ORTEC spoke with Brittain Lad. A seasoned supply chain executive and experienced consultant. Brittain helped create some of the world’s most admired supply chains. Brittain has some advice for those seeking to harness the power of analytics.
You are a man with broad supply chain experience globally. Could you, for the reader who is not familiar with you, tell a little bit about yourself?
Brittain: I was born and raised in Iowa. I grew up on a farm and immediately after graduating from high school, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps where I served for six years. I became exposed to logistics while serving in the Marines and very quickly I realized I had tremendous interests in the subject. After being discharged, I earned a BA degree and I went to work for a 3PL where I had responsibility for new customer development, operations, and account management. I was recruited by the retailer Michaels Stores to design and implement multiple transportation and logistics strategies such as implementing a Tier 1 TMS, designing a hybrid distribution model, and implementing Lean Six Sigma specific to the supply chain and improving supplier performance. Several case studies and articles were written about the projects at Michaels Stores which resulted in me becoming recognized as a Subject Matter Expert on supply chain management and logistics. I was recruited from Michaels by Dell and for three years I designed and implemented multiple programs at Dell to reduce costs and complexity across the supply chain. I chose to become a consultant for Capgemini and Deloitte where I served clients globally. In addition to my career experience, I am passionate about learning and between 2001 and 2013, I earned three Master’s degrees part-time and multiple certifications in Six Sigma and the Toyota Production System.
Your career as a supply chain executive spans over 15 years. What in your opinion is the biggest change in the supply chain function in those years?
Brittain: By far, I have to say the recognition by corporate executives that the supply chain can provide a competitive advantage when managed well, and if managed poorly, the supply chain can leave a company in ruins. I credit Dell with being the first company to truly understand how much of a competitive advantage can be achieved via exceptional supply chain management, and I credit Walmart with revolutionizing retail logistics. I am an ardent admirer of both companies to this day. I have also seen the supply chain function become viewed as being strategic vs. tactical.
Amazon has a reputation as one of the companies that excels both in exploring the possibilities of data and analytics as well as in improving its supply chain. Amazon probably is far ahead but many companies still lag behind. What advice would you give if a client asked:
“How can we optimize our supply chain?”
Brittain: My first recommendation is that the following questions should be answered:
- Who are our customers?
- Who are our competitors?
- What is our winning aspiration?
- What markets will we compete?
- How can we achieve a competitive advantage?
Once the right strategy has been identified, my second recommendation is to answer this question: What is the optimal supply chain and logistics network required to meet customer demand across all channels cost-effectively, while meeting all service level requirements?
In order to answer the question, I would recommend to the client that they embrace the value that can be achieved by partnering with a company that specializes in supply chain, logistics, and transportation optimization, as well as Big Data and advanced analytics. Business is becoming so complex, and technology is driving disruption so quickly, that companies have to get smarter about reducing operational costs and working capital while continuing to improve customer service, revenue and growth. I have seen companies attempt to optimize their supply chains and operations using tools such as Excel and assigning corporate personnel to manage the task, but I have never seen a successful outcome.
However, I can cite example after example of small, medium, and large global corporations across multiple industries, that partnered with consultants and quants to utilize supply chain network optimization, modeling, and Big Data to gain insight into their customers and operations that resulted in those companies becoming leaders in their industry. This is especially true in retail where several companies have successfully used Big Data, optimization software, and support from consultants to design and implement supply chains capable of meeting the increased demands of Omni-channel retailing.
“Is analytics important or just a buzz word?”
Brittain: I rate Big Data analytics as one of the most critical requirements for any business but especially critical for global corporations. I can’t stress enough the importance of leveraging analytics to gain insight and uncover hidden patterns related to processes, customers, and markets. Simply put, Big Data is a must-have. However, data without understanding is useless hence the reason I am such a supporter of utilizing quants and consultants capable of interpreting data and helping companies make better business decisions.
One of the areas you focus on in your career is last-mile delivery. For e-commerce companies or their supply chain partners, an optimized last mile is somewhat like the Holy Grail of Transportation. The last mile on average makes up nearly 30% of transportation costs. And it is very hard to bring down.
Do you have methods, tools or a strategy to bring that down and that you may share with our audience?
Brittain: My preferred strategy is to ensure that everyone understands that transportation is the true face of a company to their customers. In other words, Last Mile Delivery has tremendous impact on whether or not a customer has a positive or negative experience and every effort must be made to get Last Mile Deliveries right. I believe it is vital to leverage route planning and optimization software to minimize costs and increase delivery speed. I also support the use of analytics to measure and analyze the Last Mile Delivery performance to identify opportunities for reducing costs and complexity. In addition, every effort should be made to fully understand the exact needs and expectations of the customer receiving the delivery so that once the delivery is made, the customer is satisfied. Do the math, do the math, do the math.
You have not only worked as a supply chain executive but also as a supply chain consultant. Would you advise those seeking a career to follow the same strategy? What are the advantages of having been a consultant?
Brittain: I strongly believe that consulting is one of the best career choices a person interested in supply chain management and analytics can make. Consulting allows an individual to be exposed to many companies across multiple industries globally and the value gained is tremendous. I have lived and worked globally solving complex problems related to strategy, operations, cross-border commerce, supply chain management, and logistics, and the experience was invaluable to my development and career.
What companies do you believe do an exceptional job of managing their supply chains?
Brittain: I believe ALDI, Lidl, Amazon, Alibaba, and Wal-mart are masters at leveraging their supply chains to enable growth and achieve a competitive advantage.
You have spent a portion of your career supporting aid organizations globally. Why?
Brittain: As I traveled throughout Africa, India, China, and the Middle East, I saw many opportunities to apply my knowledge of supply chain management and logistics to end suffering. I have always been someone who will get involved instead of looking away when I see people in need.