Building greener, leaner, more resilient supply chains

Posted on 23 Nov 2021 by The Manufacturer

Recent global disruptions have highlighted just how siloed and fragile supply chains really are within most organisations. In order to safeguard themselves going forward and drive the sustainability agenda, organisations must leverage data to be more effective and implement technology that ensures end-to-end transparency across the supply chain. However, many manufacturers simply don’t know where to begin.

To gain a better understanding of the current sentiment among firms, Henry Anson, Managing Director at the Hennik Group, recently held a virtual round table discussion with representatives from 10 leading manufacturing organisations.

Part of our ongoing series of Directors’ Forum virtual round tables, this session — in partnership with Appian — looked at how organisations can look to build greener, leaner, more resilient supply chains, with a specific focus on the benefits that harnessing data can afford.

This discussion features senior manufacturing professionals from across the spectrum of industrial sectors, with specialist input from Gary Cassell and Tim Wilderspin of Appian, a trusted leader in enterprise apps and workflows.

These sessions — enjoyed with a glass of wine in hand — are absolutely invaluable for us here at The Manufacturer to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the sector.

Sustainability is a long-term journey

The session kicked off with a question from an industrial architect at a multinational aerospace manufacturer, who asked, “Can we actually create a green, sustainable supply chain?”

Appian’s Gary Cassell said it’s possible but achieving carbon neutrality is a “long-term journey”, but one that is definitely worth investing in.

“What we’re seeing today, at least in some of the organisations I’m part of, including the Manufacturing Leadership Council, which is a global network of manufacturing leaders, is pretty heavy investments in sustainability,” he said.

Gary said that while we can argue whether reaching a true green supply chain is achievable or not, we have to start somewhere. And that usually begins with a strategy that focuses on identifying areas across the supply chain where sustainability improvements can be made.

Often, when manufacturers start making decisions with sustainability in mind, other beneficial business outcomes follow. For example, Gary highlighted how during one of his previous roles, where he was pretty much in charge of the organisation’s transportation carbon footprint, he found that reducing the number of planes, boats and trucks being used actually had a positive impact from an expense point of view. This reality highlights how organisations can potentially start leveraging the financial benefits of sustainability, such as improved efficiency and reduced costs, to strengthen business cases. If firms can realize their sustainability efforts and boost their bottom line in the process, it’s a win-win situation.

However, to truly achieve significant carbon savings, organisations must stop thinking individually and come to the realisation that more can be achieved as a network as a whole and that means connecting entities across the greater supply chain. While companies can look up and downstream now, it’s technology, particularly data visibility, that will be the key enabler for informed decision making going forward

With all this in mind, the link between sustainability and efficiency/cost savings becomes very clear.

Culture is key

Early on in the session, The Manufacturer’s Henry Anson cited another panel discussion he’d been a part of recently where it was suggested that if firms can bring sustainability into their operations in much the same way as health and safety requirements, it suddenly becomes a lot more achievable. 

By embedding sustainability into their culture and key messaging, as well as securing buy-in from the top of the organisation to the bottom, firms will place themselves in the most favourable position possible to strengthen their supply chains and make them greener going forward.

The Head of Solutions Architecture at an aerospace and defence company agreed. He added that within his organisation, sustainability is being driven by particular demographics. The younger members of the firm’s teams are particularly interested in sustainability, he said. 

He elaborated further by explaining how his son had just started his career and that sustainability was something that he is particularly interested in. In fact, whether his new company was following a sustainability agenda or not was his initial thought after his first day. This reality, that the next generation is driving the sustainability agenda, is both important and reassuring. 

“Our graduates, our younger people are driving us to think sustainably and this is likely to drive cultural change for the good,” he added.

Appian’s Gary Cassell agreed, saying “CEOs are stepping up and setting their own pretty aggressive sustainability targets”. But if these targets are to be met, technology will be key. 

“Having the ability to create and have a supply network that collaborates and shares information that’s transparent with one another, is imperative. And whether you’re moving information with blockchain, or maybe a future technology that shows up, ensuring security so folks are comfortable sharing information in such a way is a critical capability,” he added.

Skills gaps need closing

The discussion then moved on to the topic of skills and the challenges many organisations face when it comes to leveraging data to improve their sustainability initiatives. For the supply chain manager of a multinational food-products corporation, creating a data lake was (seemingly) the easy part. Utilising said data and unlocking the powerful insights it contains is proving more difficult.

“We’ve created this huge data lake and everyone is really excited about all this data being available. But actually, when it comes to doing something useful with it, the biggest challenge is connecting the people in the business who know what they want to visualize and processes to automate with the IT boffins who need to deliver the technology”

Without this crucial link between the business process experts who want to drive sustainability initiatives and the technology experts who can make interpreting the data more intuitive, the insights will not be garnered.

“I find it quite frustrating to have all this data, which we were really excited about, but that’s ultimately not adding much value right now.”

He concluded by saying he believes it may be necessary to develop the data visualisation skills in-house and move forward that way.

Resolving this disconnect between operational teams and technology experts is certainly something manufacturers need to overcome if they are to start taking advantage of the data they’re capturing. 


A huge thank you to Gary and Tim from Appian for making this event happen, as well as the manufacturing professionals who gave up their time to contribute with their invaluable insights.

For more insights into the crucial topic of sustainability, including how people, technology and data can be combined to deliver optimised workflows, register for this upcoming The Manufacturer & Appian webinar on Tuesday 30 November at 14:00 GMT: