How many screens do you have? And is your screen time?
You likely have a Cell phone or a Smart phone. You may have a Desktop computer monitor or a Laptop, or both, between your home and your place of work. You may have a wearable device like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. You may have an iPad or other type of tablet. And your TV may even have Internet connectivity.
We are surrounded by screens and the amount of time that we spend on them is truly remarkable.
But for those who are learning about Supply Chain, or any other profession for that matter, is it best to acquire that learning and gain that experience just by watching screens? Or is it better in Supply Chain to learn based on actual physical experiences and interactions?
Screen Time – The Numbers!
There are over 4 Billion internet users worldwide spending over 6 hours per day on their devices (Source: https://www.globalwebindex.com/ and https://wearesocial.com/us/blog/2018/01/global-digital-report-2018).
The number of IoT (Internet of Things) Connected devices is expected to grow from 23 Billion in 2018 to 31 Billion by 2020 and up to 75 Billion devices in 2015 (Source: statistic.com). There are over 5 Billion Mobile phone users and over 2 Billion Smartphone users.
That is a lot of screens and a lot of screen time for everyone!
Go Outside and Play!
As either a parent or a child how many of you have said, or heard, “Go outside and play!”.
You or your child may be watching TV, playing a video game, constantly picking up and checking your phone or doing something on a computer. Someone believes that your involvement in any of those activities requires some balance with non-screen time activities hence the call to “Go outside and play!” or “Put your phone down!” or “Stop watching TV!” or “Get off of that computer!”
And all of these screens can be very addictive and time consuming. People on their screens may be playing, socializing, being entertained, entertaining, learning, researching, working, or not doing much at all. I myself use most of these devices as well for a variety of reasons.
I am a big fan of technology. And I also believe that these screens can be phenomenal learning devices. The generations being born from this point forward will not know a world without these devices. They will grow up with this technology being an integral aspect of most every part of their lives.
Being able to “Google” anything at any time is amazing. The ability to have almost any question answered in a split second is incredible. You can take courses on-line if you want to learn about almost anything.
But in the arena of Supply Chain is it sufficient to learn everything you need to know by looking at a screen? Or do you really need to “Go Outside and Play” and go into Warehouses, Distribution Centres, Manufacturing facilities, Logistics operations, Planning and Purchasing offices, and more to really understand how the Supply Chain works?
The Case for Screen Learning!
The reality is you can no longer work in or run a Supply Chain without looking at screens. ERP systems, Financial and Planning Systems, Order Management activities, Supplier Management Systems, Inventory Controls, and Distribution activities all have as their user interface a screen of some kind.
Largely gone are the days of paper. There is just far too much data to be gathered, assimilated, managed, processed, and analyzed. Our reliance on computers and electronic processing is here to stay.
And future technologies are making the necessity of screen management irreversible. The evolution of the Digital Supply Chain is an exciting time. We have the growing proliferation of capabilities with Supply Chain Control Towers. We have the ability to see, track and manage Supply Chain events from your Smart Phone. And true end-to-end Global electronic connectivity of every supplier, every node and every transaction is an absolutely incredible advancement allowing us to manage Supply Chains with the utmost speed, flexibility and efficiency.
Anyone working in the Supply Chain field can truly learn and manage a lot from behind a screen. If they don’t have the knowledge off hand they can “google” it or they can take an on-line course and quickly acquire that knowledge without ever even leaving their office or their home.
The Case for Real World Learning!
There was a time when calculators were not allowed in school. Teachers wanted you to train your mind in how to do mathematics. Later on if you needed to use a calculator you could do so but it was only helping you with speed; you still understood the underlying mechanics and principles of mathematics.
Nowadays you can buy something at a store and not be surprised that the cashier cannot do the simplest math in giving you change. They didn’t get the education required to truly understand mathematics as they were likely given the crutch of using a calculator at an early age.
This situation is analogous to the use of screens in Supply Chain Management. If you can sit in a room and manage a Supply Chain, or some aspect thereof, do you really understand how a Supply Chain works? Or are you just blindly following the prompts, buttons, flashing lights, and signals on a screen?
I have spent a phenomenal amount of time in Warehouses, on Manufacturing floors, in Distribution Centres, at Supplier locations, and in Customer offices. I have operated fork trucks, physically counted inventory part by part, helped install warehouse racking and manufacturing machines and processes, walked up and down warehouse aisles and through processing operations. I have worked with purchase orders, invoicing problems, parts shortages, line scheduling activities and supplier issues.
I believe all of that experience gave me a working knowledge of all aspects of the Supply Chain. Physically working in that environment, getting your hands and your mind engaged, gives you a deep appreciation of how a Supply Chain works, or doesn’t work.
That experience is irreplaceable to me. With that working knowledge I am equipped to be able to manage and direct a Supply Chain. Even if I go back to an office to work on a screen I am able to do so with an intrinsic understanding of how the Supply Chain functions. That knowledge strengthens my ability and contribution regardless of the user interface.
I am a huge fan of technology. I am also a huge fan of real world learning. I have been blessed with a career full of opportunities to learn and leverage both aspects in the Supply Chain. A balance of both learning mechanisms is very important.
The next generation will only know a world based on screens and technology. From the earliest age they will be faced with tablets, smartphones and devices that we haven’t even heard of yet. And I believe that will make them a truly smart generation enabled with rapid learning capabilities.
But underneath that Digital world is a Supply Chain world wherein there is no getting around the need for physical operations to make it all happen. There will still be Warehouses, Distribution Centres and Manufacturing facilities, as well as the Logistics operations that connect them all.
Everywhere possible I encourage Supply Chain professionals to get out from behind their screens and reduce your screen time. Visit these operations. Understand what really goes on. Get your hands dirty. Then when you do go back and sit behind your screens you will find that your understanding, value and contributions in Supply Chain will be better than ever before.