How Lenovo Is Transforming their Supply Chain with Data

The ability to gain more transparency and automation across the supply chain has come to the forefront this year, uncovered by unexpected disruption around the year. Yet many innovative shippers have been paving the path toward fully connected supply chain networks over the last few years.

One of these forward-thinking shippers shared their visibility journey at CSCMP Edge 2020. Tejuan Manners, Director of Cloud Customer Supply Chain Operations of Lenovo, sat down with me to discuss supply chain data and real-time transportation visibility.

Here are some key takeaways about why Lenovo prioritized real-time visibility data, how they got started with visibility technology, and challenges they encountered along the way.

Why Real-Time Transportation Visibility?

We had a great discussion around ways supply chains can use Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Blockchain to drive efficiency. It’s clear there are many ways to use data, but the first step is making sure that all the necessary teams and stakeholders have access to the data.

“We had to start with visibility and understanding where our data is,” said Manners. “When you think of 10 – 15 years ago, our supply chains were so siloed. The data was always there but, unless you were a logistics professional, you weren’t aware of how many shipments were coming inbound and outbound.”

Those working throughout the rest of the process — from sales and forecasting to manufacturing or supplier operations — are missing data and insight into inbound logistics and delivery times.

“We knew to reduce cost and expense, we had to see where we could break down those barriers and silos. Look at how we can maximize our end-to-end supply chain, what data is there, and if there are any trends that can make us more efficient and effective,” said Manners.

In addition to leveraging data to increase efficiency and reduce costs, Lenovo’s customers have been a big factor in their decision to prioritize visibility.

Manners explained, “It’s very important for supply chains and businesses to understand what the customers are requesting. A lot of our customers are now requesting that end to end view.”

While Lenovo knew where they needed to go, they also knew that introducing any new technology or workflow comes with challenges and roadblocks. Manners explained how they worked with internal and external teams to ensure a smooth transformation.

Gaining Internal Buy in for Supply Chain Technology

One key area that Lenovo has focused on is around internal teams. Manners explained the key to transformation is that, “you have to get engagement and buy in from your colleagues — from the new hires all the way up to the C-suite. It cannot only be a top-down approach.”

Without engagement from every level, you’ll face challenges getting colleagues to use the new technology or workflow.

To prevent adoption issues and ensure their real-time visibility investment would be maximized, Lenovo worked with subject matter experts across the supply chain. They asked these experts, “to look at the data lakes and all the different systems of records that they use.”

They held workshops to understand who each team depends on data and what they do with the data when it’s available. By understanding how various teams and stakeholders throughout the supply chain use the data, they were able to get buy in and automate workflows to streamline the process.

Getting Partners and Suppliers to Share Visibility Data

External partners and suppliers are also important stakeholders when implementing visibility technology.

Manners explained, “being a global enterprise and wanting to maximize your efficiency as a supply chain, you can’t only depend on yourself to be able to support your customers.”

Most global supply chains work with many suppliers and carriers. These external partners need to understand the benefits of real-time visibility and why they’re being asked to share data. Lenovo worked to encourage suppliers to share data, explaining the impact it will have on the customer and what it means for their business.

Manners would explain to suppliers, “if we can get visibility for our customers, that’s not only more business for us, it’s also more business for you.”

External parties within the supply chain ecosystem are more likely to get on board with data sharing if they understand how the data will be used and how it benefits their business.

Visibility When Supply Chains Need it Most

Having real-time visibility in place has proven to be critical, especially during times of unexpected disruption.

While discussing impacts of pandemic-related disruption, Manners said, “Our ability to pivot, and to leverage our data, has allowed us to win more trust. We have continued to be successful as a business. We got praise from our customers for being able to schedule orders quickly, pick the right logistics lanes, and deliver early or on time.”

He attributed a lot of this to having the right data in real-time. And Lenovo is not alone. We’ve seen many customers rely on visibility data to mitigate risk throughout uncertainty and change course as needed to continue meeting customer needs and demands.

What’s Next for these Global Supply Chains?

Lenovo is a trailblazer. They are always looking ahead to continuously innovate their supply chain, so I was interested to find out what’s next.

“Long term, we’re going to continue to evolve, evaluate, and iterate. One thing we’re doing at Lenovo is looking at all aspects of function of the supply chain,” said Manners. He explained how they first started with reducing manual interventions and automating as much as possible.

“Now, we’re working with project44 and our colleagues at IBM to be able to pull in all that data for shipment visibility, order visibility, and inventory visibility,” said Manners. “I think next is really looking at prediction and prevention. Looking at what do we do with unstructured data and how we can maximize our supply chain leveraging that data.”

It was great to sit down with Tejuan and hear about Lenovo’s journey as well as their plans for the future. Watch my full conversation with Tejuan Manners, Director of Cloud Customer Supply Chain Operations of Lenovo, for more valuable insights.