Ask the Expert: Supply Chain Innovation – Don’t Chase the Shiny Object

Supply Chain Management Software InnovationInnovation is a term we hear often, especially in the world of software development. But what does it mean? What should it mean? I looked up the word innovation and found something odd. I found the word novelty next to innovation. With the pace of change today I believe many people are confusing the next shiny object or fad (novelty) with innovation. Instead we should focus on innovation that drives differentiation. In terms of the supply chain, innovation can drive rapid product development and build a competitive edge. By replacing inventory with information and leveraging people, process and the latest proven technology we can solve supply chain’s most complex challenges more quickly.

Recently, I sat down with Mark Balte, vice president of research and development at Logility, to understand how he views innovation, what sets real innovators apart from hype machines and what motivates him every day.

Karin Bursa: What are the key habits of highly innovative software development organizations?

Mark Balte: I have found that innovative software development teams do a great job of listening and have an understanding what the problem is they are trying to solve. Innovative teams avoid the engineering tendency to use technology for technology’s sake and focus more on applying technology to solve real problems and business challenges. In our roles, we often see new technologies in search of a problem. This does not help companies solve their challenges; it just creates more. Innovative teams validate proposed solutions back to the customer or user in a collaborative fashion. And then, validate it with other businesses that might think about the problem differently. That’s part of the value that software companies (like Logility) provide. We evaluate the problem and the solution from multiple vantage points looking both at the granular details as well as the big picture.

I would say innovators avoid the bad habit of assuming they understand the problem, or going for a cool technology because it is cool or written about more than another. It’s OK that developers like gadgets, gadgets are great as long as they solve the problems our customers need to address.

Karin Bursa: What special qualities distinguish good innovators from average people?

Mark Balte: Innovators tend to combine analytical and process-oriented traits with visionary thinking. But real innovators also have the knack of keeping it simple, pushing past complicated solutions to find the simpler one. An innovative developer will walk through how a person is trying to perform their job—asking “What does the job entail? Why does it need to be done? What does “good” look like?” If you can be creative and visionary, but at the same time discover the most straightforward solution, most of the time you can solve problems efficiently and effectively. At Logility, our goal is to help our customers gain faster access to better information with the ability to analyze multiple supply chain scenarios.

Karin Bursa: So, what motivates you?

Mark Balte: Problem solving. I have an Operations Research background, and started my professional life as a consultant, implementing software for customers. I always asked the questions: “Why are we implementing this? What are the problems we are trying to solve?” As I moved into software development, I found more room for innovation.

In my personal life, I renovate houses, and I look at most software development efforts like a renovation—improving and adding to the solutions rather than scrapping what you have and starting with a blank sheet of paper every time…that has some appeal, but is usually longer and more problematic for customers. We want to build on their success and solve their challenges, not create more headaches.

Supply chains are growing more complex every day. Increasing globalization, economic fluctuations, natural disasters, and changing consumer behavior all greatly impact the way today’s supply chains operate. The supply chain has also become a source of unlocked potential to dramatically impact costs, customer service and competitiveness.

As you think about innovation and your challenges, remember to keep it in context of how innovation will meet your needs.