New tech-startup, Switchboard, is gaining traction with its modern take on global supply chain management through its new platform that specialises in integrating the various IT systems that drive supply chains. This interview with the Founder and CEO of Switchboard, Hugh Dixson, lays out the importance of IT system integrations to Supply Chain Management in almost any industry, its challenges and how he came up with the idea to modernise the century old processes and integrations.
Hi Hugh, great to have you here and meet some of the team behind Switchboard.
Hugh: Thank you; pleasure to be here.
What is supply chain management and why is it so important?
Hugh: Supply chains are behind everything we buy, use, eat, drink everyday. Basically, the management involves anything from inventory management, ordering, warehousing through to transportation - locally, nationally, and globally. Companies of all sizes and in all sorts of industries rely on supply chains - literally everything you physically buy has a supply chain. It is an enormous industry, powering multiple verticals (retail, consumer, grocery, food and beverage, and many others).
We have a lot to be grateful to the industry and its workers, then! Hugh: Yes indeed! Without these people, processes that run our supply chains all over the world, everything would come to a grinding halt!
We wouldn’t want that! How did you come to be in the industry?
Hugh: I started my career as a management consultant with the Boston Consulting Group. Following that, I moved to transport, working with Uber. At Uber, I gained experience with technology, software development, and using technology to improve transport before moving into leading Operations at Ofload. There, I ran a freight business specialising in transport and warehousing.
At Ofload, I worked closely on digitising and introducing technology into supply chains in Australia. I also had overall responsibility and accountability for the actual transport, storage, and delivery for millions of consignments all over Australia and the world for a range of companies including major FMCG, food suppliers, supermarkets, large retailers, etc. This is where I was directly engaging with the industry and processes, and where I learned about how painful it currently is to integrate the IT systems in supply chains, and the big impacts this has across the economy.
Following my operational role, I moved into Mergers and Acquisitions at Ofload and led the end-to-end acquisition process for their purchase of CIA Logistics. Read more: Digital freight forwarder Ofload buys CIA Logistics after notching 500pc revenue growth
Wow, you’ve had quite a colourful background in the industry! No surprise it’s led you to become what you are today. With your experience, you must’ve come across some challenges. What are the most common?
Hugh: Supply chains are, by their very nature, complex and have multiple moving parts with lots of companies each performing different activities that require a lot of precise information, often with very tight deadlines. There are so many elements that need to work in perfect sync to achieve the end result. The common challenges often stem from information, communication, and time.
There is so much detailed information that needs to be managed and clearly and accurately communicated between and within companies in a supply chain. For example, when new stock needs to be ordered, you need to know: which supplier it is ordered from, the number of pallets or cartons, how much it weighs, the dimensions, where and when they need to be stored or collected from, and PO or other numbers to get the correct stock or from the correct warehouse, and the list goes on…
That sounds like a massive challenge to overcome - with room for a lot of error. In your experience, what is an example of how you’d overcome this particular challenge?
Hugh: In the current supply chains, without spending lots and lots and lots of money for (often pretty imperfect) integration solutions, the only real option is to plug this gap manually. However with manual processes, comes extensive costs, and slows the process down while people have to enter data, send emails, wait for replies, search for information in their system to communicate, etc
For example, while I was in ops in freight, we frequently had to hire and pay staff to:
Receive orders via email and manually enter the data into our systems
Talk to the suppliers about their stock levels, locations via phone or email, and
Have people manually find capacity in transport and warehouses, and then email them the transport/warehouse providers to find capacity and then send over the information
Like all businesses, we would have preferred that our staff focus their efforts on the higher impact issues, rather than manual data entry tasks that feel out of place in 2023. Further, had this information been more available to our teams, we could have offered better customer experience, driving further growth for our business.
The risk for errors in this manual process is huge. Small mistakes can have major (and expensive) consequences. For example, when people send the wrong information or enter something incorrectly, they might request the wrong size truck, collect the wrong consignments, or send a full truck to the wrong place. Any of these mistakes can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.
Switchboard has been designed to overcome these challenges.
What about the industry really grinds your gears, and led you to leave your previous roles to venture out to become an innovative tech entrepreneur?
Hugh: As an industry, we are currently tolerating this status quo where we either spend lots of time, money, and effort integrating systems, or you add headcount and introduce a slow, heavy, error-prone, costly, manual process. These days, we know the huge positive impact that it could have on the supply chain industry to have a better, more affordable integration service to exchange all of this information more efficiently without the big price tags of the current state, or the manual processes. We can all clearly see the benefits of integrating the IT systems that power supply chains (efficiency, accuracy, etc). However the challenge, cost, and complexity of these integrations in the current state means that many companies choose not to. Surely in 2023, we can have a more affordable, faster, easier way to integrate these IT systems that drive such critical infrastructure to the economy so that we can get these benefits without the same level of cost and difficulty?
This is precisely what we are building with Switchboard - a single integration that connects to your full supply chain, with fast and easy onboarding and management, and affordable pricing that scales with your business to make an integrated supply chain a realistic option for all companies.
Hugh, how can businesses get in contact to discuss Switchboard more?
Hugh: If readers are interested in learning more or having a chat, we offer free strategy calls to understand if and how we can help. We are also currently offering special pricing for early customers.
Thanks for joining us today, Hugh. For our readers, tune in next week where we will be joined by Hugh, again, to chat about the development of his new tech startup, Switchboard, including how the idea came about, exactly what the company does, and who they can help. Bye for now.