Shub Faujdar on the making of Alcott Global’s “Netflix of supply chain learning”

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It’s no secret that digitalisation has brought about huge changes to both supply chain and logistics. The same could be said for the education sector, where more and more professionals, trainees and undergraduates are learning online. One place where both of these trends collide is the ‘Supply Chain Academy’ e-learning concept recently launched by Alcott Global.

The subscription service, which launched last month, sports 50+ online courses featuring 550+ bite-sized video clips recorded by experts in the field of supply chain or other disciplines relevant to the world of supply chain and logistics.

The content is created and delivered by current supply chain leaders and forward-thinking academicians who understand the complex supply chains of today and can help in building leaders of the future.

Richard Wilding, Emeritus Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, is one of many key figures in the industry providing educational content for the service. Other experts include Dr. Deborah Elms, the Founder and Executive Director of the Asian Trade Centre; Hariesh Manaadiar, Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource and Shipping and Freight Academy; and Zsofia Agnes Nagy, supply chain adviser to BZLW GmbH.

The newly launched e-learning platform has been dubbed by Alcott Global’s Shub Faujdar as the “Netflix of supply chain learning”, as it seeks to make the content bite-sized and creative to make the learning experience fun.

What exactly does this mean, and what makes the platform novel? To find out the answers to those questions, and delve into both the methodology and processes involved in building the platform, we took the time to quiz Shub Faujdar on the Supply Chain Academy itself.

Thanks for talking to us at Trans.INFO, Shub. First up, there are of course a wide range of topics and key areas an online e-learning platform can cover. How did you go about deciding what courses would be relevant?

For us, one of the primary factors was responding to the needs of the market. My first few weeks on the project were all about having conversations with supply chain leaders and professionals across the board to identify the different knowledge gaps within supply chain teams.

We have a Content Manager on board as well who did a great job for us looking into content demands. She used some AI to find out the main questions people ask about supply chain or when doing a supply chain course. She researched trigger words too, finding out in what areas content was required. We then verified this, again, with the market as well as supply chain leaders and professionals.

In addition to that, I think our podcasts, which have been running for a couple of years now, and the events that we’ve done with plenty of discussions and fireside chats, also helped us decide on what kind of content would resonate with a wider audience.

What are those knowledge gaps you discovered and decided to address?

Firstly, the understanding of end-to-end supply chain. The supply chain organizations are large people organizations, segregated in various pillars, making end-to-end supply chain exposure a long journey for an individual. A lot of practicing professionals and even leaders may not understand end-to-end Supply Chain and how each of the functions and roles contribute to the big picture. In the academy, we broke down the functional pillars, in order to cover the entire Value Chain, and shorten the learning journey for everyone interested in foundational knowledge of each of the supply chain pillars.

When it comes to business skills, storytelling and effective communication is a big one; it’s such a critical skill to have. It was only during the pandemic when even our grandparents were talking about supply chain being so critical for bringing food to our table. Not only that supply chains made the news every other day, but the importance of supply chains for global businesses gained so much visibility. The pandemic was an excellent opportunity for supply chain leaders to really seize their opportunity and grab that seat at the business table. Unfortunately, a lot of them didn’t know how to present their case; they would talk using technical terms and jargon that most people outside of supply chain may not understand.

So I think that this, as well as influencing and negotiation, are fundamental skills that everybody in supply chain and beyond needs to understand.

Moreover, we’ve included a couple of courses about how to assess the impact of supply chain before the implementation of sustainability initiatives, preparing supply chain professionals as they embark on the major transformations that sustainable supply chains require.

Data is the new oil, it is powerful and also overwhelming; supply chain professionals may not know how to use it and be cursed by having so much data that it doesn’t make sense anymore. How do you start using data for the questions you need answers for? Those were some of the main things which we looked at that made sense from both a supply chain and a general business perspective.

How long has the supply chain academy been in the making? One would imagine this has been in the works for a while given the volume of work involved from so many people?

At Alcott Global we move with speed, we are agile and collaborative, we rely on an amazing network of professionals in the supply chain industry that keeps us connected to the on-the-ground reality. Also, the empowering culture, facilitates a bias towards action and getting things done.

We actually began thinking about the platform in January of this year, and I started having conversations on the concept in the same month. About 15-20 conversations were done every week over the course of a couple of months, before we started thinking about content in March.

By the time May came along, we started beta testing the content that we had already produced. We had 52 supply chain VPs, both national and international, who tried it out for a fortnight in the month of June. A lot of them said the platform was very interesting. However, there were requests to have the service launched by October due to budget planning taking place in Q4.

That meant that it was from the end of July until October when we effectively worked on creating the content with all the experts involved. The real superstars here are thus all the experts. They created content quickly, the team then edited the content and added all the subtitles just as fast.

Did you seek experts to make the content, or match the content to the experts who had already shown a willingness to take part?

It was both. I remember when I reached out to the experts, I did not send out our completed list of topics to any of them beforehand. During our calls we would brainstorm and talk about the topics they had in mind and were comfortable doing.

Then, the question was how we could make these topics accessible and relevant to an audience who may not be from a supply chain background and have limited experience in supply chain, whilst also connecting with those who have been in supply chain for a long time. This could be done via case studies or examples of how something has been implemented.

In other cases when we spoke to experts, we explained that we’d heard from the market that they were really specialised in supplier relationship management or strategic sourcing for example. So there genuinely was a bit of both.

What methodologies or principles have you used in the creation of the platform?

I recall that in August, the first platform we created was very academic so to speak. It was university-like, you felt like you were doing serious learning.

However, I feel knowledge retention is better when there’s a fun element to the process. So, in mid August, we decided to change the platform to make it into the Netflix of supply chain learning.

The idea is to have something that people see and think to themselves, “I have some free time tonight but instead of watching Netflix, I can do this course on supply chain visibility because it’s quite fun actually”.

The information is provided in the form of practical tips that will make an impact in learner’s work on an almost immediate basis. That really was the guiding principle for creating the academy in the way it is right now.

What have you learned from the process of putting the Supply Chain Academy together?

I think one of the main things we learned was that people’s attention spans are getting shorter. So if you create a course 45 minutes long, some people may not even have the motivation to click on it.

That’s why we’ve edited the video material into small bites. The feedback from the beta testing really helped us here.

The other takeaway, I would say, is not to over-complicate things. So many times people have brilliant ideas, and admittedly there were some experts who couldn’t record because they’d get lost in the brilliance of their own ideas, if you know what I mean.

By contrast, others who did not overthink things were able to record entire courses in a matter of days. So along the way, we realised we needed to keep our instructions extremely simple. We saw that providing specifications on cameras and the form of the slides meant not getting any content. The simpler it is, the more people will be open to contributing.

We asked a lot of the contributors if they could do weekly, three-minute videos with practical tips. That’s how many agreed to be part of the academy, and once they heard the vision and what we were trying to do, many were open to recording something 45 minutes in length too.

So I think the biggest lesson I’ve had while putting together the academy is not to over engineer.

How does one get the best out of e-learning in general? Is there a recommended amount of daily time one should spend watching the videos for example? The flexibility offered by this way of learning is of course a huge advantage, but it is possible that some people could fail to absorb everything as a result of bingeing on the content.

I think that’s the beauty of it, everybody has a different learning mindset and can move at their own speed. There will be some people who fly through the courses and earmark certain videos to do a deep dive in and learn more from.

Others will use the additional resources and exercises attached to these videos, which you can use to really practice what’s presented in the video material. This approach best suits people who absorb knowledge through experiential learning.

We are also working with organisations on customising Learning Paths for specific teams. I’m working with a big FMCG team, which has identified that all subscribers should complete six key courses on the platform first, before all the other 50 courses become available.

There’s also the assessment portion, which is an additional paid service where you can do up to three hours of assessment. Each competency is 10 minutes and you can choose whatever competencies you want to assess your team on.

Based on that, you can have a customised learning path for individual members, do seven or eight courses in a matter of a few weeks, and then explore the other courses. Naturally, it’s going to be very different for everyone.

How is the supply chain academy going to evolve over time? Do you foresee videos being updated long into the future as practices and technologies change?

Every three months, we’ll be launching new courses and additional content aside from the tips that we publish on a weekly basis. In January 2023, we plan to add 15 to 20 new courses, as well as enable new platform features. There will be live events in January too.

April 2023, will be a major milestone for the Alcott Global Supply Chain Academy, when over 40 new courses will be added, across the different categories, covering the supply chain pillars in detail: planning, procurement, logistics and warehousing.

With this release, the academy mobile app will be launched, making the user experience even closer to the Netflix for supply chain learning concept I referred to earlier. We envisage people commuting to work, being able to complete a few different modules before they even reach the office, and the mobile app will definitely help making the learning platform even more accessible.

Last month, together with the launch of the book “From Source to Sold” by Radu Palamariu of Alcott Global and Knut Alicke, Partner at McKinsey, Alcott Global launched the CHAIN Leadership Companion training, hosted on the Supply Chain Academy. This will see a significant upgrade, aiming at offering additional practical training modules on the Collaborative-Holistic-Adaptable-Influential-Narrative skills to supply chain professionals, in different packages ranging from half-a-day to a two-days training.

Finally, we are constantly in touch with the experts who are part of the Alcott Global Supply Chain Academy, to record short videos reacting to current events concerning supply chain, that will continuously keep their content updated.