This Editor recently had the opportunity to interview Ed Shepherdson, Executive Vice President, Products and Services Operations at Kinaxis, Inc. regarding both his recent arrival to the supply chain area, his unique new role as well as his observations of supply chain technology futures. The following are the highlights of our discussion.
Question: Ed, could you please describe your specific responsibilities as Executive Vice President, Products and Services at Kinaxis?
At a very “high-level”, I provide the leadership to build and deliver products that help Kinaxis customers revolutionize the way they do planning. One of our core product values is about breaking down silos in organizations, therefore internally we recently realigned product development and services to sit under a single umbrella. This “code-to-customer” framework includes a level of accountability focused on overall customer ROI. We believe our model is quite unique for software companies in that R&D, development, data center operations, support, information security and customer success are together managed in a singular organization.
As an example, one of the foundations of our RapidResponse is its in-memory database. If a new application or feature were to consume, for example, three percent more memory, that would have a significant impact on performance. Catching that at the development phase and working toward minimizing impact ensures our customers’ needs for continued system scalability and performance are being met. In a typical stovepipe environment, that tradeoff would be discovered by the customer, which is something we want to avoid.
Question: What are your short and longer-term goals for product development and customer initiatives?
In research and development, our goal is delivering innovation and value into our software on a regular cadence. Fostering a close relationship with our product management, sales and services teams ensures a commitment to our customers that we are driving market, industry and competitive value into our product.
In customer service, it is about visibility into the daily use and productivity of RapidResponse within specific customer environments, improving the user experience, and providing feedback directly to product management and development on areas to improve, function, usability, and performance. Collaboration with our Kinaxis professional services teams is also essential to clearly understanding what customers are trying to achieve in their supply chain process.
In data center operations, it is about insuring high availability, scalability, and performance around the clock, each and every day. There are many moving parts in a hosted, cloud-based modern data center and we strive for a solid, simple model to manage the virtual computing needs of our customers. Performance is a key value proposition of our product. Our team partners with Dell to acquire hardware that is tuned down to the bios level, to maximize the performance of RapidResponse.
A sometimes underrated group in software companies is the security team. We support full SOC ll type 2 security audits every year and we are constantly monitoring our code and environments to catch any potential security vulnerabilities. Taking security very seriously on the front end of the process will reduce the effort to solve it on the back-end. This is rather important in a SaaS environment and we believe in taking that extra care up-front.
Finally, in the area of customer success, we have people talking to customers every day. This is after sales and software implementation teams have moved on to the next customer. Our Customer Success Managers (CSM) are the glue between Kinaxis and the customer. They are fully engaged with the customer journeys and provide continuous feedback into professional services, product management, and product development. CSMs also ensure the customer is aware of how to take full advantage of RapidResponse. In the SaaS world it is important customers recognize the value and want to renew their licenses at the end of the term. Customer Success is important to Kinaxis and is fully funded. This re-alignment to a singular umbrella structure has been in the works for the past five months, and we’re incredibly happy with the success we’re seeing from implementing it.
Question: What specifically attracted you to join Kinaxis?
From the very start of conversations, I was impressed with the candor of the Kinaxis senior management team in terms of the effort required to grow the company to the next level and achieve market growth. It takes a different skills set and company structure to take the business to that next stage. I saw a synergy across the executive team in acknowledging the need to change the way the company operates, and a universal understanding that growth equates to the addition of new types of talent. They knew the direction they wanted to head. By my observation, many software companies are not prepared to deal with the implications of market growth.
One area that particularly impressed me was the company’s unrestricted access between industry analysts, press, prospects, and customers at various company events such as Kinexions, our annual user and training conference. Participants are free to share the good, and the not so good, aspects of implementing extremely complex enterprise software. This demonstrates our confidence in the product and the value our customers receive. It shows our belief that as a company, we are accountable for what we sell. It’s also an unprecedented practice in our industry.
I was also very impressed by the fact Kinaxis has a dedicated leader of industry thought leadership, since I believe harnessing the future of supply chain management is critical.
And of course I also looked at the product. My first response was one of “wow” in the sense of its unique IP and industry leading what-if scenario management capabilities. My perception was also that this product was extremely powerful and has a lot of future runway.
Question: How would you assess the current state of technology surrounding supply chain planning and response management capabilities among various industry settings? How do you see these capabilities changing over the coming years?
In my view, the current state of supply chain planning technology remains somewhat traditional and very much siloed. The main communication tool of planning unfortunately remains Excel spreadsheets. Processes have to change in terms of collaboration, extended visibility and transparency. Economic pressures in many industry settings are increasing and siloed organizations cannot survive. It now comes down to how quickly can organizations adapt to a more effective and efficient way of running their supply chain.
There is a process maturity aspect as well. On a scale of one through ten, some organizations may be at a two while others may be at an eight. Many simply cannot absorb the change management required to move from a two to an eight at once. We see it as our responsibility to help them successfully move to interim points of overall process maturity.
What about the area of predictive analytics and analytics-driven decision-making?
In my view, some customers are ready, some are not. On the one hand, Internet of Things (IoT) technology applied to business processes brings enormous opportunities in connecting the physical aspects of supply chain. But it also implies more data and potential data overload. Organizations have to be able to manage that increased data load as well as the analytics that go along with it. Industry 4.0, the digitization of manufacturing and machine-to-machine learning, will help in operational decisions. However, the overall pace of decision-making continues to increase and supply chain teams need to be able to understand the key factors related to the context of any decision.
In my view, predictive analytics is a future state. There is currently no standard set of analytics to rally around. The modeling of any company’s full complement of data is a “snowflake”—meaning it’s completely unique. Standardization is coming but the industry still has a ways to go in terms of deep analytics.
Equally important is contextual collaboration. Take for example an organization where information is validated six times before an informed decision is made. There needs to be thorough and clear context for the decision to be made, and that context needs to be able to be placed rapidly in front of decision-makers from various teams. The entire context follows the decision. There are important social aspects to decision-making as well, much of which is still foreign when email remains the main mechanism of communication among teams.
Some would argue that supply chain planning and execution are all coming together as a contiguous process. What’s you view?
This is definitely part of the future. At Kinaxis, we see part of that as the emergence of a network planner, instead of a demand planner, supply planner, and so on. This new role would be responsible for supporting decisions encompassing the end-to-end process.
For some larger traditional organizations, this concept is still a real challenge. There’s going to need to be a lot of knowledge and education to show them the possibilities of where the industry can go. It is, by our view, describing the journey of moving from siloed planning to collaborative and network planning. We need to help organizations take the necessary transformational steps, and see the value in doing so.
That is why we’ve created a dedicated knowledge management function, to assist our customers in understanding the capabilities required in each phase of this journey.
It’s definitely an exciting time for us at Kinaxis!
Question: Your biography states that you a firm believer in the power of employee advocacy. What does that specifically mean?
So much of the focus across the technology industry is on customer success. However, at the end of the day, employees need to be vested and engaged in the work they do. If you cannot motivate employees to put their collective intellectual processing power to contribute to the organization, than you are not being effective.
When I was doing my masters in organizational leadership, one important differentiation stood out for me, which was focused on the important difference between motivation vs. inspiration. Motivation is what I ask you to do for me. Inspiration, on the other hand is about an employee’s desire for themselves to contribute and make a difference. It is like asking someone to run a marathon. If after three months of training they realize they don’t want to do it, motivation drops to zero even if they keep going through the motions. However if someone is inspired to run a marathon, regardless if they are successful, they will keep training hard with a focus on what they want to achieve.
Listen to your employees. Treat them as equal partners at all levels of the organization. Listen-listen-listen to their inputs and observations.
Question: Are there any other tenets of your background and leadership style that you would like to share with our readers?
I believe in transparency of communication. I love that about Kinaxis. Everybody is rowing in the same direction.
Respect- obviously an important trait for any team or organization.
Listen-listen-listen- as noted earlier.
Spend the time to appreciate and understand the other person’s perspective. Easy to say but difficult to sustain every day. I often use an example of an apple. One side is very shiny and delicious looking, while the other side has a worm crawling out of a hole. Some would focus just on the shiny side without listening to what people on the other side are seeing, accepting that some apples have worm holes, but might taste just as good is an important trait to have. It is not about being perfect but rather about having awareness.
Final Question: What’s your favorite sport and sports team?
Growing-up on a farm in northern Canada, my initial passion was playing basketball. Eventually, my son and daughter played ice hockey and I naturally adopted the sport. Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks was one of my favorite players during that time. I am now an avid Ottawa Senators fan.
That stated, I have also played a lot of squash and I enjoy golfing.
I just believe in having fun.
We at Supply Chain Matters want to express our thanks to Ed Shepherdson for taking the time to speak with us and share his perspectives. This author enjoyed our conversation.
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