manageable.

With your re-structured data and the right AI platform, you can use that data to make more informed decisions, explore new opportunities and make your supply chain more resilient.

How to tackle data problems

Everyone comes across data quality issues. It comes from there being so much of it available nowadays. Most conversations about data with supply chain leaders start with that feeling. And AI platforms like 7bridges do, naturally, have preferred formats to receive data in. It makes it a smoother process on the technical end. But that’s not always an option.

One area where 7bridges differs is that we can be hands-on in those cases. We’re here to steward the right data onto the platform. We don’t want to import bad data just as much as you don’t want to use it.

It’s important to not let this be the point at which you hit data overwhelm though. Instead, work with data specialists and bring it into an environment where you can look at it, interrogate it and figure out the best path forward for it.

Where AI makes a difference

AI isn’t just a technological fad, it doesn’t take a tonne of manpower to manage and it isn’t going anywhere. What is, on the hand, is useful.

AI platforms use machines to perform functions typically reserved for humans. Like checking every invoice that comes in with 7bridges rather than a team of humans. Humans who could, instead, be doing work that machines still aren’t any good at like thinking strategically.

7bridges is an AI platform that helps businesses innovate toward smarter supply chains. What our customers do with that is:

  • Combine their existing data with our real-time data network and resources and then
  • Use the AI that their skilful team of engineers created to test out theories, explore new options, catch mistakes early and make the best decisions possible.

You can think of the AI as a sidekick or an assistant almost. Let humans think big picture and AI can figure out the details of making it work.

Invoices: The key to faster supply chain transformation?

Smarter, data-driven supply chains benefit everyone. But how do you get there?

Although it may seem like a hefty task, getting started doesn’t have to be complicated. It can even start with just one step.

Your invoices.

Invoices, which are a big effort to manage at the best of times, are a source of both significant resource usage and significant amounts of data. To really manage your invoices and service levels and disputes at the level of detail required to get everything out of them, you’d need a whole team. Who have nothing else to do but check line items and delivery details and service level agreements. Which sounds really dull and really expensive.

On the other hand, you could automate it. You could bring all of that rich-but-tedious invoice data into an AI platformthat manages it all for you and helps you see actual savings from the process. You could have your supply chain team working on tasks that are meaningful to both them and the business. All while your invoices are being explored, disputes are being actioned and that data is turning into a detailed map of your supply chain. One that gives you more visibility than you’ve had before.

What can looking into my invoices really tell me?

Your invoices contain a lot of data about the actual running of your supply chain. Especially if you can look at all of the data together. When you upload your data to an AI-driven logistics platform, like 7bridges, it pulls that data together and establishes your baseline.

This can help you identify excess charges, inaccurate invoices, refutable invoices and information gaps that previously hid behind the walls of your providers. Once this function has been onboarded you can realise savings almost immediately, even without relying in IT resource for the implementation.

On top of all that, this can act as a starting point to integrate AI and automation into your supply chain for long-term success. Getting control of your invoice data increases the overall visibility of your logistics performance. It offers a holistic view of supplier performance and costs and creates a baseline layer of data which can be used for better-informed decision making.

Investing in a quick and resource-light win that focuses on invoices gives you the power to take the first step towards transforming your supply chain. You’ll have better data visibility, better data structure, data-based savings, and the beginnings of automation. Starting with your invoices means supply chain transformation in weeks, not months.

Data-driven supply chains are for everyone

We believe data-driven supply chains benefit everyone.

Supply chains have a crucial role to play in building the future. From addressing business and customer needs to their impact on the planet. And, at 7bridges, we know that data is pivotal to that. Logistics and supply chains need to become sustainable, resilient and autonomous by optimising their use of data.

Future supply chains will become a strategic strength through technology like AI, machine learning and automation. Autonomous, data-led supply chains will learn by themselves and adapt. This creates unique opportunities to address consumer and business needs, such as:

Empowering consumers to choose greener logistics

Our research has shown that high-spending consumers are excited by and interested in green supply chains and transport. Over half of respondents said they look for green delivery as a key differentiator. As climate events increasingly reach the news, it’s reasonable to expect that trend to continue.

Businesses that want to act on this trend need to start by creating a baseline for their current carbon output to make greener decisions. Most companies can make significant headway toward decarbonising their supply chain with immediate actions and data-driven optimisation.

Enhancing customer experience

More than ever, consumers expect high levels of customer service every time they order. However, the ongoing disruptions from the pandemic, climate, conflict and more have made achieving those levels difficult. By using data and AI to make decisions about your logistics, you can identify opportunities for improvement.

For instance, areas that 7bridges can help with and which impact customer experience include:

  • Streamlining shipments for cost saving
  • Improving delivery routes
  • Managing multiple providers
  • Improving supply and demand planning
  • Scenario planning for disruption with digital twins
  • Offering affordable and timely delivery

Optimising invoice management

Managing invoices is one of the more complicated and less engaging parts of managing a supply chain. The sheer volume of invoices often becomes so overwhelming that your existing processes and tools can’t keep up. This means important things like possible savings (or problems) end up getting missed.

Using invoice auditing from 7bridges, however, you can take one of the most frustrating parts of managing your supply chain and turn it into a streamlined asset. With this AI-based capability, we help supply chains:

  • Implement in weeks, not months
  • Easily dispute incorrect or excess fees
  • Avoid overloading their own IT resources
  • See rapid return on investment
  • Prepare their supply chain data for future transformation

For example, Philipp Plein, one of Europe’s most cutting-edge luxury fashion brands, uses 7bridges to save 3-5% through improved invoice auditing, increasing the volume of customers serviced by the brand and implementing automated export declarations functionality for high-value goods.

Successful supply chains focus on more than just getting things from A to B; they strive to be agile, smart and responsive.

Organisations need to integrate sustainable, scalable supply chain management seamlessly. And through that, deliver a powerful competitive edge. Businesses that can provide smooth and capable transport are already seeing great success.

The world relies on supply chains that can adapt quickly. And that’s where data-driven solutions like 7bridges come in. We don’t just offer visibility over supply chains, but the ability to understand the impact of every decision made. Bringing clarity to supply chains and their impact on the world.