Collaborating to transform a distribution supply chain in 90 days during unprecedented times

We made significant process improvements at the ABB Installation Products Division distribution center in Byhalia, Mississippi and opened a new distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona in just 3 months

Transforming a supply chain is truly a cross-functional process, encompassing the entire spectrum of a business, especially since the supply chain is the backbone of a business that offers products and services. Transformation is crucial to offering a better customer experience. While implementing innovative technologies to drive the transformation is pivotal, partnering with every component of the organization is the foundation to truly understand and review existing operations and form a solid foundation. And when given just 3 months to effectively change a distribution strategy, open a new 400,000 square foot facility and positively impact the customer experience, one soon realizes the transformation does not happen alone.

In our latest supply chain transformation, we made significant process improvements at the ABB Installation Products Division distribution center in Byhalia, Mississippi and opened a new distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona in just 3 months, enabling faster service and delivery times to our west coast distribution partners.

We could not have achieved this without collaborating and communicating with different teams to understand the nuances of our orders, customer needs and expectations, and work towards motivating the teams.

Collaborating and aligning goals

People continue to remain our most important asset. For a transformation to be successful, it is essential to build a comfortable and favorable environment for our colleagues for open communication. It is also necessary to partner with other stakeholders, such as sales, customer service, transportation and finance to gain total visibility into operations.

One of the most powerful collaborations was with Human Resources. Sharing talent goals, understanding the market as well as the goals for the transformation is not possible without strong support. We met regularly to discuss where we were and where we were headed, from headcount needs to talent profiles to critical success factors throughout the process. By having shared goals, attainment becomes possible. For instance, we had steep hiring goals and worked with the HR team on different paths to get roles filled so we could be staffed to open. We looked to amp up our advertising and worked with local economic development for leads on talent to be ready by our target open date.

We also worked in concert with product management, facilities, logistics and transportation. We had to outfit a 400,000 square foot facility with racks to hold products, equipment to move them, reroute our distribution model and have the IT and other systems to track and bill.

It is critical to stay connected on all associated processes in a transparent manner to make informed decisions for a successful transformation. We shared both our successes and struggles with the teams, paving the way for collectively finding effective solutions.

Open and transparent communications helped us receive credible feedback from our team members and customers, not only on areas that need improvement, but areas that are performing well. This helps organizations continue to foster high-performing areas while ensuring further improvements.

Flexibility overcomes unprecedented challenges

No one would have predicted that halfway through our transformation we would be entering a worldwide pandemic; and that despite this challenge, we would achieve our target. The secret lies in our transformation plans that had an extremely flexible approach. The manufacturing industry is typically traditional in its approach to change. But, as advances in technology revolutionize processes and change customer needs and demands, flexibility becomes the norm.

For instance, we had to build bridges and adapt to the different unexpected situations that were presented to us due to the pandemic. Our original plan included our team to travel to the United States from Canada for training. But, due to travel restrictions we swiftly switched to virtual training. Our teams continued to learn on the job to enable us to transform successfully.

Additionally, we were flexible with our scheduling, enabling a stable balance between the employees’ work and personal lives while fulfilling last minute priority shipments. Unlike traditional processes in large organizations, we adjusted our transformation plan when required resulting in better collective functioning through the process.

Understanding the market and customers

Overall, organizations need to understand their market strategy and whether it aligns with their customer needs and what the organization is set up to offer. After developing a mid-point between the two, organizations need to critically evaluate areas where the desired and current states are not aligning and then build an action plan to bridge the gaps. That was our starting point in determining to open a west coast distribution center. We wanted to better meet expectations in the western part of the US, while managing our own business in the best way possible. Keeping the goal at the forefront enabled the stakeholders to have clarity on the roadmap, ensuring a successful supply chain transformation.

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About the author

Ken Shotts

Ken is the leader responsible for guiding the ABB installation product distribution and inventory teams. He has served leadership positions in the distribution industry for over 25 years across multiple top rate organizations, with roles ranging from implementing labor management systems, expanding networks, and working cross functionally to transform the customer experience through improved distribution serve. Ken is motivated by our cross functional approach to problem solving and the willingness to be transparent about our develop and performance opportunities here at ABB. He is surrounded daily by some of the top people in their field dedicated to solving challenges and improving our customer experience, and is very excited to be part of the future of ABB.
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