What’s better than making a difference in your organization? Perhaps, it’s making a difference to many organizations. Conor Quarry, analytics as a service lead at IBM, has helped his company leverage analytics to help their consulting clients. Quarry, just 26 years old, was recognized this year by the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars recognition program, a jointly sponsored initiative of ThomasNet and the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).
Quarry started as a sourcing analyst at IBM. In that role, he spotted inefficiencies in the way category managers were evaluating requests for proposal (RFP) and developed a What If analysis tool that helped his coworkers and put him on a path within the organization. The platform let category managers assess variations from the proposals using a few key data inputs to quickly evaluate negotiation approaches. Using the tool, IBM shortened the RFP review period for quantitative aspects from weeks to days. Further, the first strategic even using the tool drove 40% savings that added up to $10.6 million. In its next iteration, the What If tool leveraged IBM’s Watson Analytics technology as its backbone and replaced Excel in the organization. Now, five years later, analytics is central to his job.
We sat down with Quarry to get his thoughts on the evolving role of analytics in the supply chain as well as to find out more about his thoughts on the modern supply chain and the career potential of the supply chain field.
EBN: How do you see analytics changing the nature of the procurement and supply chain role? What benefits will a “what if” stance offer to organizations?
Quarry: Analytics is my entire job. It’s what I do and what I like to do. I can’t believe they pay me for it, I like it so much. Analytics in the future will play an integral part whether it’s in supply chain, procurement, and business. Being able to understand data and efficiently decide what to do and being able to build a plan using available structured and unstructured data will be the future of how businesses operate. Data is growing at exponential rate. Companies are realizing that they have the natural resource of data, so they want to extract the data. Analytics is the bridge between data and action and being able to appeal to the human element of the data.
Now, What If analysis is very beneficial to any organization. Being able to plan and assess potential outcomes is essential to planning and risk mitigation. Clients want us to present different choices and options when they are making decisions. Being able to develop an action plan is the best way to be prepared when talking to clients who are decision makers. That’s what I do on a day to day basis. My job is to enable them to be successful. You’ll never be able to mitigate all the risks but by presenting options with expected outcomes and percentages to weigh options against each other is a lot of what we do to enable risk mitigation.
In procurement, it’s all about savings and efficiency gains but how much risk is mitigated is often overlooked. Bringing that into the decision-making process is something we see as very valuable to clients.
EBN: Can you tell us a little more about leveraging IBM’s Watson Analytics technology as the backbone of What If? Has it actually encouraged clients to step away from the traditional spreadsheet?
Quarry: With Watson analytics, you can upload spreadsheets to make them more powerful. In my opinion, organizations are entirely too spreadsheet focused. Dasboarding, infographics, and story boarding are the future of delivering insights and assessing the data. Execs want something that tells them what to do better, what’s happening in organization, and how to make decisions. We create dashboards compelling from procurement centric perspective. We focus and when we talk to client, we talk about execution, to really tell them how do fix it and get more value and mitigate most amount of risk while continuing integrations.
Human beings are visual creatures. I can extract so much more from a one-page infographic and high-level analysis versus a table in a spreadsheet. They enable and influence clients to make decisions and talk to their leadership and explain why they made the decision. That is compelling. It’s all about building a narrative to get corporate buy in. Analytics influence decision making to fit within best case scenario. Having a tool like Watson analytics bridges between data, insight, and action. People are clinging to spreadsheets. One of the main reasons is the fear of the unknown, what’s different, and what’s new. We understand those concerns and build something that addresses them.
EBN: What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the electronics supply chain? What did you learn about this career path that you wished someone had told you earlier?
Quarry: Going into school, I knew I wanted to do something in business. I worked helping my Dad’s business. My parents have degrees in finance and accounting and I grew up in a household that was debit and credit aware. I hadn’t heard of supply chain. It was smaller back then. I took one supply chain class and fell in love with it. It appeals to the problem-solving side of things and merges that with metrics and practical problem solving, merging analytical mindset with practical problem solving. How do we get a unique solution to it?
There’s in supply chain often not a one size fits all solution and it requires some creativity on a metrics and performance-based scale. I found I liked that. There’s more than one answer. You need to come across with a practical answer that addresses both the practical and the numbers. I like to be curious. I was one of the people who liked spreadsheets. It was love at first sight. I never used Excel prior to that. Just using a tool that you can do cool analysis quickly and see patterns appealed to me.
I’m constantly on the lookout for solutions for problems. I’m always looking for faster and better way. Go ahead, go be curious and see if you can apply out to your job. A lot of this stuff is it may not be traditional way, but we can give you leeway to be creative with new and efficient ways to solve your problem.
To companies trying to maintain workforce I would say that I hear all the time that the number one thing is to be challenged but in a way that they can still achieve what is possible. Don’t give them a ridiculous task that will burn them out. It’s able to find middle ground of challenge and being able to have the resources to achieve it.
IBM being as large a company as it is has both ad hoc and structured programs and anything in between for learning and mentorship. I would say that support from mentors has been enormous. I consider almost anyone I’ve worked with who has helped me achieve a goal a mentor. I feel really lucky with the people I’ve been in contact with because they helped me be successful navigating political hierarchy, or even just doing problem solving and helping with complex issues they’ve seen before. Mentors push your buttons because they know you can do more and they tell you how to do better and give constructive criticism. I think true constructive criticism, highlights what you did, and what your abilities could be and merge those and tell you how to get to where you should be.
EBN: What are the biggest challenges in terms of getting beyond old school attitudes and ways of doing things?
Quarry: It’s more the fear of the unknown, the fear that they may not be as efficient as they once were because they are learning a new tool and that takes time. They may be cautious because they don’t know how to work the new tool or maybe they weren’t involved in the discussion about getting the new tool or maybe there’s a fear they will be replaced. It’s important to understand the fears and how to mitigate those fears, whether it is fear of downtime while learning the tools, or having to deal with new kinds of reports, or not delivering information in the way the boss expects.
Fears are mitigated when tool goes live and as long as we address each of those fears we can get by it a lot easier. The first leap of faith is always the scariest. A lot of times, it helps to get them to make that leap of faith and to do proof of concept and sample dashboards that marries pretty closely to what they are reporting on. These are automatically generated or in five minutes rather than four days. Then they can see that the tools can keep adding value and generating value of the organization. Just being able to show the value of when eyes light up lets them see that it’s a new way of working but they can see why it’s better.
EBN: What help and support have mentors offered you? What advice would you offer to electronics OEMs who want to be an employer of choice to the next generations of supply chain managers?
Quarry: We have a global buddy system, and you can bounce questions of them. You can have as many mentors as you see fit even mentors in other geographies or business units. IBM sponsors time off work each year to do training and upscaling and pays for it. The company realizes how much time leveraging new skills gives, by saving hours and hours and adding value in other places. A big focus on training ends up being hugely valuable. Where some companies fall short is focusing on numbers, thinking that training is lost productivity during training time. They don’t realize that on the back end you gain so much more. Further, your employees have a better sense that the employer cares about them and their career and wants them to get better and stronger. Doing hard cost analysis, you never really understand the value of training but if you work without that, people realize immediately how valuable training is.
EBN: What else would you like to say about supply chain as a career or your experiences?
Quarry: I think that the world is moving toward all these new technologies. The faster we embrace them, whether it is robotics, blockchain, IoT, or automation, the better off we
Will be long term as a world, corporations, and people. It will make our jobs easier and add value in other ways. That’s what excites me about the future. We are at an inflection point. Think about that for a second: we are expanding and doing so many great things faster but in six months we’ll look back and see we were slow.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN