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Digitisation: as much a cultural change as a technological one

Industry views | 20 April 2018

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By Jane Davies, Group HR Director

The future of logistics has mainly focussed on the advance of technology; from robots to blockchain and big data to automation, these are the topics which are frequently considered as vital to the next stages in evolution of the supply chain. However, focussing solely on advances in technology overlooks one fundamental detail; digitisation of the supply chain is as much a cultural change as a technological one.

In simple terms, the right culture is like a wind in your sails propelling your ship, i.e. your business, in the direction of your goal. When it’s wrong it’s holding you back, blowing you off course and making you work twice as hard for little advantage.

Effective leadership, collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship are all aspects of a successful company culture which need to be fostered to support digitisation. Implementing the very best technology will not, by itself, make a company an expert in digital.

As Dr Michael Hammer, the international best-selling author, asserted: “the soft stuff is the hard stuff”. By which he meant the introduction of new technology in to a business is easy, but the motivational and values alignment of people and culture to support its efficacy is the bigger challenge for businesses leaders.

In a mature industry such as logistics, change is not easy. And cultural change, which relies on buy-in from senior management all the way through to shop floor, is a huge undertaking.

For leadership, there must be a clear idea of where the business is heading and this needs to be well-communicated through all levels. Not only this, but leaders play a role in making it clear that everyone within the business has a responsibility to pull together in the same direction. Likewise, leaders must also do their part in listening to feedback and ideas from all levels of the business. Success for digitisation relies on effective collaboration throughout a company.

As supply chains evolve to become connected networks of many partners, businesses need to adopt this collaborative mind set to enable success.

Logistics providers, retailers, technology providers and customers are transitioning from operating as individuals and developing towards collaboration. And customers increasingly demand this. How patient or understanding are you, as a consumer, willing to be if delivery of your purchase is delayed by a gap in communication between supply chain partners?

Logistics providers will need the right talent, organisational structure and culture if they are to be in sync with the digital environments around them. Digital transformation can only be effective when organisations embrace it. Both physically and mentally. Technology doesn’t change culture; it only enables change.

You can read chapter 10 and 11 from the Wincanton Guide to the Digitised Supply Chain here: Chapters 10 & 11