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Podcast: The Role of Technology in Supply Chain – with Founder of Supermoon Solution, Chris Harris

By Published On: February 15, 2024

In This Episode:

In this episode of the Supply Chain Careers Podcast, Rodney Apple and Mike Ogle delve into the career journey of Chris Harris, Founder of Supermoon Solutions.

From his early days of summer jobs in warehousing to becoming a pivotal figure in supply chain technology, Chris shares invaluable insights into his career evolution. He highlights the importance of understanding client relationships, principles of leadership, and how to stay ahead in the rapidly changing landscape of supply chain technology. Chris also discusses the significant impact of AI on supply chains and offers advice for those looking to forge a career in this dynamic field.

Join us as we explore Chris’s journey and the lessons he’s learned at the intersection of technology and supply chain management.

Who is Chris Harris?

Chris Harris is a seasoned IT leader with over 20 years of experience in the supply chain field.  Chris was most recently the SVP of IT at Barrett Business Services, VP of IT at Pacific Seafood, Global Director of Freight Forwarding Business IT as UTi Worlwide, preceded by a variety of senior IT leadership positions in supply chain. Chris leverages his expertise to develop and implement tailored IT solutions that drive efficiency, optimize operations, and increase revenue streams through improved client experiences.

A firm believer in understanding business goals and value first, Chris takes a collaborative approach to crafting robust IT strategies. His impressive track record includes leading IT initiatives for large supply chain companies, successfully managing large-scale projects, and cultivating a team of highly skilled IT professionals.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Chris actively engages in the industry as a member of the SIM DFW chapter.  His passion for technology and its transformative power within the supply chain ecosystem fuels his mission to help businesses achieve sustainable growth, maximize customer satisfaction, and ultimately thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

[00:00:00] Mike Ogle: Welcome to the supply chain careers podcast. The only podcast for job seekers, professionals, and students who are focused on career enhancing conversations and insights across all aspects of the supply chain discipline. This podcast is made possible by SCM Talent Group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm.

Visit scmtalentgroup at scmtalent. com. In this episode of the Supply Chain Careers Podcast, we speak with Chris Harris, founder of Supermoon Solutions. Chris provides his career paths, starting with summer jobs in warehousing, then a degree in information systems, providing him with the valuable crossover of leveraged.

While working at such companies as DHL, UTI, Pacific Seafood, and BBSI. Here, Chris provide the relationship insights of what it takes to get in a client’s door, and what it takes to stay inside the client’s door. He also provides his principles of leadership, particularly related to respect, integrity, accountability, and commitment.

Chris talks about what it takes to stay on top of your game. As supply chains and the technologies that enable them keep changing, he closes with his assessment of those big changes coming to supply chains and how they will affect careers. I’m your podcast co-host Mike Val,

[00:01:29] Rodney Apple: and I’m your podcast co-host Rodney Apple.

[00:01:34] Mike Ogle: So Chris, we’re happy to have you with us today on the Supply Chain Careers podcast. Welcome.

[00:01:39] Chris Harris: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:41] Mike Ogle: So how did you get started in supply chain? What were your biggest influences?

[00:01:47] Chris Harris: That’s an interesting question. When I was in school and when I was thinking about a career, supply chain wasn’t necessarily something that came top of mind, but I did get an early start.

Um, when I was in school, in high school, actually, I worked at the school district warehouse during the summers, delivering books and delivering supplies and some kind of a warehouse distribution job and, uh, worked there every summer. I worked at service merchandise and incredible universe. In their warehouses, pick and receiving, cycle count inventory, that type of stuff.

And, and then even, I had a brief stint in college as a teamster for yellow freight, driving a forklift, loading trucks, LTL, FTL, and, but I was going to school, getting a degree in a business degree in a major in information systems. And I was really going to go out there and be this super high powered. I had this vision of what an IT or what a systems person was supposed to go do.

And, uh, it, it, that vision did not really align with. What I was doing on the side loading trucks. And I even had an internship at a, at a a domestic freight forwarder and thought that was really cool and that was fun, but it still wasn’t this vision I had of being a high powered it professional. And I remember when I got out of college, I went to at and t, it was Southwestern Bell at the time.

And was doing telecom and that it was complicated. It was fancy, but after six months in that, it just wasn’t for me. And the little freight forwarder I had interned with had this new technology and this goes back a bit, but they were getting into ETL and track and trace websites and they wanted to bring on a developer to work on that.

And so I went back into freight and at the time I thought, okay, this isn’t very fancy or this isn’t very sexy, but that that’s how I ended up. In freight, as a professional, first role being a UTL developer, data warehouse developer. And at the time I didn’t think it was that fancy and sexy, so to speak.

But as I’ve built a career in it, supply chain is complicated. It’s complicated. It is fancy. I think it’s sexy. And it just takes so many different disciplines and pulls it together. And I tell folks, it’s like, it’s what makes the world run is the supply chain. It’s a super important component of anything that we have going on.

And that’s how I ended up in there. It wasn’t necessarily that I thought I was going to go there, but in retrospect, that’s just who I am and what I’m made of as a supply chain. I think supply chain people are scrappy and I found that’s how I am. Scrappy or perish. There you go.

[00:04:33] Rodney Apple: There you go. So Chris, appreciate that introduction to where you first got started in supply chain.

And as I checked out your profile, it’s quite clear you’ve pursued that path, uh, down the technology side of supply chain. I’d love to hear about some of the keys to success and some of the essential learnings that you picked up on as you switched from industry to industry or job to job throughout that supply chain technology career that you’ve built.

[00:05:02] Chris Harris: Sure. I’ll put together a couple of examples here, but I think one of my. Biggest learnings and as an IT professional, this isn’t necessarily the initial focus some folks have, it’s understanding how to add competitive advantage, how to drive value, understanding in your organization, how is revenue generated and how can your role impact that revenue?

So I think it’s really key to know the business and. I think an example of that, and that’s an example specifically I can pull from freight forwarding. A lot of my experience has been in freight forwarding, and it’s something super simple, but especially as an IT professional, I think it really adds a lot of value if you understand and you know this.

But it’s the life cycle of a client, the life cycle of the contract and how that business works. Oftentimes in the forwarding side, at least, rate is going to be a super important factor and the client will be out and they may not even want to go out to bid, but their procurement department has a process where they have to go out to bid every year and so sometimes they’re just going through checking the boxes and the rate is going to be a big factor and then just getting through the process.

And so I think understanding that is how that process works. If you are, as an example, you’re a client facing IT organization, and you’re supporting your, your sales organization and delivering the IT component of a new contract, it’s super important that you can quickly get to a yes and quickly get to an answer and help facilitate getting through that sales process as fast as possible, but it’s also super important that you.

Have something above and beyond the rate. So what is it that you can add value with beyond the price that makes that client want to stick with you, even though maybe they got a better rate somewhere else. And so I found that this transcends industries as well, but that understanding, even though you’re an IT professional understanding, Hey, this is the nature of this process of the cycle.

And if you’re going to come in and you’re going to contribute and add value to that, you got to understand how can I, I play a role and how can I leverage technology to influence that piece of it. And that is a really big piece of how you add value and how you can differentiate yourself and department and then even your company, another piece of this.

Is maybe just a little layer below that, but I really think it’s interesting. And it’s been a critical success factor is just how important relationships are. And again, as a professional, you got your propeller hat on, it’s really easy to leave that out of the equation. Relationships drive the worlds, and that’s what drives business.

And even when you’re working in technology, that’s what’s going to drive it. I think a common paradigm I’ve seen, I’ve experienced it. I’ve experienced it at other companies I’ve been at, the sales versus IT or maybe the business versus IT paradigm. And you may even get into that sometimes with the client.

And I found if you’ve got the right relationships, if you put yourself in the sales organization shoes or in the client shoes, you can talk that business language and even foster that relationship, that’s key to being successful, even though let’s just say you’re implementing a onboarding a client and you’ve got some integrations and reporting to do, you’ve got to get that done.

But what’s really going to make the difference is the relationship and the client experience that they have along the way. And that’s going to add that stickiness, I think that it’s going to keep that client around and get yourself out of that cycle of going out to bed every year and always having to fight for that.

[00:09:13] Mike Ogle: I like that combination of what gets you in the door and what keeps you in the door.

[00:09:19] Rodney Apple: Hey, Chris, one of the things I picked up in your profile is. The values and principles you subscribe to respect, integrity, accountability, and commitment. How have these principles guided your leadership style over the years, especially when you get into these high pressure situations that often occur within supply chain?

[00:09:40] Chris Harris: Yeah, so I like the first one. I like them all. If we start with respect, to me, that’s where everything’s got to start. And when I think of myself as a leader, you’ve got a team of folk under you that you want. To go out and execute on your behalf and execute on behalf of the company. And it starts with respect.

If you, if that mutual respect doesn’t exist, then how, how am I going to come to work every day and go out there and kill it for you? When you don’t feel like you’ve got that mutual respect, I start, I believe in the integrity and the commitment. And I think a lot of it comes from my background. I played football in college, but I believe that a team, a good solid team is the best way to get your execution done.

And when you look at, I’ll say my leadership table was my group. I may make the difficult decisions at the end of the day as the leader and need to be held accountable for that. But everybody’s really got an equal seat at that table. And I want to know the honest truths. I want to know exactly what we’re up against, where we’re at with projects, where we’re at with deadlines.

I believe that if we’re all operating on the facts, then we stand a better chance as a team on going out and succeeding. And I use those principles because I want to foster a safe environment, not only for myself, but for my team to execute and succeed as a team. I believe with those values, you get that type of environment and everyone feels like I’ve got a spot.

And even if, if someone’s maybe not getting it that day, great, someone else is going to step in and we’ll take up the slack. But I see that comes through on just the overall team vibe and the feeling that’s there. And then I also think that it’s, it results in superior execution. Yep.

[00:11:28] Mike Ogle: And Chris, in the world of 3PLs and freight forwarders and other logistic service providers, I often attribute their technology side, their technology prowess, as a key differentiator in the marketplace.

Can you share a major IT initiative that you worked on?

[00:11:48] Chris Harris: One of my favorite projects. It’s typical. Maybe feature a client feature and functionality aspect. It wasn’t, it didn’t start out by design, but once the idea was picked up on, we ran with it and did it, but it’s an order management exam. And so early on in my career, it was with UTI Worldwide.

We had tons of clients that would come on board and one of the common pieces of data that they want to tie them to their freight transaction was their purchase order numbers for the product of buyer supplier relationships. So the products that they were selling and fulfilling as an IT organization, we came in and we made sure that was out there to capture and it was shareable and it was something that could be integrated with all the reports with the EDI with the track and trace systems.

And over time that started to grow, we got more and more of those requests coming in and that just kind of order reference turned into, okay, maybe we should have some order management out there. And again, this is in partnership with working with our sales organization, understanding the business and what drives value.

And so we saw some value with, okay, let’s have an order management capability that’s part of our normal, you know, track and trace websites. So we built that order management functionality in, did really well with that, and it just continued to grow. That order management went into a supplier portals. We had all the technology in play to allow a client to provide us their order information, their supplier information, their trade information, and have our system managed on their behalf.

And the next logical step was, Hey, how about you let us take over that whole process on your behalf? That led to opening a shared service center. We actually had a, out in the Philippines, where for clients who wanted the service, they outsourced their order management process in general out to us. And that led to where I’m going with this, with this story.

You mentioned technical prowess or differentiation is that led to revenue. That led to a revenue stream. And we had our standard track and trace website. We had our standard reports, but on the order management side, we actually had a product. A technology product that was a revenue stream that was sold.

Uh, and sometimes it was even stoled a little more standalone than maybe anybody would like, but that’s an example of. Creating the competitive advantage, using technology as a differentiator and adding value to your client supply chain by doing something for them that they were having trouble doing that on their own.

And it results in a new revenue stream for your organization. And as a technology leader, when you’re asked, what have you done for me lately? And it’s, and you can say, Hey, We’ve got an actual revenue stream, your IT organization actually generates revenue. And I remember that was a pretty cool experience reporting out to my boss and reporting out to the larger part of the organization where we can start to include revenue numbers, our costs.

[00:15:10] Rodney Apple: That’s awesome. So that, that ended up being a product or a module that your sales team could take to market for other clients, I’m assuming as well.

[00:15:19] Chris Harris: Yes. It ended up being a module we could take for other clients. And earlier we were talking about Nolan as an IT professional, knowing your business. And.

Critical success factors, at least that I’ve seen in supply chain, be the tech technology professional, and I want to take that comment and segue into part of what we did there that was really successful with sales is all of those features and capabilities. We had our, they were productized. We had standard collateral for it.

I’m sure we could customize things if you needed to, but our sales organization knew everything we had, uh, was very well documented. And when we went out to go out and sell somebody. The answer was yes, yes, yes, yes, we can do that. Yes, we can do that. And here’s the proof and here’s the documentation and have it, not only having the differentiation and technology and having a product, but having all that so well buttoned down and putting a business language and empowering our sales organization to go out there and be the first company to come back and say, yes, we can do everything.

That you’ve asked for, and here’s all the documentation and proofs of how we do it. It’s tough.

[00:16:30] Rodney Apple: Yeah, that’s fabulous. That’s back to that kind of the innovation side where you come up with something new that doesn’t exist. And on that note too, Chris was curious with the rapid pace of technology advancements.

We certainly have seen a slew of. Uh, new products come to market, not just by your typical big names in the supply chain tech world, but a lot of startups have come into fruition here over the years, in recent years. But how do you keep your teams ahead? You mentioned you guys came out with a new model.

You just gave a new product, if you will, that went to market. How do you ensure your teams stay ahead of this rapid pace?

[00:17:09] Chris Harris: With new technology, I think it comes down to two key themes. One of those is as a professional in your discipline, staying on top of what’s available in the marketplace. And, and that to me, that looks like you’re a member in a professional organization.

So I’m a member of the society of information managers. It’s a national organization for technology and each person on the team. I want and expect to stay active in the professional organization going out and learning new things. Entertaining the questions that come from vendors, looking at the new products that are out there and just see what’s possible.

I think the other piece of that equation is your, it’s your tie into the, to the business. And again, as an IT professional, go out in the operation, go out in the branch, even if it’s not part of your role, go out on the sales call and go experience what’s happening, go experience what your client needs, uh, what your sales person needs.

And. When you’ve got those two pieces of data floating around in your head, to me, that’s where the magic happens. Hey, I’ve been out there. I’ve seen what happens on the sales call. I understand what clients are asking for. And by the way, I just attended a seminar that a free seminar IBM gave through my professional organization on their AI capabilities.

And I got an idea and maybe it’s not IBM and maybe it’s not that particular client that you’re going to use that on. But to me, it’s those two pieces have to always be in motion, being out there in the business. In the organization, seeing what’s happening and then just seeing what’s possible through your professional organizations and through industry events and putting those two things together.

[00:18:56] Rodney Apple: And Chris, how do you bring those forward? Say there’s a shiny idea. We haven’t tried this before, but so and so has come out with this new product. Uh, what can we do? Where do you channel that up through the organization to see if you could generate interest in embarking on some kind of new product, uh, develop project?

[00:19:12] Chris Harris: Sure. Good question. So I’m a big believer in, I call it demand. It’s pretty commonly called that in the kind of IT discipline of demand generation or idea generation. So I think it’s really important that you have a process for that and that it’s a, a business owned and sponsored process. IT may facilitate that and may really run behind the scenes with it.

But that needs to be a big part of your organizational culture is, Hey, we’ve got a process for demands. That process takes ideas, it vets them, it racks and stacks them. We put our return on investment on, and then we put it through to a committee or to a professional body. It’s going to evaluate that idea and decide what to do with that.

And with that, I think it’s really important when you get into investing. Your it dollars, then it’s led at a higher level. What’s in the organization where those investments are made. And to me, it’s a critical success factor and how you leverage your scarce resources. I think build versus buy is a common thought process, but it, who are you as a company?

Where do you want to go? What, what’s your market proposition? And lining that up with those ideas, there’s a lot of really fascinating things that are out there, cool technology, and what’s your limited resources. You got to have that process. You got to have the committee to stack those up and really get a business.

Look, it doesn’t make sense for us to spend our resources in this area. And how is that going to generate a return for the organization? And how is that going to continue to fulfill our true Norse, what we’re trying to go as an organization. And so to me, it’s in anywhere I’ve been, usually it’s one of the first major processes I’ll get put in place as a.

A demand or an idea generation process that, uh, it’s critical. It’s coupled very tightly with the business and has business sponsorship at the highest levels.

[00:21:17] Mike Ogle: Hey, and speaking of some of those new ideas that are coming up, what kind of upcoming trends or technologies are you seeing that are really going to significantly impact supply chain and business overall, but supply chain as well in the next, say, five to 10 years?

And could you also maybe speak a little bit about how that might affect careers?

[00:21:39] Chris Harris: So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I see AI coming up a lot and making a huge impact. And I think what’s really important to understand about that is there’s a lot of different applications you could use for AI, a lot of different ways you could implement it and do something with it.

But I’m going to go back to my comment about a true North or. Who you are as an organization and what you want to do, taking a step back and focusing on if you’re looking at AI, how can I take this AI capability and use it to drive value, to drive competitive advantage. And to really achieve my market vision, I think that is the biggest component.

And when I see new things coming out, when I see new applications that are possible, I want to go right back to the same thought process that we were talking about demand earlier of, okay, great, let’s vet this out. Let’s stack it and see how that’s going to line up with where we want to go as an organization.

I see a lot of, in particular on the freight side. I think there’s a lot of applicability of AI when it comes to your internal operation, your routing and optimization and efficiencies, really getting into the nuts and bolts of the freight side. And I think that’s very important and it’s just going to continue to grow there.

It’s going to be a piece that I’ll call it parody, but you’re going to have to at least maintain market parody in that space. However, I want to go back to. Let’s keep maybe market parody on that side, but how can you utilize AI? How can you utilize the technologies that are coming out to really achieve your market vision and your market proposition?

Cause that’s where I see the biggest value coming in at is leveraging these, these new capabilities in that space. And as a secondary focus, how do I use it to better achieve my parody? Maybe at a cost competitive price point and as far as careers. So I think we’re seeing a little shift with the pace of technology and how things have changed.

Being the technology professional that just happens to know how to program in that specialized programming language that allows you to generate the report. Uh, to me, that’s of less significance nowadays because you’ve got a. I had to go generate your report, or you’ve got a natural processing language capability that you can go out there and do that.

And so it comes back to this principle of combining the technology and the business capability or the, the business acumen. So I see roles becoming more important that are, Hey, I know the technology. I know the capabilities that exist in AI or maybe in reporting or analytics with big data science. And I understand.

What the levers are that, that drive value on supply chain, and I can put those two things together and go out and generate value for you. So I see, I think a lot, and it’s already happened to a large extent, but it’s just going to continue a shift away from the. We need a programmer to, we need the data science person, or we need the AI trainer that’s going to go out and help teach our AI, uh, how to do what it needs to do.

And to do that, you’re going to have to understand both paths, most of the technology, uh, and the business piece of it.

[00:25:31] Mike Ogle: During this short break, we recognize that this podcast is made possible by SCM Talent Group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm, visit scmtalentgroup. com.

[00:25:47] Rodney Apple: Wanted to piggyback off of what you just covered there, Chris, as it relates to the overall job market and IT for what I think, since I’ve been around at least. Almost 30 years in business did a stint of I. T. recruiting back in the day and always supported those functions in my corporate is recruiting and supply chain.

I component align this to manufacturing operations, et cetera, but and I know that the jobs have certainly changed as the technology has changed, but. If you were advising someone that’s getting into IT and like you back at your early days where you got into the sector, what would you recommend? What are the jobs that are going to be there in the future?

And then how would someone best get started on their career journey within that sector of supply chain IT?

[00:26:38] Chris Harris: I’ll start with data. I think we’ve seen it already and it’s going to, it was around when I was starting, so to speak. It’s going to continue to go that way that anybody who understands the date, take that data, turn it into actionable information and use that to make business decisions.

Turn that into value. That is a good spot to be in. So if we start with data, understanding the supply chain. And a half of the equation, then I think you’re in a really good spot to have a good starting point in your career and then maybe tailor it a little bit beyond that point in a specific domain that you want to get involved in.

So I think anywhere you can get in that’s on the data side of the house, even. As an IT professional, even starting in operations, uh, or starting in a, in a more traditional supply chain role, uh, but building up that experience is a really good place to be. I think another area that I just got to comment on it is.

Your traditional ERP supply chain systems that are in the background and that are running things, those are going to be there. Those are very important, have those up and running in the background. So anybody who wants to get into that, get in that space, you know, say, hey, great, go invest in those technologies, go invest in learning those.

You’ll be able to go add value there, but if, if someone’s looking to really go off and take it to the next level, my advice would be looking at the data side of the equation, the analytics, ultimately leading into AI, because every company wants to understand it’s got all this data we’ve collected. And, and we’ve also had access to all this other data that other people have and integrations become easier and we can now go integrate, get free data from other places, it’s how are you going to take all that and turn that into value?

And to me, that’s where a lot of this competitive differentiation is going to come from. And so I would look at, at focusing on careers in those space and making sure I under, understood my supply chain basics. Are there any jobs

[00:28:49] Rodney Apple: that you think will go away within supply chain IT as the technology, just like technology is, you can almost work your way out of a job in some cases, thanks to AI. So we’ve been seeing that here and there, just in general.

[00:29:05] Chris Harris: That’s a. Great question. And I think it’s a touchy one, of course, too, right? I see, and these jobs don’t necessarily go away, they may move further away from the source. But the first layer that I would, the first kind of category of jobs that I would put into that equation is Well, on your traditional infrastructure side, that is mission critical for your organization to have those capabilities and for them to operate to their promised extent, but that’s not like what we’re talking about with data and competitive advantage, that’s not what’s doing that.

And so as an IT professional, if you’re in supply chain and you’re sitting on that side of the house, those are jobs that can, and maybe should move further and further away from the center of the company. Be passed on to a partner to execute. So I can put that in the category of a parody job. And I think we can apply that, uh, started with infrastructure.

I’m going to shift gears to another area. We can apply that to any of your back end corporate disciplines, accounts receivable, accounts payable, that has to get done and it will get done. It’s just how close is it going to be to the actual client or to the actual face of the business. And so when I put all that through a technology lens.

And I think it’s going to go back to my central theme of really understanding the business voice of the client, what gives you competitive advantage. But if you’re in a discipline that does not tie directly to market differentiation, then it’s not saying that’s not a good discipline to be in, but that’s the discipline that I think is going to continue to move further and further away from the brand.

And perhaps if that’s where you’re passionate, it’s better to invest in a company that is their brand. Is providing infrastructure services or providing a receivables or payables or corporate functionality. And again, I don’t want to, it’s not, that’s a bad idea, but if you really want to, I think shine and supply chain, stay on the side of the supply chain discipline itself and the technologies and the ideas that drive competitive advantage there and let someone else handle the parody.

[00:31:22] Mike Ogle: Good point. Chris, one of the things that our audience likes to hear is being able to understand some of the advice that they can use in their career. Are there things that you’ve picked up along the way from others? And then is there some advice of your own that you’d like to share?

[00:31:39] Chris Harris: I’ll start with an experience I had, which for me was just transformational in my career and how I thought, and then maybe I can add on to that with how I see that playing a role in what I’ve, my advice, and I think it’ll include advice I’ve gotten from others.

But I was a traditional IT person in the IT department. So the first chunk of my career, and when I went into a role, it was at UTI worldwide, I actually joined a sales organization and it was in sales. And I was, I was the key person and I was a business intelligence manager. And so I got brought on there to do help with their client revenue reporting and analytics.

A lot of the CRM things that you would want to do in sales, but I came into the, I was in this organization, that’s who I reported to, and I spent three years. In that organization, and that completely shifted my outlook on not only technology, but just on a career and on business and how do you do things and I’ll give you a good example as your studious IT professional.

You know, in the beginning, I found it very easy to say no and no, you can’t have this or no, you can’t have that. And these are all the problems that you’re going to have an experience if, if we go down a certain path. And you want your IT folks to be able to help you find the stakes in the grass and avoid the pitfalls.

I wouldn’t want to eliminate that spirit out of an IT person, but when you go get to sit on the other side for three years and see how it goes And that no, immediately exit, you get you exited from the equation. You’re no longer even in contention. And so saying that it’s not to just say yes to everything, but you got to start with a yes, and you got to work your way through things and figure out how to ebb and mold the solution or mold, mold the idea to something that’s not only going to work for your client, but it’s doable, it’s doable by you.

So having that experience and then. Again, within the sales discipline, just seeing how important it is for relationships and the overall customer experience, how important that those things are really changed my outlook on how I view technology. And I think a simple example I can give you, and it’s more on your traditional side.

If we look at help desk, it’s a pretty low bar you’re dealing with. If you’re going to call on the help desk, as far as what you expect. I think the first thing most people want to make sure is that they don’t walk away feeling stupid. And this idea that you have to have a problem solved immediately is a fallacy or that you have to have a particular service turned on.

In this unrealistic timeframe as a fallacy, what’s really going on is that your customers, external or internal, wants to know they’re dealing with a person, they want to have a relationship, they want to have an actual, and they want to have a good experience, and if you can give them that, then you can buy yourself the time to focus on the actual delivery in your own way, in a cost effective, repeatable, and scalable manner.

And learning those things through being in a sales organization and seeing that firsthand, that was critical for me to transform how I looked at things. And that’s actually when my, I think my career started to really take off is when I started to learn those things and really understood the value of the relationship and the value of providing client experience.

And that’s what really matters. And the technology is an enabler underneath the covers, but that’s what’s important. So I think that’s my piece of advice and that’s something I learned and I would encourage anybody that has the opportunity to spend time in operations, spend time in sales, spend time in another discipline, not just observing, but I mean, if you can get a chance to go and actually do the work, go do the work, it’ll do nothing but add value to your capabilities and IT professional to understand your client and empathize with them.

And really give a good experience.

[00:36:12] Mike Ogle: Chris, throughout the conversation, I’ve talked about these combination of business and technology, and you’ve described yourself as a problem solver and being able to link those two. Can you share a challenging situation where that dual understanding of business and technology was crucial in finding the solution?

[00:36:32] Chris Harris: Sure, a really good example, this was at my time at UTI Worldwide, we had a big issue with our client facing technology, maybe not so much with the technology, but with what people thought. So what our clients were experiencing and what our sales organization thought or experienced, and I took on the challenge to go out and solve that.

And when I got to really looking at what was, what was going on. There wasn’t necessarily a problem with the technology, and I’ll use EDI as an example. A customer asked for EDI, we turned on the EDI at work. Uh, but no one was happy nonetheless, and same thing where you, the customer wanted to report, the report got written, it got delivered and still nobody was happy and when I took on this role, I started it with me doing the role as an individual contributor, going out with sales and with clients and working on implementations and understanding what they needed.

And what I, what I started to piece together as the issue was that it really came down to expectations of management and customer experience. Maybe a little bit of relationship was just an overall disconnect. It wanted someone to just tell them exactly what needed to be done, give them a a spec or a piece of paper, and it was gonna fit really nicely into a sausage factory on the back end, and it would get spit out and everybody would be happy.

And that’s not how the business works. That’s not how the business works and it’s not. That someone’s being difficult. It’s truly not how the business works. So I’ll give you a good example of that. You’ve got a client who an opportunity for a client, a certain amount of revenue, and they need to be onboarded in two weeks.

And so. The traditional IT view on that is that’s impossible. No, we can’t do that. And you should have asked for that a month ago. And you can go down on a long list. But if you step in and you really start to work with your salesperson and you start to work with the client, what you might learn is. No, actually we’re all right.

That is a tight timeframe, but here’s how it happened. The, the client lost their incumbent carrier, their incumbent provider for whatever the reasons are, and they’re literally not going to have them in two weeks and it’s not that anyone’s being difficult, that’s just the nature of the way this business works.

And so you’re presented with an opportunity now, not only as a, um, supply chain organization, but as an IT professional, it’s okay, we’ve got a client, a great client, a good revenue opportunity. They’re in a bind. They need something spun up in two weeks. And if we can say yes to that, then we can get that business.

And picking up on that was what the fundamental disconnect was. With this idea that the technology just wasn’t good enough and our onboarding wasn’t good enough. It was really around having a person, uh, that can go play in that space and help understand all the moving pieces and then take that, give some specifics to IT to actually get it executed.

Through my experience working in that role for, I probably was doing it about a year solid, just as a individual contributor, before I really, you know, put together all those pieces that put me in a position to say, okay, we’re going to create a client facing IT work. And one of the, the central theme of it is we’re going to have a role, it’s called a business relationship manager.

That’s what I called it. And ideally it’s someone, I want someone who is either from ops and knows IT or someone who has IT, but got a supply chain degree or something. And every reason we had, we put, put those people out front and center with our clients, with our sales organizations. To get involved in all of the engagements up front.

And we encouraged our sales organization. If you want an IIT person on the call on day one, don’t hesitate. Love to be on the call because we want to learn as much as we can from the beginning to help figure out how we can together solve this thing and make it a win. And so putting that, I don’t know, it’s not an extra layer, putting that necessary layer in place of a person that could speak both sides.

It was mission critical to turning around the perception that we had a client, a failing client experience or a failing T capability, because like I said, I did the role for about a year and then over the course of six months, I spun up a 50 person team that across the world ran all of our client IT implementations.

And none of that process did we fundamentally change the technology behind the scenes, how it got done. We put in the people and we put on the processes to manage expectations and really create a relationship between the external client, our sales organization and the IT party that was delivering for it.

And I think another kind of neat thing that happened out of that initiative was we had tried outsourcing a little bit of the really hands on technical delivery. And it just didn’t work well, of course, the desired outsource that was for reduced cost savings, we circled back after having put in process, put in place this client facing team, that premise, and we were able to outsource it very efficiently.

After we had everything else upstream put in place to manage expectations and to work with the clients and to take those, what sounded like maybe a crazy ask and distill it down to something that was achievable and executable. So that enabled, we drove value on the front end. And we also reduced costs on the backend by enabling a provider to come in and just do pure execution, because we were so good at distilling that into something that was executable.

You know, I want to step back to the initial question, or I think what’s the fundamental premise here is that all that was made possible by having a person who understood both the business component and the technology component. Hey, as an IT professional, yes, you do need specifics to actually go execute.

It can’t just be an ambiguous ask. You eventually do need to get it distilled down to something you can do. But someone’s got to help on that process. And someone’s going to go look us through everything that’s going on and figure out, geez, how can we get this two week implementation done? Let’s look at all the different ways that we can spend this and make it a success.

Another good example in here of knowing your business half is a lot of times in the cycle, the forwarding cycle and going out bid is. When you go to, when you go out to bid, you just take everything that you asked your incumbent for, and you put that in a new RFP to the new guy. And so there’s stuff in there that you’ve been asking for 10 years that you may not.

And we had these business relationship managers that, that played in that space. And that was part of what they would do when that two week turnaround came in. They would help go in there and sift through all these requirements, all these reports, these integrations, and sit down with the client’s supply chain director and say, Hey, Jim, help me understand, uh, I see you guys need these three integration feeds.

Can you help me understand how you’re utilizing this one? And go through that process and eventually get it down to, Oh, wait a minute. They don’t need that. They’ve just been asking for it for the past five years. And every other providers just gives it to them, Hey, we can take that off our list. And you know what?

Yeah, we can do that. That two week turnaround you’re wanting, we can do it and we can do it with our technology as well. That for me is perfect. Like the best example I can give of knowing both business and IT and how that really helps. And if you went to go ask a salesperson that was part of this process, I think what they would tell you is they had no clue what actually changed other than their experience was so much better.

[00:45:08] Mike Ogle: Yeah, I like that. I think that’s also probably a good way for us to wrap up the conversation today.

[00:45:15] Rodney Apple: So Chris, we really appreciate your time today. You’ve shared a lot of valuable insights at that intersection of supply chain and technology that’s right, but more important today than it’s probably ever been before, as we look at all of this new sleek technology coming underway.

So. Thanks for shedding some insights and we appreciate your perspectives on the careers aspect of this as well.

[00:45:36] Chris Harris: thank you. Yep. Thanks very much. Awesome. You guys for having me and I really appreciate your time.

[00:45:46] Mike Ogle: Thanks for listening to this episode of the supply chain careers podcast. Be sure to listen to other episodes and sign up to be notified when future episodes are released as we continue to interview industry leading supply chain experts. This podcast is made possible by SCM Talent Group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm.

Visit SCM Talent Group at scmtalent. com

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