In supply chain, legacy systems can seem like being “stuck in a web”

Irina Rosca, director of supply chain at Helix, discusses how adapting to vs. replacing legacy systems is key to successful supply chain operations.

We first featured Irina a few months back through Sarah Barnes-Humphrey’s podcast Let’s Talk Supply Chain. Since then, she’s settled into a new role at Helix, a leader in the personal genomics marketplace; we were fortunate to reconnect with her again as she shares her insights and experiences on the collective forces impacting supply chain today. 

First of all, congratulations on your new role! Tell us a little about Helix and what you do there.

Thank you. Helix is a market leader in the personal genomics marketplace with the mission to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. I joined Helix a little over 4 months ago as the new Director of Supply Chain Operations with responsibilities spanning end to end supply chain management. In this company and industry this includes ensuring timely and accurate forecasting due to the short shelf life of product, creating end to end connectivity within the operating systems and visibility to risk, disruptions and cost saving opportunities. Finally, one of the best aspects of my current position with a younger organization is my ability to forge long standing partnerships with global vendors to help the company grow and build trust in a developing marketplace.

What are the major supply chain challenges you face? Which of them are due to operational issues versus technological issues?

There are many different technology solutions available to supply chain and operations professionals. Sometimes the greater challenge is knowing which one to choose for your business and integrate with existing systems, rather than a solution not being available. One of the major challenges I face, and I am not alone, is that most of these solutions have been created in silo- so while they exist, the cost to implement and adapt to legacy systems is sometimes incredibly cumbersome. In most organizations data is dirty, inaccessible, and siloed away in antiquated systems. New solutions should empower users to sift through the noise and pinpoint the important messages. We are stuck in a web that is limited by the lack of connectivity between all end points of global supply chains.

As most of Helix business comes under U.S. government oversight, how much burden does that cause? If you had the ability to design a new system, how would you make that effective for all sides?

Our business certainly operates in a highly regulated market- there are new articles daily speculating about the integrity of results, the data protection protocols in place to protect consumer information, and the overall applicability of the product. Helix currently operates within the laboratory diagnostic testing market regulated under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA).  Three federal agencies are responsible for CLIA: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Each agency has a unique role in assuring quality laboratory testing, so there is a lot of oversight into the operation end to end.

Regulatory bodies can unquestionably be a barrier to entry in some markets and the team at Helix has done a fantastic job of understanding, managing and educating all stakeholders on the requirements and expectations. Out team always operates “audit ready” across all business units at all times. However, there are challenges within this environment which mainly stem from a wide level of interpretation of regulatory requirements and responsibilities of different parties across the supply chain. Sometimes companies find themselves speaking to multiple legal entities regarding the same operation and the interpretation of responsibilities, registration and audit information varies drastically. Sometimes regulatory bodies can take a narrow view of a process, sometimes they are more lenient- and companies need to always prepare for the worst. I can’t envision a system which would solve this problem so I would say that — first and foremost — regulations need to be transparent, clear, enforceable and equally applied to all organizations. Once we are able to create the right benchmarks, we can build intelligent systems to help streamline cumbersome processes.

A hot buzz word these days is the ‘digital supply chain’.  How would you define that, and what does that mean to your business?

I define the digital supply chain as an operation within which all decision-making points are connected. Too often I see a definition for the digital supply chain which is very much focused on the sales part of the business (e.g. e-commerce sales). This is a very narrow-minded view because in supply chain the job does not end with the customer transaction, or purchase, that’s really where it all begins. Once the customer purchases a product, we need to tell them we received their order, shipped it on time and when they should expect it to be delivered. At that same time a customer purchase should trigger a set of demand signals throughout the supply chain and constantly challenge incumbent demand and supply planning models to refine inventory management techniques for the company. A truly digital supply chain ties together all operational end points from the customer through to raw material suppliers and back around- it is end-to-end connectivity.

What skill sets does it take to be a successful head of supply chain management?

To be successful in supply chain one must have the ability to see the big picture for the long future. This will help to truly understand the impact of any changes and anticipate risk before things go wrong. Supply chain managers must ask the tough questions, always be prepared with data to back up any decision and empower other leaders within the organization with solutions.

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