Supply Chain Management in the Digital Age

On November 4th 2016, the Pitt Business Center for Supply Chain Management hosted the 2016 Supply Chain Management Symposium: Supply Chain Management in the Digital Age. As an MBA student with a concentration in Supply Chain Management at Chatham, I was really excited to attend this event and learn about the new trends and technologies in this field. This year’s symposium was focused on cutting-edge developments where the future is converging with the present. Emerging technologies, social networks, the Cloud, instant global communications, and the Internet of Things all have a significant impact on today’s business supply chains.

This year’s symposium had six guest speakers from distinguished organizations such as Gartner, IBM, Microsoft, REI, Szilagyi Leadership, and UPS. Brian Baskin from The Wall Street Journal was chosen as the moderator.


Daniel Gagnon, Vice President, UPS Global Logistics and Distribution

Daniel Gagnon, Vice President of Marketing from UPS Global Logistics and Distribution spoke about the strategic implications of global and supply chain trends, and how changes in population, urbanization, and technology are transforming supply chain processes dramatically. Mr. Gagnon asked event attendees to consider how if population in cities continues to increase, the need for additional products also increases proportionately: urban life brings produces a higher demand for fast-foods, and these fast-foods increase chronic health problems. And, as health problems increase, the need for medication also increases. So, to meet the increasing demand for these and other products, the supply chain management processes must evolve and take advantage of the new technologies available. To keep up with the dynamic industry, UPS is collaborating with software developer SAP to transform the ad hoc world of industrial 3D printing into an on-demand manufacturing process. This innovative move will allow customers to streamline their supply chains and get products to market more quickly and cost-effectively.

Supply Chain Management in the Digital Age Discussion Panel

The Research Director at Gartner, Inc, Andrew Downard focuses on sales, operations planning, and integrated business planning processes. He defines the “Internet of Things” (IoT) as the network of dedicated physical objects that contain embedded technology to sense or interact with their internal state or external environment and which can communicate information. Plainly, this refers to the technology that is embedded in regular objects such as a pen, t-shirt, or watch, that now serve an additional purpose than what they were created to do. The IoT creates an ecosystem that includes things, communication, business applications, data analysis, infrastructure, and partners. Growth in this intelligent technology is rapidly changing the competitive landscape by making processes faster and decreasing work loads.  By utilizing this technology, companies can predict their customers’ next purchases and can also spot which products are more popular each season. This information allows companies to create new marketing strategies to increase sales and to optimize their supply chain to have their products available on time.  Dr. Downard’s presentation further illustrated lessons learned in Chatham’s MBA course Information Systems and Analytics (IS&A) taught by Dr. Rachel Chung in Fall 2016. IS&A gave students insight into what companies can do with the data retrieved from discount cards at Supermarkets or from the IoT.

Dr. Markus Ettl, is an IBM research pioneer in applying advanced analytics, machine learning, and cognitive technologies to a broad range of challenges in commerce. He presented two recent case studies that use Big Data analytics for optimizing omni-channel retail operations, or all of the channels available to customers to interact with and make purchases from the company.  The first study was about a real-time, cloud solution that optimizes online order-fulfillment to balance multiple business objectives, resulting in reducing shipping costs by 7% at a large retailer. The second study is about a newly developed omni-channel pricing and cross-channel fulfillment optimization system that improved markdown value by more than 6% at a major consumer electronics retailer. In these instances, analytics software allowed businesses to improve the customer experience, which supply chain management is involved at every decision point.  Current SCM processes need to constantly adapt in order to reach more customers, reduce costs, and increase revenue. Dr. Ettl’s presentation reminded me of an IS&A group presentation on Google AnalyticsA web analytics service offered by Google, Google Analytics tracks and reports web-based channel traffic, allowing companies to learn about the interests of their visitors based on their searches. With this information, organizations are able to create advertisement and promotions campaigns based on their customer’s products or services preferences. As web-based channels become ever critical to today’s business operations, tools such as Google Analytics can add significant value to supply chain management.

Microsoft has invested over $15 billion in building a highly scalable, reliable, secure, and efficient globally distributed data-center infrastructure. These data centers house over 200 online services that support productivity and data analytics. Delivering services at cloud-scale requires a radically different approach to designing, building, deploying and operating the supply chain. Sanjeev Khanna, Senior Director, Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure and Operations at Microsoft discussed how Microsoft is addressing the challenges of planning and managing a cloud infrastructure supply chain, such as privacy, compliance, security and transparency.

Stephen J. Szilagyi, former Chief Supply Chain Officer at Lowe’s Companies, Inc and now President at Szilagyi Leadership led us through an exhilarating journey of how he motivated his team to achieve world-class levels of safety, engagement, service, quality, and performance. Steve is a passionate and engaging leader, known for his service and commitment to excellence. The purpose of his presentation was to inspire us to practice and develop our leadership to better serve others. It especially resonated with me because I’m looking not only to acquire new knowledge, but also to learn how to be a motivating and inspirational leader. This symposium was a great opportunity to witness an inspiring leader in action!.

REI's Arizona Distribution Center

REI’s Arizona Distribution Center

It’s a fact that technology brings many benefits for both the consumer and the producer. But, what about the environment? Bill Best, Divisional Vice President, Supply Chain Management at REI shares the vision the company had for the sustainability of their Arizona Distribution Center. This center has a LEED-Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The eco-friendly distribution center has solar panels, recycling systems, and water conservation features. One of the project’s goals was to reduce the building’s energy consumption. Keeping a 400,000-square-foot distribution center cool in Arizona can be very costly. The company installed 280,000 square feet of solar panels on its roof, and is rated to produce 2.2 megawatts of electricity when the sun is shining. REI is producing more energy than it consumes in a year, making the building a “net-zero” energy facility. The facility combines eco-friendly features and top-notch technology to assure efficiency in their process.

Technological innovations will continue to be on the rise and the supply chain industry will tap into these new technologies to differentiate themselves from competitors. These technologies, if applied correctly, have proven to be successful in transforming companies’ supply chains into more efficiently run operations while saving money and resources.

Chatham’s B&E Department encourages students to attend events such as the Supply Chain Management in the Digital Age Symposium to enhance their academic experiences and build professional networks.  The B&E Department often reimburses student registration fees to workshops that tie to students’ degrees or concentrations in exchange for a write-up about the event which can be shared on Chatham Business Insight.

Astrid TorresYepez

Astrid TorresYepez is a current MBA student with a concentration in Supply Chain Management at Chatham University. She is also a Graduate Assistant in the B&E Department. Astrid holds a Bachelor degree in Business Administration with a major in International Business from Universidad Ecotec in Ecuador and she is interested in all the topics related to Logistics, Global Procurement and Supply Chain Management.

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1 Response

  1. Mary Smith says:

    Hello! Thank you for the interesting article. Successful supply chain management is simply unthinkable without appropriate programs, such as the XRP Warehouse Management System ( Along with supply chain management, this program allows you to perform forecasting & planning, manage inventory and has many other features.

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