Was I crazy? The supply chain guy cannot be the IT guy, right? Well, 10,000 hours and five years after taking my biggest career risk, I have the scars and memories to prove that the supply chain guy can be the IT guy. To all of the supply chain and IT leaders out there, regardless of industry, speak now or forever hold your peace, because the two of us are cut from the same cloth.
Despite what some thought was most likely to end in a complete failure, the transition from director of supply chain to chief technology officer has been the most rewarding career move I have made so far. Even though the stress and anxiety have been off the charts in my current role, more than half of the issues, challenges, and pain resembled my previous role. Let me explain:
- Master the Basics or Else. Like most jobs, if the basic expectations of your responsibilities are not performed, you should start packing your bags. This couldn’t be more truthful when delivering a box in supply chain or setting up a computer workstation in the IT department. Despite the ease and repetition of these tasks, it requires critical attention to detail in today’s work environment. Forgetting to test one scenario in an upgrade or not delivering perishable products quickly can initiate an avalanche of consequences – likely requiring hours of work and emails performing service recovery, public shaming, and saying, “I am so sorry, we’ll do better next time.”
- Specialized Professionalism. Both IT and supply chain are becoming more and more specialized each year. First, the name changes prove the expanded role of both functions. In the 1980s, supply chain was commonly referred to as the purchasing department with purchasing agents issuing purchase orders, today buyers are now sourcing specialists. Remember the computer room full of blinking lights? Technical generalists ran most of IT and spent most of their time fixing printers, swapping disks or watching the blinking lights. Today, IT employs systems architects and interface engineers, and many tasks are automated. Similar to our colleagues, both IT and supply chain have witnessed the impact of technology innovation in their day to day.
- Show Me the Money. Next, we both spend a lot of money. In healthcare, medical supplies (including pharmacy) can represent up to 15 percent of the operating budget, and IT takes another 5 percent. Most supply chain professionals are responsible for the effective management of all non-labor spend, including IT, making it clear that we do spend all your money. Ironically, most of the technology products and services procured are consumed outside of IT. As Joe Topinka would say, “It’s not information technology, it is business technology — the business’ technology.”
- Don’t Blame Me. A failed hard drive, a product defect, a bad code, a shipping delay — all out of our control, yet we are still responsible for putting our super-hero cape on to save the day. Even if we wave a magic wand and pray for a miracle, getting a disk drive to never fail, or every product to be manufactured 100 perfectly, doesn’t happen. The good news is that for the oddest reason, the supply chain VP and the CIO thrive to be responsible for all of it. We get really good at taking the heat, which fuels our fire to exhaust every possible solution to get the product here or fix the bad code.
- Find Me a Home! Feel like a traded professional athlete — like Octavio Dotel or Christian Laettner, being transferred from one team to another as though nobody wants you? Supply chain and IT find themselves trading places in search of that perfect fit. Supply chain leaders find themselves reporting to the CEO, COO, CFO, CAO, and sometimes a random VP of professional/shared services, support services, or operations, depending on the industry. As the need and demand for IT as a strategic imperative grows, their position in the organization has changed. Some have secured a front-row seat at the CEO table, while others sit in the second row, reporting to the COO, CAO, and the CFO. Contrary to other CxOs, like the CFO and COO positions, senior IT and supply chain executives find themselves in limbo with the burden of a huge responsibility.
It goes without saying that both IT and supply chain have strategic imperatives as key enablers to many financial and operational goals. Although roles fluctuate depending on the organizations’ strategy, the commonality between the two functions is certain. So be nice to each other, and remember, the supply chain guy can be the IT guy!