Supply Chain Hero: EDI leader overcomes complex supply chain challenges

By | 3 minute read | February 18, 2020

This is part of our #SupplyChainHero series where we shine a spotlight on professionals who continuously strive to make supply chains better.

As Vice President EDI/E-Commerce at Coastal Pacific Food Distributors (CPFD), Pat Ranga is a supply chain industry veteran with inspiring stories from the front lines. I had the opportunity to hear how he and his team designed and implemented an entirely new supply chain in six months – bringing food to our military troops overseas.

You started out with a degree in Electrical Engineering. What led you to supply chain?

While I was an undergrad in electrical engineering, I took a course that fascinated me. It was about optimizing processes under multiple constraints. This novel approach opened up a new avenue of thinking for me. When I went to grad school for my MBA, I specialized in operations management and strengthened my optimization knowledge. I moved on to development and management jobs in the wholesale supply chain industry and that is how I ended up in supply chain.

What has been the most complex supply chain challenge you’ve tackled during your career?

I joined Coastal Pacific in 2010, and around the same time one of our teaming partners won a massive contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to supply grocery food items to our troops in Kuwait and Jordan. One of the conditions was that we had to get the supply chain up and going in a period of six months. Nobody thought it was possible. Our teaming partner was completely new to this line of business, so our folks went to Kuwait to set up the supply chain. As a team, we worked really hard and by September, we were able to supply products and send our first invoice. It was a huge success.

In 2015, we faced an even bigger challenge when, based on our performance, our teaming partner won a similar contract in Afghanistan. We knew that supporting two different, huge contracts – as well as meeting the demands of our ongoing business – was going to require an upgrade to all our disparate EDI systems. We needed to put them all together and decided to migrate to the IBM Sterling B2B Integrator platform.

Given your expertise, what have been the top developments in supply chain that have made your job and your team’s job easier?

First is the advent of platform software, like the IBM platform. For more than 25 years I’ve been putting together various best-in-class software products to achieve our goals as a company, but none had all the functionality we needed. Now we have everything we need in a single framework and can add components for our specific business needs.

Second is teamwork and collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Office 365, which have led to huge productivity gains. This increases our reach across geographical locations and time zones so we can deploy solutions much more effectively, faster and cheaper, without traveling.

What advice would you give supply chain peers when approaching a large, complex challenge?
Design Thinking and innovation. What I mean is thinking from the view of your internal and external clients. For example, I don’t mind spending an extra couple of hours, or even days, if I can save the user a few minutes. With hundreds of users on the system, that is a huge productivity gain. So, when you are designing systems, think like the customer and what they would expect in terms of speed, ease of use and efficiency.

The second point is that while your supply chain may be large and complex, your solutions don’t have to be. I have found, in my experience, that the most simple and direct solution may be the most elegant way to address a very complex issue. Even though it is a cliché, think outside the box before you come up with a solution.

You’re in a high-stress position. How do you unwind?
There are a couple of ways. I’m a big movie buff. I’m also into Indian classical music and have a huge collection of CDs. There is an explosion of talent in India and it is so gratifying to see, as I am originally from India. And, finally, my favorite way to unwind is going on long walks with my wife. During 2010 and 2015 I was literally working 18 hours a day. I am able to enjoy the fruits of it now.

Want to learn more from IBM’s supply chain heroes? Click here for additional stories. 

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