Providing a customer-centric approach at CGS
By understanding customer...
The importance of providing a customer-centric approach is key to the success of all companies in the supply chain space.
By understanding customer’s needs and responding in kind to the latest industry trends, Computer Generated Solutions (CGS), is well-versed on the ever-changing demands of the sector. With technology becoming a prominent component that needs to be constantly considered and nurtured, CGS is observing the place that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) has in the future of the supply chain. Seeking to support clients’ most important business activities, CGS provides a complete end-to-end supply chain solution that consists of ERP, PLM, planning, manufacturing, logistics, B2B eCommerce, shop floor control, warehousing and collaborative supply chain management.
Ajay Chidrawar, Vice President, Global Product Management & Customer Success, discusses the ways his firm helps to equip companies with solutions to enable significant improvement to operation as well as reflecting on technology’s impact in the supply chain space.
- As a way of introducing yourself, can you start off by telling me a bit about your career and your journey to finding yourself with CGS?
I came to CGS in 2016 to lead the product management of our global applications division. Under the applications umbrella, we have our supply chain end-to-end solution, BlueCherry®. Prior to joining CGS, I spent 15 years working with or leading customer success or product management divisions of software solutions companies. Harnessing that experience – selling to, deploying and supporting global customers – at CGS, I lead the product management and customer success teams of our applications business to ensure successful and profitable growth.
- In your own words, how would you describe CGS? What gives it an edge over competitors?
CGS is a global provider of business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services, supporting clients’ most fundamental business activities. The BlueCherry Suite addresses the needs of the end-to-end supply chain, from planning and product development to manufacturing and sales.
- Having experienced significant growth since your founding in 1984, CGS now conducts operations across a range of territories such as North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Asia. How challenging was the process of expanding?
CGS opened its doors in April 1984 as an IT consulting business dedicated to the apparel industry at the heart of New York City, primarily serving the city’s garment district through apparel software services. Phil Friedman, CGS Founder and CEO, was determined from early on to create a diversified company where CGS would not be limited to one service, or one product, but be able to provide many different services under one umbrella. Over the last 35 years, the company added learning and outsourcing (IT and business process outsourcing) to its offerings.
- In your own words, can you talk me through the platforms and services that CGS provides?
CGS has three business divisions: business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services. I work with the applications division, which provides a complete end-to-end supply chain solution, encompassing ERP, PLM, planning, manufacturing, logistics, B2B eCommerce, shop floor control, warehousing and collaborative supply chain management.
- In what ways, do you provide companies with solutions that helps them improve and synchronize their processes throughout the supply chain?
CGS provides a number of different solutions to our customers to help them improve their supply chain processes. Our BlueCherry Enterprise Solution offers end-to-end solutions (including ERP, PLM and EDI system capabilities) for wholesale brands and apparel manufacturers.
When we say end-to-end solutions, it means that we are truly tackling everything from planning to execution to analytics. In addition to the solutions we currently offer, we are also using and integrating new technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and augmented reality (AR) to continuously innovate and improve our customers’ processes.
- With digital transforming affecting all industries worldwide. In what ways is new technology such as Big Data and AI utilised at CGS?
CGS is exploring a variety of next-gen technology initiatives. Our company is committed to providing our customers with the best experience, which means continuing to innovate with them. Big Data is the lifeblood of many of our solutions. For manufacturers, the ability to manage data and analyse it in real-time is vital to stay competitive.
We are also constantly looking for ways to simplify existing processes. RPA solutions can help alleviate manual and repetitive tasks and up-level the employee’s role. Across the apparel industry, we are also seeing more manufacturers adopting AR as a way to help designers and manufacturers collaborate in real-time.
- Technology is often considered a vital tool industry-wide, however, how do you avoid potential problems arising in AI and machine learning?
AI and machine learning are vital to the future of the supply chain, but humans will always play a crucial role in supply chain management. We view technology as a tool to empower humans, allowing them to take on more strategic management roles. Take Big Data for example, the insights we are able to garner from our solutions are helping humans make more timely, strategic and impactful decisions. With the amount of data available today, it would be impossible for humans to manually sort through all that information. The same goes for AI and machine learning. These technologies are allowing humans to do their jobs better, rather than completely disrupting industries.
- With a high value placed on enabling companies to make better decisions, how important is keeping up with the latest trends to ensure you are delivering exactly what your customers need?
At CGS, we take a customer-first approach to all of our digital transformation initiatives. We partner with our customers, examine any issues that may be causing headaches and identify the appropriate solution, including technology, to address those needs.
- How do you ensure you always deliver on customer-centricity?
The key to delivering on customer-centricity is focusing on the customer needs and tailoring your product plans to meet these needs. For example, our customers recently expressed the need for better measurement technology, so we added these capabilities to our product roadmap. We regularly meet with and survey our customers about their ‘wish-list technology initiatives’ and pain points to get a better understanding of their business needs.
- Are there any companies that you partner with that help drive operations? How is this relationship mutually beneficial and important?
A good example is our partnership with Juki, the largest supplier of industrial sewing machines. BlueCherry Shop Floor Control is a real-time application that automates the collection and reporting of production activities with smart devices on the factory floor. Integrating with Juki, we offer “smart solutions” via sewing terminals, allowing manufacturers to track and collect data throughout the production process. This integration is allowing factory floor managers to be more proactive, addressing issues as they arise to improve overall efficiency and productivity.
- Without a crystal ball, what do you anticipate the future of the supply chain to look like?
One major trend we are seeing throughout the industry is the increased use of 3D software. Historically, when designers would send through ideas, there was a lot of back and forth as to product design. 3D solutions allow for real-time collaboration, speeding up the design process and allowing products to enter the market more quickly.
- Can you talk me through any plans for the future?
In May 2019, our organisation acquired Visual Next, a provider of end-to-end software to apparel, footwear, uniform and fashion accessory companies. The integration of Visual Next’s solutions is our immediate focus, incorporating the latest in technology to create a unified next generation offering that supports the rapidly evolving needs and accelerated growth of apparel, fashion and lifestyle brands.
For more information on all topics for Procurement, Supply Chain & Logistics - please take a look at the latest edition of Supply Chain Digital magazine.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”