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Talking to a Rising Supply Chain Star: Laura Dearborn Sterns, Cisco

Analytics may well be the key to unlocking supply chain success, particularly for large electronics OEMs. By getting smarter about how to smooth and expedite the flow of components from supplier to manufacturer can make all the difference.

Laura Dearborn Stearns, supply chain business analyst at Cisco Systems for the past three years, knows this better than anyone—and is building her supply chain career on that know-how and expertise. Stearns was recognized as part of the 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars recognition program, a jointly sponsored initiative of ThomasNet and Institute for Supply Management (ISM).

We recently spoke to Stearns to learn her thoughts on the benefits of choosing a supply chain career and to find out where she sees the industry evolving in her work.

EBN: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in the electronics supply chain?

Stearns: I tend to be detail oriented and organized and that has been very helpful in data analytics. Living in the Silicon Valley, especially, there are a lot of opportunities now and even more coming up in electronics supply chain industry. I'd definitely recommend that people should see if it's a good fit for them. I'd tell them to take risks and not be afraid to learn about the different areas of business in order to become more well rounded. At Cisco, I've had a variety of opportunities to learn new skills and implement my existing skills. It's good to know that what we are doing has an impact on the bottom line of the company.  Using analytics, there are opportunities for efficiency and cost reduction, which are things I'm especially interested in.

EBN: How do you see the role of big data evolving over time in terms of supporting efforts of supply chain managers? 

My background is in information technology (IT), so I had a lot of experience in collecting data, but this is the first time I've gotten to really utilize that data. I see the advantages that big data has in trending and ultimately drive actions that optimize or increase efficiency. Big data will become increasingly important in making supply chain decisions. Now, we can deliver performance data for our suppliers and utilize that to help manage our supply base and ensure they are delivering on time and meeting goals we set. It informs which suppliers we choose to do business with. I'd say that it's added another decision element. We find one thing we have measureable proof of what's happening and we can see that the actions we are driving are leading to success. Then, we can keep refining that further with additional data.

EBN: What are the biggest challenges in terms of getting beyond old school tools to adopt new business intelligence and analytics tools for the supply chain? 

We are trying to get away from manual spreadsheets and are enabling a new supply chain collaboration platform so everyone sees the data and has it at their fingertips. Change management is critical so people know that the tools are out there and understand how to use them. In terms of efficiency, it's a huge benefit.

What advice would you offer to electronics OEMs who want to be an employer of choice to the next generations of supply chain managers?

I think millennials have a lot to offer the electronics manufacturing industry. Organization just needs to provide opportunities for growth and development and create a culture that is accepting of new ideas, as well as a culture conducive to collaboration.

Within Cisco, my manager has been a great source of support not only in my daily activities but also in setting goals. I also have mentors outside of Cisco. My female mentors have provided support in being a woman in business in the supply chain.

— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page Friend me on Facebook

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