Situated in the southernmost part of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, nestled among green rolling hills, coffee plantations and dairy farms is the small town of Santa Rita do Sapucaí. A cursory glance shows Santa Rita as a charming town full of farms and churches but in reality, this picturesque little city has so much more to offer. In recent years, it has become known as “Vale da Eletrônica” or Electronics Valley because it is home to the highly respected technical school, Escola Técnica de Eletrônica Francisco Moreira da Costa and is also known as a hub for technological applications, from carpool and table service apps to toothbrushes with sensors that connect to children’s games. And Santa Rita isn’t the only city in Brazil ramping up their efforts.
Plagued by years of upheaval economically, Brazil is making a comeback and relying on the IT sector to help make their triumphant return. A $200 million joint investment with chipmaker Qualcomm, was welcomed in March by the federal government to build a semiconductor factory in the state of São Paulo where other major tech companies such as Samsung and Lenovo already have operations. Their hope for the investment is that this will be the first step for Brazil in becoming a noteworthy player in the manufacturing of high density semiconductors that are used in 4G and in the future, 5G devices, as well as IoT applications. The investment from Qualcomm is expected to bring in about 1,200 new jobs which only makes a tiny dent in solving Brazil’s unemployment rates—at 11% there is still a long way to go, but it’s a step in the right direction.
In the Mexican coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, where the weather is hot and the tequila flows like wine, a new trend is emerging from an old Mexican delicacy...chocolate. The town is host to a chocolate museum, chocolate tour and fancy tequila/chocolate-paired tasting. Last week I had the opportunity to attend to one of these tastings where I learned about the different types of tequila and how the chocolates amplify their flavors when properly paired.
This unique experience also came with a crash course on the history of Mexican cocoa, the main ingredient used to make chocolate. Cocoa was once only consumed by ancient Mexican royalty. According to my tequila sommelier and a report by the World Agroforestry Centre, the Olmecs – an ancient tribe in Mexico – were thought to be the first people to consume chocolate. These indigenous people crushed the beans, added water, spices and chilies and drank the delicious elixir.
Ironically, last week an article came across my desk about cocoa. What were the odds that in the same week that I learned about the origins and use of this delicious nut, I’d also circumstantially run across an article about its production? I found the correlation too good to be true until I read the article and discovered the unfortunate state of cocoa production. Sadly, this article did not come with tequila, but the bitter reality of a lack of ethics in the cocoa industry’s supply chain.
As supply chain practitioners know, it is critical to know where and how your products are being sourced, but the farther you are geographically from the beginning of the supply chain, the harder it is to control…and in countries where labor laws are lax, it becomes even more tragic. This gets tricky with products that can only be produced in very specific environments. Cocoa is one such product that can only be grown 10 degrees north or south of the equator with the majority of its production in West Africa, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Hailey Corr, Junior Editor and Marketing Associate, Outsource and SIG
In recent months, Warren Buffett signaled what many saw as the death knell for the future of retail by selling off his company’s position in Wal-Mart, which Berkshire Hathaway had held for ten years. Simultaneously, ten national restaurant chains with more than 1,000 locations in total have filed for bankruptcy protection since 2015, and others are reporting disappointing sales. In contrast to all of that, however, Amazon reports growing sales this year in their home delivery service for groceries, trumpeting the growing trend that many people are beginning to embrace of ordering anything and everything online.
Welcome to the Digital Age.
We now live in a time when a hefty 74% of customers rely on their social networks to guide their buying decisions, and 92% of customers feel that online information is more trustworthy than other sources. Digital technology is becoming omnipresent, and it’s doing nothing less than rewiring human society. The critical inflection point at which technological innovation and human experience converge is called Digital Singularity.
There is profound uncertainty in all this, but more importantly, there is profound, unparalleled opportunity. Up until recently, technology was simply a physical tool, like a phone or typewriter, that was used to supplement our lives. Today, however, our relationship with technology has become much more cohesive. Technology is becoming part of how we live, work and play. In fact, it is becoming an extension of us.
As a supply chain professional, you already know the value in establishing and maintaining relationships, but are you maximizing your communication strategy? For millennials, the use of social media is natural; it’s a part of our everyday lives. For other generations, it’s hit-or-miss. Some people are social media privy, some are experts and some avoid it like the plague. Whether or not individuals choose to use social media from a personal standpoint is their own prerogative. Whether or not companies use social media for their brands shouldn’t be a question at all. We live in a digital age where virtually (no pun intended) everything is online. So, it makes perfect sense for you to market your brand online. While having a website is absolutely essential, you also need vehicles to drive traffic to it—one major channel for that is social media. If you’ve totally been ignoring digital transformation for your brand, let’s make a U-turn, take the bull by the horns and start with the following seven steps.
Choose your Platforms
There are 1.5 billion people using social media. Exciting, right? There is a whole virtual universe out there for you to explore. Each social media platform was designed for a different (sometimes just slightly) purpose. In addition, each platform generally reaches unique (yet sometimes overlapping) audiences. Once you understand each platform, you can develop your segmentation strategy. Don’t underestimate the power of these platforms for connecting with your suppliers, vendors and customers. They are using them too and you can learn a lot by being on the platforms they are frequenting.
Create a Voice That’s Consistent Across All Platforms
It was Made in America Showcase Week recently, according to the current administration (funny that it also coincided with Russia Week on Stephen Colbert). Anyone, wherever they live, likes to see local people employed. Whether it is an American who likes to see products marked with “Made in America,” a Canadian who swells with pride for “Made in Canada” or a British person seeing “Made in the UK.” The fact of the matter is that very few people are willing to pay more for those items. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 70 percent of Americans think it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S.-made products.
Despite that sentiment, 37 percent said they would refuse to pay more for U.S. made goods versus imports. Twenty-six percent said they would only pay up to 5 percent more to buy American and 21 percent capped the premium price at 10 percent.
In addition, it is the lowest of wage earners who like “Made in America” and yet they are the least likely to be able to pay the premium. The reality is that most of us feel a patriotism to our own country and kinfolk, yet we are actually beholden to our wallets. The same lower wage earners who say they prefer made in America, and per the Reuters article said, “Indeed, the biggest U.S. retailer is well aware of the priority buyers place on price above all else.” A spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said customers are telling them that “…where products are made is most important second only to price.”
Disruption. Until recently that word meant something negative. It was a nuisance…a disturbance…an interruption…it meant trouble. In fact, if you look at synonyms for disruption, every one of them paints it negatively. But lately when you hear the word “disruption,” it generally means change—and even positive change. Disruptive technologies are in essence solutions that are changing the future of work. They are challenging the status quo.
I was recently reading an article about Amazon potentially purchasing Slack. (Ironically one of my colleagues sent it over in a “Slack” which we use for internal communications at SIG.) As my colleagues and I reminisced about our first use of Amazon, it made me realize what a pioneer they were in disruptive technologies. The term may not have been widely known, but they certainly paved the way for it to be put into ubiquitous use.
I can’t really remember when or how Amazon disrupted my life…but it did. Somewhere along the way I went from being skeptical about purchasing things online to almost exclusively shopping with Amazon—and Prime no less because I want the immediacy of it. Don’t get me wrong—there are certain items I will never purchase on the Internet, but if I am going to shop online, I ALWAYS check Amazon first.
What does going from three to eight billion connected human beings mean to the global economy? Companies like Facebook (Internet.org), SpaceX, Google (Project Loon) Qualcomm and Virgin (one Web) are in the process of rolling out the connectivity to every human on earth.
They are not rolling it out the way we started either, i.e., with a dial up modem on AOL. Rather, they are providing connectivity to exceed one megabit per second. Imagine when there are more than 5 billion people connected to the internet accessing information on Google, Amazon, artificial intelligence with Watson, cloud, 3D printing and more. Just imagine.
How are they connecting the rest of the world? Through technology, of course…but in ways you may not expect. Project Loon is using a fleet of balloons traveling just inside the edge of space to provide connectivity to remote geographies around the world. “Internet is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from our telecommunications partner on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground.” The connection speeds are astounding. “Project Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light enough and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up in the stratosphere. All the equipment is highly energy-efficient and is powered entirely by renewable energy - with solar panels powering daytime. Each balloon has a coverage area of 5,000 square kilometers.”
As I write this, the UK is continuing to gear up for its forthcoming (June 8th) General Election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May only two years after the last one, purportedly to enable the British electorate to give the government a clear mandate for its Brexit strategy. Purportedly this is because many observers believe May's real motive is her hopes of being able to take advantage of the woeful situation in which the opposition Labour Party currently finds itself.
Regardless of the drivers behind the election decision, however, it's true that voters and the country in general continue to wrestle with significant uncertainty regarding Brexit. With Article 50 now having been triggered, there may now be no doubt that Brexit is indeed happening. The UK is leaving the EU in March 2019, but the terms of that departure are still very much up in the air, and the real consequences - economic, political, social, diplomatic - for the nation remain, frankly, anyone's guess.
I recently attended an event in London featuring representatives of local government from across the UK, intended to foster discussion around what Brexit will mean at a local level - and it was immediately clear that at that level as at every other, confusion continues to reign. Again, we have at least the certainty of departure - and the knowledge that a 'Great Repeal Bill' will be drawn up which will ensure that the state doesn't immediately collapse into lawless chaos on Brexit Day by transposing existing EU legislation onto UK law so that the government can then begin to modify that legislation to suit the country's own purposes and desires (rather than having to draw up, ratify and implement thousands of new laws all at once).
With so much attention currently focused on the political arena (most obviously, of course, in the USA with the inauguration of President Trump) it’s easy to become carried away in one’s assessments of the extent to which “politics” drives actual change. Of course, there’s no doubting the scale of the significance of the Trump election, or the Brexit vote, or similar “watershed moments” – but the nature of that significance is somewhat less clear, especially when it comes to the impacts on specific aspects of our lives. It’s somewhat comforting (or perhaps not, depending on one’s affiliation) to think that the person nominally in charge of a country is indeed that – it plays to our natural human desire for order, comprehensibility, justice – but in a world as interconnected and complex as this one, is it not a serious error to overstate the ability of a President Trump, a Prime Minister May and others in similar positions around the world truly to steer a course, rather than simply to keep their ships of state upright in the storm?
Look at the sourcing and outsourcing space specifically. In a number of particular areas President Trump could well have a huge impact: a crackdown on immigration and the offshoring of work, changes to NAFTA, the reversal of the ACA and other policies would affect very substantially certain tranches of the space and those working within them. Likewise, in the UK the way Theresa May is approaching the exit from the EU and the Single Market has deep significance for businesses working in and with the United Kingdom for data protection, for accounting and a host of other areas.
The world is in a soccer (or should I say "futbol") frenzy right now. Every day the best teams in the world are competing for their country in hard-fought matches where the team advancing might be determined in the final few seconds of a game. In the U.S vs. Portugal game, the U.S. was the only team in their group Sunday that could have advanced to the knockout round with a win. Instead, their fate is still up in the air, with a number of possible outcomes. This got me thinking about the lessons we could learn from the World Cup.
Leadership is key. It is easy to credit a coach or team captain with leadership, but if there is one thing I've learned in the past few years, it is that anyone can be a leader—it is not defined by your title. This is evident in any soccer game in the world at any given time. Just listen to players talking to one another on a field. Often it's the goalie or center back defender shouting instructions. They may have a lay of the land that someone in a striking position can't see. I think of the Procurement group the same way—it is often the only department that has regular communication with virtually every other business unit, allowing it insight at a high-level that is difficult for any other department to replicate.