Supply Chain Visibility & Digitalisation with Christian Borel

We had the pleasure to have an insightful conversation about digitalisation, technology and future of Supply Chain with Christian Borel, Director of Supply Chain Visibility & Digitisation at Merck.
Here’s what we talked about.

The world is changing fast – demanding customers, rapid digitalisation… What do these macro trends mean for supply chain, and how are you stepping up to the challenges?

Merck recognised several years ago the need to adapt to rapid digitisation with the creation of a Digital Office reporting to the CEO. This has driven to the creation of a digital transformation team in GMS (Global Manufacturing & Supply), where our digital team work on 4 main topics: Digital Plant, Supply Chain Control Tower, Self Driving Operations and Digital Academy.

What role will advanced technologies (such as smart logistics, AI, robotics, blockchain) play in supply chain over the coming 12 months?

As mentioned, in the frame of our digital transformation at GMS, we have selected several areas to work in. Digital Plant, SC Control Tower and Self Driving Operations are the main areas. AI is also a hot topic as we have, like every company, plenty of data to exploit. We have already got great results with Machine Learning in Demand Planning and we will continue to extend their use.

What part of your role as a supply chain manager keeps you awake at night?

As my function of Digital Academy has just been created, I focus my attention (indeed also during the night) on 2 main areas: What are the Digital topics that are relevant to include in our internal curriculum, and how to present them in the most pedagogical / attractive way. As we have 5,000 employees to bring up to speed on the 5 continents, I am also very much interested in Digital Learning, gamification, modern LMS platforms etc. to reach each and everybody in a user friendly and time/cost effective manner.

How can supply chain managers best combat labour / talent shortages, in the short- and long-term?

Short term: Open an internal Digital Academy to build on considerable internal employees, ready to learn more to stay current.
In the longer term, we have observed that communicating and explaining the company purpose helps to attract talents with similar motivations, including those from top companies in Silicon Valley.

What is the most exciting ‘blue sky’ development that you think will go mainstream within the next 5-10 years?

Self Driving Operations have a fantastic potential, especially if you consider that Demand will be automated and Supply prescribed in real-time using machine learning and artificial intelligence. It will take several years to reach the vision of Self Driving. The beauty is that is if we design the journey carefully we have already got and we will get benefits all along the way.

How do you foresee the role and impact of supply chain managers evolving over the next 5 years?

Supply Chain Managers are excellent in lateral thinking and understanding the impact of change at the customer level, not only on the manufacturing side but also for suppliers and CMOs. They need to maintain and further develop their capabilities to drive the progressive automation of their work going from a pure descriptive mode to more predictive and prescriptive ways of working.

If Supply Chain Visibility and Digitalisation are topics you are fond of, check out our Supply Chain Congress in Amsterdam in May 2020. Savant Supply Chain brings together a special blend of supply chain leaders – from established companies, innovative startups, B2B and B2C players – that will push you to think laterally about your own supply chain processes.

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