WHU General

How Can Digital Innovation Lead to Resilient Supply Chains?

At the WHU Campus for Supply Chain Management, experts discussed the potential of digitization for improving supply chains.

Wie können digitale Innovationen Lieferketten verbessern?
Catarina Bjelkengren speaks for the WHU Campus for Supply Chain Management on the future of food sustainability.

After two years of online-only presentation, the student-led WHU – Campus for Supply Chain Management event could once again be held in person. The 18th annual conference, held from March 17th to 18th at the town hall in Vallendar, tackled the digitization of goods and explored why it is that companies have, to date, been hesitant to take more active steps toward realizing a fully digitized supply chain. Guest speakers placed considerable emphasis on the paths these companies could take to make it happen.

With a clear focus on networking, the hosts had planned special panels, workshops, rounds of “speed-dating,” and several keynote speeches. All of these gave participants a chance to meet one-on-one with those who know the world of logistics inside and out, including Knut Alicke (Partner at McKinsey), Otto Schacht (Executive Vice President of Kühne + Nagel), Daniel Küster (Director Supply Chain at Warsteiner Group), Gesa Jaekel (Associate Partner at DHL Consulting), Wolfgang Weber (Head of Digital Transformation at Henkel), and Moritz Philipp Weisbrodt (Founder and CEO of Alaiko).

It was Catarina Bjelkengren (Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers’s consulting team Strategy&) who opened the conference by offering participants a perfect example of where the supply chain plays a central role: the future of food sustainability. According to Bjelkengren, efforts made in this particular area naturally lend themselves to digitally enabled supply chains. She argues that influencing people’s food choices by way of greener alternatives will have a dramatic impact on CO2 emissions and advocates the implementation of more sustainable methods of production that incorporates new technology: “To create real impact we need to start with consumers.”

Big Data analytics, smart sensors, 3D printing, and augmented reality are only some of the advancements made that could prove useful in rendering the food production value chain more robust and sustainable, thereby securing a certain level of transparency. Organizations will be dependent on this transparency of their end-to-end processes to reestablish trust with their customers.

Professor Stefan Spinler, Moritz Weisbrodt, Gesa Jaekel, and Matthias Graefe at the Campus for Supply Chain Management.

Later in the conference, Matthias Graefe, Director of Supply Chain Transformation at IBM, argued that agility is a key driver in staying resilient. Seeing the semiconductor shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic) as the result of supply dependencies, demand volatility, and transportation issues, Graefe illustrated how the world could transition to fully digital supply chains by enhancing workflows on all fronts: physical, digital, and cultural. Graefe went on to cite Simon Ellis of the International Data Corporation (IDC), speaking of the five “Cs” that define future effective supply chain management. The supply chain should be

  • connected, i.e., able to access unstructured data from social media, structured data from the Internet of Things, and more traditional datasets through traditional ERP and B2B integration tools.
  • collaborative. Improving collaboration with suppliers increasingly means the use of cloud-based commerce networks to facilitate multi-enterprise collaboration and engagement.
  • cyber-aware. The supply chain must strengthen its systems and protect them from cyber-intrusions and hacks
  • cognitively enabled, i.e., self-learning using artificial intelligence (AI).
  • comprehensive, so that data can be accessed in real time and without latency.

The event also hosted the first ever CSCM Innovation Pitch Battle, a contest between a small group of active start-ups, whose novel business models were evaluated by a panel of experts. This panel notably included Professor Dries Faems (Chair of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technological Transformation at WHU), Professor Stefan Spinler (Kühne Foundation Endowed Chair for Logistics Management at WHU), and Patric Hoffmann (Senior Vice President Global Ventures & Innovation at DB Schenker). The inaugural winner was Dominik Fürste with Rail-Flow, his freight-tech company striving to improve the efficiency of railway cargo across Europe.

The WHU Campus for Supply Chain Management, founded in 2003, is the largest European student-run congress focusing on supply chain management and logistics. To learn more about their efforts, one can turn to their official site.