Automation: Day 2 at APICS. It’s all about people

Technology is great. But you’ll never achieve greatness if you don’t consider the human element.

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I don’t know about you, but I love equipment and technology. I’ve been visiting manufacturing plants and distribution centers for nearly 50 years – since my Dad took me on sales trips as a kid. I still get a little giddy watching cartons fly down a conveyor and sorter, AS/RS cranes move pallets or cartons or a pick-to-light or voice-directed picking solution. Some of my favorite conversations are with supply chain software companies who talk about their vision for directing warehousing and distribution operations.

They all make it sound so easy – so easy, in fact, its easy to forget that it still takes people to make it all happen. Maybe fewer people, thanks to automation, but people all the same. 

That was driven home yesterday as I listened to a presentation on multi-enterprise collaboration and visibility by Intel at Day 2 of APICS annual conference in Orlando.

Two executives from Intel described how Intel rolled out a pilot program for collaboration and supply chain visibility with its outsourced manufacturing partners – a program that will begin going live the end of this year. In many respects, the initiative has been in development since 2009. The backbone is a cloud-based software platform that allows Intel and its manufacturing partners to plug in, share demand forecasts and plans, inventory levels and order information.

So, you would have thought the center-piece of the presentation would have been the software sizzle. Instead, the real steak in the presentation was Intel’s effort to educate its employees and then its suppliers. For instance, the initiative got started in 2009 with an internal APICS certified supply chain professional certification program (CSCP). Classes taught by Intel instructors were offered across 14 sites worldwide and it was offered across functional areas of Intel’s enterprise and not just individuals traditionally associated with manufacturing, logistics and distribution. There has also been an intensive effort to educate suppliers – a crucial element to developing trust between Intel and its network of contract manufacturers.

There was another intensive effort to develop the business case – the ROI – in other words, to educate senior executives on the potential of the program.

In fact, the Intel presenters spent as much time talking about the importance of education to launching this program as they did about what the software does.

Just as important were the questions asked during the Q&A. While some were about the technologies involved in making this work, a majority were about education or shared stories about how in their organizations, the reluctance of employees to give up their old ways of doing things and buy into the new way was a hurdle to their own success.

Automation and technology is the heart and soul of our business. But lets not forget that we’ll never realize success with new processes and systems if people aren’t part of the solution. 


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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