Want to Excel in Supply Chain Analytics? Hire a Coach

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If you live in a snowy, cold environment like I do, you have two choices: you can trudge through short, dark days of winter, daydreaming of warm days ahead, or you can learn how to ski.

Having chosen the second option, albeit later in life, I needed to learn a new skill. Lots of pressure, compounded with the fear of ridicule by single-digit-year-old children at group 30-minute lessons.

It quickly became apparent that if I am serious about skiing — beyond the basics — I need someone to give me more focused training. I need someone to help me overcome my anxiety about learning a new skill, to teach me new techniques and watch-outs. And when it comes time to perform, I need someone to show me how to apply everything I’ve learned. In other words, I need a coach.

I believe that my experience is not dissimilar from that of a supply chain user expected to rely on analytics to fulfill a customer order or forecast next week’s demand. Those users are given great analytics solutions — shiny new skis, if you will — but are only offered a few hours of training on how to use the new “equipment.” Once this training is over, they are expected to know how to effectively use the analytics solutions in their daily work.

This sounds like an unrealistic expectation, given this level of training. What they need is more hands-on training to guide them in making the significant mental shift of relying less on their experiential judgment and more on data-driven insights. They, too, need an analytics coach.

Analytics coaches are influential individuals who are the strong link, connecting analytics leadership, vision and technical analytics resources with supply chain analytics users’ needs and adoption.

Supply chain leaders can recruit an internal analytics coach by identifying individuals who combine both the ability to influence supply chain users and can communicate effectively with technical data science and data engineering roles. The candidate is committed to advancing successful analytics adoption to support the supply chain digitalization vision.

Once recruited, the analytics coach defines initial and ongoing training curriculum. The curriculum extends far beyond feature-function training. Rather, it focuses on how to embed analytics in users’ workflow. The coach tackles change management challenges, working with users to demonstrate the value add of analytics. The coach positions analytics as a way to augment — not replace — human talent.

Coaches advocate on behalf of the users, understanding their challenges, workflow and requirements, and proposing analytics solutions as well as analytics-enabled process improvements. They ensure continued adoption. They track usage compliance, success factors and hurdles behind adoption levels. They put a great focus on measuring analytics value.

The role of an analytics coach can be viewed as an exciting career progression opportunity for those individuals who demonstrate their ability to manage by influence and to be effective change agents. But leaders must be forthcoming about the challenges that coaches might face as they liaise among groups with different competencies and priorities. Effective communication is key to the success of this role.

Note that “analytics coach” is not always the exact job title, rather it is a role with defined responsibilities and competencies. Possible titles are “analytics manager,” “analytics translator” or “analytics specialist.” The role can reside in a center of excellence, supply chain strategy group or a function. The role can be a full- or part-time position. For example, a supply chain planner can act as an analytics coach part time, in addition to handling operational responsibilities.

While solution providers can play a significant role on training on their technology, the responsibility of sustainable and scalable analytics adoption must fall upon the organization itself. After all, analytics coaching is integral to organization talent strategy that emphasizes proficiency in data-driven decision making. The company is in the best position to drive its business priorities and to understand the unique competencies of its staff and the challenges they will need to overcome to successfully adopt analytics.

I’m sure you are eager to know what became of my budding skiing abilities. I wish I could report that you can now catch me speeding down the slopes. But I am happy to report that I am making significant progress, thanks to my tireless, experienced coach.

Noha Tohamy,
Distinguished VP Analyst,
Gartner Supply Chain
[email protected]

 

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