Raj Patel is a supply chain leader and strategist who specializes in transformation, optimization, and continuous improvement along the end-to-end supply chain. Before moving to software developer Blue Yonder, where he serves as senior director global 3PL industry strategy, Patel worked in supply chain for leading companies including UPS, The Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, and XPO Logistics.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in supply chain management and marketing from The University of Tennessee, and is active in his community, volunteering with various organizations including the Atlanta Food Bank and the Center for Children and Young Adults. In his spare time, Patel coaches his two daughters’ basketball team and is active himself in all things sports-related.
Q: How do you view the current state of the supply chain software market?
A: In my opinion, it is hotter than it’s ever been. With Covid-19 putting supply chains at the forefront of conversations over the past year, coupled with major supply chain disruptions around the globe, companies are now looking to address concerns and weak spots within their supply chains to remain competitive, agile, nimble, and resilient.
Companies are either evaluating supply chain solutions or currently implementing them to address critical gaps they may have and, more importantly, to avoid potential disruptions in the future. This goes from integrated business planning and sales operations to execution (such as WMS, TMS, and last mile) and even to reverse logistics capabilities.
Q: What software products are currently seeing the greatest demand and why?
A: Control towers and execution systems (which include WMS and TMS) seem to be the most in demand right now, with control towers taking priority. Not only do end-consumers want to know where and when their orders will arrive (final mile), but companies need to know beforehand so they can meet their commitments.
Most of control towers’ benefits come from increased, actionable supply chain visibility. Control towers provide valuable insight and important analytics that help companies manage and optimize their supply chains. On top of that, control towers help align responsibilities by bringing different functional perspectives together in a single window within the supply chain.
Q: Why are we seeing such a strong push to digitalization?
A: Digitalization not only provides cost savings but can also give companies a competitive advantage. For companies that have already digitalized their processes using modern technology, their cost to serve will be lower than that of their competitor, allowing them to sell products or services of equal value at a lower cost.
While our recent Future of Fulfillment Survey revealed that only 14% of companies have automation across their fulfillment locations – showing they are at the tail end of their digital transformation journey – that number is expected to grow an additional 50% by the beginning of 2022. Those that are not moving in this direction risk losing their competitive edge, or worse, not remaining a viable business at all.
Q: Blue Yonder was recently acquired by Panasonic. Do you see advantages and synergies being created as part of the Panasonic group?
A: Yes, most definitely. However, we cannot comment in detail on that until the acquisition closes. At a high level, this will accelerate our shared autonomous supply chain mission, empowering customers to optimize their supply chains using the combined power of AI/ML and IoT and edge devices.
Q: How is technology helping customers deal with labor shortages?
A: Automation, drones, IoT, 5G, robotics, autonomous vehicles, AGVs, AMRs—these are not just buzzwords, these are technology solutions companies are using to address some of the labor shortages we are seeing. Whether it’s a shortage of truck drivers or the warehouse associates needed to pick, pack, and ship all of those e-commerce orders, companies will need to use automation and technology to address these challenges.
As organizations are expected to provide or maintain superior customer service levels at current or reduced cost, supply chain technology will play a vital role in the labor shortage dilemma. For example, workforce management solutions to allow employees to check in and/or swap shifts, safety software to protect employees from injury or enforce Covid-19 protocols, and labor management software that matches the right skillset to the right resources … these are all solutions that will combat labor shortages. These capabilities can also help keep employees safe and lead to higher job satisfaction, which ultimately increases retention.
Q: You’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years. What is the most significant change you’ve seen during that time?
A: There are probably two that I have seen. First, going from a push supply chain to a customer-centric supply chain. The consumer is in control now. They dictate what they want, where they want it, how they want it, and the price they are willing to pay. This is very different from 20 years ago, when retailers would use planning and forecasting to predict what they thought customers were looking for and then pushed that product out.
Second would be in technology strategy. Twenty years ago, it was all about a single vendor/provider ecosystem, on-premise deployment and long-lasting relationships. Then it went to “best of breed,” but still on-premise and with shorter relationships. Today, you are looking at going back to a single vendor in most cases, but in a cloud/SaaS model, and at shorter contract terms, as the cost to change is lower than being on-premise.
In my opinion, most companies will have a third to half of their applications on the cloud (private or public) over the next 10 years, as it provides greater flexibility, speed, and agility compared with the traditional in-house model.
Q: You spend a lot of time outside of work volunteering in your community. Why is this important to you?
A: Helping others has always been a mantra in our house. Early on, my father told me that helping those in the community brings purpose and meaning to life. I feel that by giving back, we can ensure that everyone is safe, has the essentials to survive and thrive, and can function as a productive member of the community.