As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Terri Hiskey.
Terri Hiskey is the Vice President of SCM and Manufacturing Product Marketing for Oracle, where she leads the strategic development and execution of supply chain and manufacturing-focused content, programs, and assets. She came to Oracle from Epicor, a global provider of ERP solutions for small and midsize manufacturers and distributors, where she led the manufacturing product marketing team. Previous to that, Terri spent nearly a decade leading various SCM product marketing efforts to promote Oracle’s product lifecycle management, manufacturing, maintenance, and order management solutions. Terri has over 20 years of technology marketing experience, focused primarily on helping customers efficiently design, build, and service innovative products for the right markets at the right time. Based in Austin, Texas, she holds a BA from The George Washington University and an MA from Suffolk University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My path to a career in the supply chain industry was an interesting one to say the least. After graduating from college with a degree in international affairs, I moved to Taiwan to teach English. As it turned out, one of my students worked for an electronics components manufacturer, and he asked me to join his company to teach English to the organization’s workforce.
Not long after, I was tasked with helping launch the first English version of the company’s website, and soon enough I found myself in the role of marketing coordinator with an office overlooking the factory floor. The rest is history, as I knew from that point forward that my professional calling card was in the supply chain sector.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Between high school and college my parents gave me funds to start a pop-up sandwich restaurant, which we dubbed “On A Roll.” We decided to feature hot dogs on the menu and had a freezer that could hold up to 500 hot dogs, so naturally I ordered 500 buns. What I failed to realize is that 500 hot dog buns take up a lot of space, and we just couldn’t find the space to safely store all the buns. So in one fell swoop, I learned important and hard lessons about inventory and order management, as well as just-in-time manufacturing — and it was a learning experience that I still lean on today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve been very fortunate to have some great mentors throughout my career. For example, my manager in my first marketing position taught me several key lessons that I still apply today, including being resourceful and thinking through problems. One of this manager’s favorite catchphrases was “don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” and that’s a vital lesson for any professional in any industry.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Oracle is a provider of integrated software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and secure, autonomous infrastructure. Through these cloud-based technologies, Oracle helps organizations across all industries embrace innovation to grow their businesses and drive success for their own customers.
Within Oracle’s SaaS applications portfolio is Oracle Fusion Cloud Supply Chain & Manufacturing (Oracle Cloud SCM), which is an applications suite that helps organizations manage their supply chains and extended supply networks. We provide a comprehensive set of capabilities for every supply chain function — including planning, inventory management, logistics, manufacturing, product lifecycle management, and more. This helps our customers enhance supply chain operations, improve planning and execution across the entire business, and deliver a better customer experience.
Organizations are using Oracle Cloud SCM for numerous purpose-driven efforts, such as building more sustainable logistics operations to drive down CO2 emissions, optimizing logistics processes to prepare for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, and navigating supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic to help preserve dairy farmers’ valuable products.
This past year has truly put a spotlight on the importance of supply chains from both a consumer and business perspective. The industry has seen more disruption than ever before, and we’re excited to be helping our customers navigate through it all.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Without a doubt, the cloud has been the most disruptive technological innovation in the supply chain industry.
Before cloud computing gained widespread adoption over the past 15 years, supply chain professionals managed vital information and systems on in-house, on-premises servers and storage systems — and this approach wasn’t efficient nor scalable by any means. Due to the high costs of these systems, most supply chain managers couldn’t upgrade their organizations’ systems on a regular basis, which halted innovation and hindered scalability to support business growth.
With the introduction of the cloud in the mid-2000s, organizations were able to utilize enterprise systems offered by cloud providers. This gave supply chain managers new ability to more efficiently run their supply chains and networks, better serve their customers, and increase their organizations’ overall profit margins.
Nowadays most organizations run a significant portion of their business in the cloud, and businesses that remain primarily on-premises find themselves at a massive competitive disadvantage.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Oracle started our cloud journey more than 10 years ago when we made a conscious decision to approach the cloud in a unique way. Instead of lifting and shifting existing on-premise solutions to the cloud, we rebuilt Oracle Cloud SCM specifically for the cloud. This allows our customers to stay at the forefront of innovation with continuous and automatic updates to their solution. We know that cloud-first technology is critical for the success of supply chain professionals, both now and in the future, so we are committed to designing a product and providing the support they need to successfully navigate any challenges or future disruptions they might face.
Meanwhile, some of our notable competitors decided to not re-engineer their supply chain applications for the cloud, and many of their customers are now having to embark on lengthy, resource-intensive projects to migrate their supply chain systems to the cloud.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
To put it simply, things are going very well. By re-engineering Oracle Cloud SCM for the cloud, we’ve been able to provide customers with a wide range of benefits — including quarterly product updates, integration across the entire Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications Suite (including finance, HR, and customer experience), and enhanced security.
Another customer benefit delivered by the Oracle Cloud SCM application suite is the ability to standardize processes across supply chains. As organizations continue to recover from a turbulent past 12 months, many business leaders are prioritizing strategies to improve agility and resiliency across their company. While most people think of finances and planning as drivers of business agility, supply chains have increasingly become a core strategic element of almost every business. Supply chains touch nearly every area of an organization (including sales, finance, engineering, etc.), but they’re also becoming innovation hotbeds.
A key driver of this innovation is the standardization of processes across supply chains, which involves developing and implementing technical standards. This helps maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, and/or quality across supply chains, and it also enables organizations to scale their innovative technologies to deliver maximum value to customers — spurring consistent business growth. As a result, standardized processes help create resilient businesses that can not only survive, but thrive in the face of disruption.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
The best way to illustrate the significance of this pivot is through one of our customers. DP World is a logistics company based in Dubai that moved to the cloud to overhaul its patchworked, disparate back office and operational systems. By leveraging cloud-based logistics solutions, DP World has been able to realize a wealth of business-changing benefits, including opening new facilities, integrating acquisitions, reducing transportation spend, improving efficiencies and — to my previous point on the importance of standardization — standardizing its supply chain processes.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
The most critical role a supply chain leader can play during a disruptive period is providing steadiness across the organization. Leaders should always stay the course and keep their eyes focused on the business’ primary goals, and that’s especially true during a disruptive time. And if the disruption requires the organization to change course, it’s inevitable that some employees will be resistant to that change — so it’s vital that leaders acknowledge and listen to their colleagues’ concerns and address them wherever possible.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
When uncertainty takes hold, one of the best ways for a leader to inspire and engage their team is to focus on recognizing and rewarding successes — even if they’re small victories. When the future is unclear, acknowledging the situation you’re in and celebrating milestones along the way can have a significant positive impact on team morale.
Another way for supply chain leaders to boost morale is allowing their team members to have true ownership over their areas and feel empowered to make their own decisions. That way, everyone becomes as invested as possible in the organization’s success.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle for guiding a company through turbulent times is consistent communication. Turbulence tends to become magnified when team members don’t know what’s going on, and that’s a recipe for morale-decaying rumors and conjecture.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a prime example of this — in the first few weeks of the global lockdowns last March, no company had an idea of how the pandemic would unfold, so it’s times like those when leaders should be in constant communication with their teams. Even if the message is simply, “we don’t know the course this will take, but rest assured that the leadership team is here to support you,” it’s a message that will resonate with a workforce seeking direction.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
In terms of disruptive technology, one of the most common mistakes I see businesses make is going “big bang” with the technology’s implementation, rather than introducing it in digestible, smaller waves. In order to drive widespread adoption — which should be the organization’s goal — a rolling wave approach is best, because it helps employees become accustomed to the technology at their own pace, which helps build momentum for the technology across the organization.
Going back to one of my previous points, another common mistake related to disruptive technology is a lack of communication. There are few things worse than an organization rolling out a new technology without providing the workforce with context behind the decision to implement the technology, or failing to properly communicate how the organization intends to use the technology.
A third common mistake I see is a failure to set achievable goals behind the technology implementation. As with many things is business, it’s best to walk before you run. For example, if an organization is implementing an AI solution, setting overly ambitious goals — such as aiming to automate 90% of the organization’s internal processes within a year — is bound to set the organization up for failure.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Assess the organization’s long-term goals: In order to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies, the first step supply chain leaders should take is understanding their organization’s key business goals over the next few years — as that will inform the organization’s approach towards disruptive supply chain technologies such as the cloud, AI, or the Internet of Things. These business goals could be increasing revenue, decreasing costs, entering new markets, or boosting the organization’s resiliency to help withstand future business disruptions.
From there, supply chain leaders should determine whether their organization has the technology in place to help achieve the long-term goals — and if not, they should evaluate whether adopting disruptive technologies across the supply chain could be the accelerant they need. A good example of this are the issues manufacturers face in retaining workers. A company might consider leveraging AI or automation to help autofill fields in incoming orders — because by automating this task, not only can the organization make the order processing faster, but it can also eliminate human error and deploy that talent to more strategic, higher-value tasks.
2. Avoid chasing the “shiny object”: In certain cases it’s the moves that supply chain leaders don’t make that have the biggest impact on their organization’s success — and this can be the case with disruptive technologies.
For example, when AI began to enter the mainstream roughly five years ago, it was heavily hyped as a truly transformational technology. Whether warranted or not, the hype led to an investment rush — according to WIRED, venture capital investments in AI doubled between 2017 and 2018 to $40 billion. But the technology was far from mature enough to enable most organizations to capitalize on its benefits, and many organizations that took the early plunge on AI found themselves regretting the decision, since AI initiatives — whether they succeed or fail — demand a significant investment of time, money, and resources.
Based on recent research, supply chain leaders appear to be avoiding chasing the shiny object when it comes to AI. While a recent survey from AI company Secondmind noted that 90% of respondents believe AI will help inform better decisions in the future, the latest MHI Industry Report found that just 12% of supply chain professionals’ organizations are actively leveraging AI.
3. Listen to your customers: Forward-thinking supply chain leaders consistently solicit feedback from their customers and partners on the services they offer, and in the case of supply chain technology providers, customers often have a significant influence on their product roadmap.
And it’s vital that supply chain leaders continue to listen to their customers. A big lesson that many companies in the B2B world have had to adjust to is that since we are all consumers, we experience a certain level of service — such as free two-day shipping, recommendations on what should accompany my purchase, and free and easy returns — which has led us to expect that same level and ease of service in the B2B world. This quest for a better customer experience is where we are seeing increased adoption of disruptive technologies — all driving to provide that superior experience.
4. Identify the potential competitive advantage offered: Just like Oracle’s strategy to re-engineer our SaaS applications for the cloud, supply chain leaders would be wise to evaluate disruptive technologies to identify potential competitive advantages the business (and its customers) can gain. Oracle understood the overwhelming benefits that could be realized — for both the company and our customers — by re-engineering for the cloud, and five years later it’s a strategy that’s paying off on an exponential scale.
5. Standardize processes: As mentioned earlier, by standardizing supply chain processes, organizations can maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, and/or quality across supply chains. Standardized processes also provide a foundation for organizations to scale their innovative technologies to deliver maximum value to customers — generating consistent business growth. As a result, standardized processes help create resilient businesses that can survive and thrive in the face of disruption.
As an example, the areas of manufacturing and supply chain in general have been hit very hard by workforce turnover — more people have left these jobs than there are people to replace them. And we see this at companies on the smaller side, where there might only be that one person who has knowledge over some specific process. Meanwhile, larger companies may face issues like constantly having to onboard an ever-changing employee pool. But in both cases, these organizations can turn to automation to help capture knowledge and to maintain continuity in the process through the ease of automation and standardization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Disruptions will pop up all along the journey — it is how you respond and deal with these disruptions that sets those that thrive apart from those that survive.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can follow my work through the Oracle Supply Chain Management Blog, as well as following me on Twitter and LinkedIn.