IoT has become indispensable in the supply chain. Akash Khurana from Wesco joins Ryan Chacon on the IoT For All Podcast to discuss IoT in the supply chain, especially post-pandemic. They talk about problems in the supply chain that IoT solves, the criticality of partnerships, who is responsible for domain knowledge, how AI has changed the supply chain, and advice for adopting IoT.
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About Akash Khurana
Akash Khurana has more than 20 years of technology experience, driving innovation across industries resulting in organizational transformation and establishing new multi-billion dollar business lines. Akash joined Wesco in November 2020 and leads the information technology and digital organizations, spearheading a multi-year transformation journey.
Prior to that, Akash led business transformation at McDermott as the Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer of the global information technology and digital organizations. His assignment before joining McDermott was as the Senior Director of Global Product Lines and Regional P&Ls at Baker Hughes.
Interested in connecting with Akash? Reach out on LinkedIn!
Wesco is a Fortune 500 company with more than $21 billion in annual sales. They are a leading provider of B2B distribution, logistics services, and supply chain solutions. They are also the market leader in electrical and utility in North America and hold the global leadership position for data communications and security – all of which puts them in a great position to help our customers with IoT solutions.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(08:14) How critical are partnerships?
(17:14) Advice for adopting IoT
(21:15) Learn more and follow up
– [Ryan] Welcome Akash to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Akash] Thank you for having me.
– [Ryan] Absolutely. Let’s kick this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself and the company to our audience if you wouldn’t mind.
– [Akash] Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Akash Khurana. I’m the Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer, which is CIO, traditional IT, infrastructure, security, enterprise systems, data, et cetera, but I also have the responsibility of Chief Digital Officer, being a Chief Digital Officer where I help create new offerings, new digital products that we can consume internally as well as take it to our customers and our suppliers.
Wesco is a Fortune 500 global distribution logistics and supply chain solutions company. We sell directly to about 90 percent of the largest companies on the Fortune 500 list as well as to the commercial and industrial businesses, contractors, government agencies, institutions, utilities, telco providers. So, we have a very broad set of end market that we work with. At the core, Ryan, we focus on helping our customers. That’s what it boils down to. Get the essential products and solutions they need to deliver on their business objectives. That’s the core focus for Wesco as a company.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. So let’s talk about how you’ve seen from your perspective IoT technologies, I know you mentioned there’s a lot of things you all do and focus on and how you help your customers, but if we hone in on IoT and how you’ve seen IoT really play a role in some of those key areas that you focus on, especially like supply chain and stuff, and we’ve had experts on before talk about IoT and supply chain, but I think we’ve come, we’ve been moving out of and to backtrack a second, a lot of the conversations we had were really when the kind of narrative was the supply chain is very backed up. This was really heavily during the pandemic, right after the pandemic, things like that. But IoT started to become a very popular type of solution, technologies that were adopted to help relieve a lot of these supply chain issues companies were having. So how have you seen IoT really come into the supply chain and play a key role in helping improve efficiencies and just make it better overall for companies?
– [Akash] As we think about IoT, it’s all about getting better visibility from our assets, from our operations, and all the delivery processes that we have for our end customers.
So bringing about the IoT stack is all about how well we can get our assets, individual assets that we have in our warehouses and our fulfillment centers, distribution centers, how do we get those individual assets connected? Get them sensorized, make sure that we have full visibility into the control systems. And that allows us to capture the data and provide the right level of insights for our own operations, which is critical to make sure that we understand where the bottlenecks are, where the inefficiencies are, and what actions need to be put in place to mitigate those inefficiencies. Of course, it helps us from our own operations, running those operations as effectively as possible, but what really matters is we deliver per our customers expectations and help them meet their objectives.
So that’s how I think about the kind of IoT as a technology stack and what it enables, what we do with it with that better visibility and what does that turn into in terms of our own benefits as well as what we pass down to our customers.
– [Ryan] For audience out there who may not be as close to the supply chain, can you talk a little bit about the main challenges that kind of cause issues in the supply chain, cause those bottlenecks, things where IoT technologies have really started to be more widely adopted in order to help relieve those issues that maybe we’ve experienced prior to IoT technologies and solutions being more available.
– [Akash] When I think about supply chain as, you know, literally a lot of materials, parts, equipments in movement, right? The first challenge that we see and especially it became very prominent during the pandemic where the supply and the demand got out of equilibrium. And what I mean by that is the demand in certain areas, especially in the end markets that we serve, skyrocketed and the supply of all the products and equipments, even including people, were not enough to deliver on that demand.
And this is where IoT technology, like IoT stack, can really help provide better visibility and provide capabilities for the operational teams that we have within Wesco to take actions to prioritize where the demand is of utmost criticality, especially if you think about it from a pandemic perspective and take those actions so that we can not only deliver, but also keep our customers and suppliers well informed of where their deliveries are, where they’re, the capabilities that they’re looking for, the solutions that they’re looking for, and when they can expect those to complete.
Now, as we have transitioned out of pandemic, many will say there’s still lingering elements of pandemic but especially for supply chain, what it has done is it has shifted that equilibrium. Earlier, it was demand, enough demand and supply shortages. Now, we have seen demand leveling off and supply has fully caught up. In many cases, it doesn’t apply for all the categories, but it has caught up and how do you transition an organization that is, that was operating in that high demand and low supply more to a norm, which is more leveled, back to normal demands and supply catching up, right? So that’s where we see technology again, especially IoT technology, playing a critical role. With better visibility and feeding that visibility to our team members who are boots on the ground to take those actions to adjust this shifting equilibrium.
– [Ryan] So one of the big topics we talk about in, with a lot of IoT deployments in general is just the value of partnerships and how big partnerships are in the IoT ecosystem, and it definitely varies on how important partnerships are from industry to industry or solution to solution. But in the supply chain, how critical are partnerships when it comes to either putting a solution together or even adopting a solution? Like, where do, how, where does that kind of rank on the scale of from low importance to high importance in order to have these solutions be as successful as possible to solve those problems that really are causing pain points?
– [Akash] I would put partnership at the highest level of importance for an enterprise like ours and ensuring that we are able to achieve success from these investments that we are putting towards the IoT capabilities. So we look to partner with a few different dimensions. The first, the most core to our partnership network is our supplier partners.
We are in the business to help them take their products to the market, help their products drive best value for our customers. So we look to partner with our strategic suppliers to ensure that we have right technology components in place. Think about APIs, microservices, to be able to collect the data from their assets. That’s number one. Second is the partnership as it’s focused on the technology stack of IoT. And what that includes is all the edge devices, all the data components, all the security components that you need to consider. All the solution components, right? So all of this data with the right security protocols has to lead into a solution that can be consumed and can be deployed. So we partner with the various technology providers, whether it’s from security, data, edge, infrastructure, cloud enterprise solutions, et cetera. And the third dimension of partnership for us is the deployment aspect. It’s good to build a solution. It’s good to test out the solution in a given environment. But every environment, every location, every customer situation is different. So you need a partner who’s flexible, who’s agile, who’s nimble enough to be able to take the solution that you have built, assess the market, assess the customer needs, their unique challenges, and make sure that the solution is deployed in a right way so that it’s adopted. The customer can drive benefits from that, and it’s handling the change management aspect of the customer organization as well. So that’s the critical part of our partner network. I can, I’m going back in summary, right? A supply partner, a technology partner, and a deployment slash change management partner.
– [Ryan] Who’s responsible for really understanding or coming to the table with the information that’s very specific to the industry in which the supply chain is being deployed for? So who has the domain experience? Is it usually the company that’s adopting the solution, they come to the table and kind of educate everyone on here’s our current supply chain, here’s the issues, help us solve it? Or is that also on the response, is that also a responsibility of the technology partners and these other players when it comes to building a solution to go to market with?
– [Akash] Technology for the sake of technology has no meaning for us. So we always start first with understanding the challenges and opportunities that we can enable for our end customers, right? So that can be in the space of smart infrastructure, smart utilities, smart buildings, energy consumption, better tracking and tracing. So it always starts with our customers who are of the utmost importance to us, really helping them understand, helping understand what their challenges are and working backwards from that. And once we are clear on what the challenges and the opportunities are, really mapping out what process changes will be required, what technology components will need to be put in place, and IoT becomes a critical component of that. And then taking a lens of the three principles of design thinking, which I firmly believe in. The first one is focused on how desirable the solution is, right? Is it a problem that can be done with some other mechanisms or is there a true need of an IoT enabled solution? How desirable is that? Second is how feasible is it? Are we going to spend months and years building this technology stack and the cost that it will take? How feasible is it? Is it something that we can go to market in a relatively short time period? And the third is viability. Okay, if we have desire, if we are able to build it, does it have viability from a business case perspective, right? So, we take those three lenses to work out what will be the solution and a strong partnership with our customer to, as we go through the build out of those capabilities and as we deploy those capabilities.
And I’ll tell you this, every deployment we learn something new, right? So it’s, no deployment is the same. As much as we want to standardize and put a framework in place, we always find unique challenges in each and every deployment. The core principle that we like to instill in is how do we make sure that we are learning from those deployments and how we are incorporating those lessons learned in the next deployment.
– [Ryan] So, I imagine that AI has played a pretty big impact in the supply chain space, and we’re starting to see a big convergence between IoT and AI in general, but with the way deployments are handled, how much work is being done at the edge when it comes to supply chain solutions, I’d be willing to bet that the impact AI has had is probably even more, is felt at a higher level than some other industries that IoT is already deployed in and AI is starting to work its way in. I imagine supply chain has been affected pretty heavily in a positive way. So, I wanted to ask you, what have you seen as the biggest changes in the space thanks to AI capabilities that have been recently available?
– [Akash] Where we focus on leveraging AI, whether it’s AI capabilities that we get from our platforms that we use or AI capabilities that we build on our own using our own team members, is to drive actionable insights from the data that we collect at the edge.
The data that we flow through IoT platform, the solutions that it enables and the output of those solutions that we provide to the end user, is there an opportunity to leverage AI to prescribe, to very specifically provide steps that the end user can take, which results into some kind of action.
And that’s where we focus on leveraging AI, and there’s many technologies that that we are experimenting with and especially now with Gen AI, leveraging large language models and leveraging traditional AI, deep learning, machine learning, doing all of that to really focus on which one for a given use case suits well for an actionable insight.
– [Ryan] It’s been a very fascinating space to follow and just started to see how AI really starting to come together, especially on the enterprise side, with IoT really being that pipeline of data and access to data that wasn’t available before, and then the AI being able to be trained on that data to help them make better decisions, faster decisions and things like that. So it’s been fascinating to see.
One of the things I wanted to ask you prior to wrapping up here is if we’re, if I’m listening to this, and I’m trying to understand when it comes to adopting an IoT solution, I think it’s very well known, even though some companies will try to market the opposite of this, is that there really is no one size fits all solution for particular problems, particular use cases out there. So with that being said, how do you approach that? How should people out there listening and watching this approach that when it comes to the kind of generally advice on how to adopt IoT?
– [Akash] There’s no one size fit all when it comes to IoT stack. There are various use cases, various versions of use cases that you can deploy using an IoT stack. The key thing to focus on is making sure that you have a right partner ecosystem. An ecosystem that really helps you mature your capabilities from an edge, from an individual asset to the transport layer, to the data aggregation layer, to the solutions layer, you have a right partner ecosystem to help you stitch that together.
Second is ensuring that you have a flexible and agile architecture. Many times when it comes to IoT, what I have noticed is the team that’s working on a particular solution gets logged in on one architecture that might work for that particular solution, that might work for a particular use case. You want to make sure that you are building enough flexibility, modularity in your architecture because the next deployment you go to, you’ll find that you’ll need, you need to adjust your architecture to be able to meet the needs of of the customer or for your own operations. And the third which essentially ties to how flexible and how modular do you make your architecture is the focus on speed. The technology is there, the opportunities are there. You want to make sure that you bring the capabilities to the end customer, to the suppliers, and are able to demonstrate value with speed and agility. Once you’re able to do that, it really shifts the customer’s perspective or your own operations perspective to a completely different level where they are not looking at that as just another technology implementation. They really start to see value in a relatively short time period. And that’s the biggest lever when it comes to change management as well, right? So those three, select the right partners, make sure that you have entire stack covered, make sure that your architecture is flexible, so you are able to pivot and shift based on the kind of opportunity and use case that you get. And the third, make sure that your team is laser focused on value and delivering that value with speed.
– [Ryan] Appreciate the time. This has been a kind of a great conversation covering a topic we haven’t had the opportunity to touch on in quite a while. Supply chain has changed a ton post pandemic. AI like we mentioned is playing a big role now. But the advice on how, what you need to be thinking about on how to adopt, how to build these solutions is something that our audience I think is going to get a ton of value out of. So if our audience wants to follow up, learn more about what you all have going on, maybe just follow up on this discussion in general, what’s the best way they can do that?
– [Akash] Yeah, they can reach out to Wesco team. We have a team that’s focused on IoT solutions as part of our CSS organization, is Communication and Security Solutions. We have innovation center in Glenview, happy to post any of our customers there.
– [Ryan] Well Akash, thank you again for taking the time. Really appreciate it. Exciting stuff going on over on your end. And I’m excited to get this out to our audience.
– [Akash] Great. Thank you for having me folks.