Podcast

Episode 7: Problem solving through data solutions with Priscilla Parrish

Jun 08, 2022

How do you solve supply chain problems, when you can’t see what’s going on? Priscilla Parrish, Head of Logistics at Velocity Commerce explains the challenges she has faced and how she has solved problems through data.

We discuss:

  • How data drives confidence in decision making
  • Influencing senior management to adopt improved data and tech in the supply chain
  • Reducing human error through API connections and data streams

Resources

Priscilla Parrish

With a focus on international trade, B2C, B2B, and Amazon, Priscilla is extensively experienced in increasing efficiencies and cutting costs in retail supply chains by managing 3PL partners across the globe using data-driven solutions.

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Helena WoodHello, and welcome to episode seven of Freight to the Point, a podcast by Zencargo. I’m Helena Wood, and today I am joined by Priscilla Parrish, the Head of Logistics at Velocity Commerce. We’re so thrilled to have Priscilla with us. You guys might be familiar with her because she joined us at Navigate back in April, where we talked about how businesses can build a smarter supply chain for the future. Today, we’re going to be covering more about Priscilla’s insights on data, the role of data automation, and some of her ship happens moments. Welcome, Priscilla.

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWe are so excited to have you here. We always love a conversation with you, Priscilla. They’re always full of ups and exciting anecdotes. Super, super thrilled. But let’s get freight to the point. Tell me, why logistics? How was it that you started out in supply chain?

I think it’s interesting. Most of the people I know who are in supply chain don’t necessarily have a very large background in supply chain. Ship happens. You just kind of thrust into it. You’re recognised for having this analytical logistics type of brain. It was very much the same for me. I have a heavy background in operations. I worked at Mountain Warehouse. I was hired as their Operations Assistant, and I was tasked with just making sure that all of the stores had all of their non-stock supplies. That was my first taste of logistics. I was in charge of then opening all of the stores across the world, not just in the UK, but literally across the globe. And so, making sure all of the things happened for that and the background of that.

At some point in my historic career there, they saw something in me and thought that I would be good for being in charge of the operations and logistics in North America. And so, I was moved to Canada and I was in charge of all of the things there. It was kind of like trial by fire almost; like, sink or swim, you got this, it’s fine. You have that type of brain where you can analyse things and fix things operationally. So it’s always wearing mini-hats, I guess, logistics and supply chain.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWhich makes so much sense, and I think, really interesting to hear about coming into the world of logistics, maybe accidentally is not quite right, but as you increase your exposure to just how, yes, complex, sophisticated, interesting, curious, the whole world of logistics and supply chain is, I can imagine for lots of us and for anyone whose brain ticks around anything to do with patterns and problem solving, it’s just this kind of treasure chest of challenges and problems to solve that you can keep going through. It’s really exciting, actually.

Actually, it’s very much that. It is very much the, you use your background of solving problems and issues and connecting the dots for things and applying that. That is what I found in my job. I’ve identified an issue, this is how I think we should solve the issue, and then implementing that course of action.

Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodAmazing. So obviously, you’ve stayed in logistics. You’ve spoken a bit about data. You’ve spoken a bit about problem solving. I suppose, what is it that’s made it your true love and the kind of path that you’ve kept your career moving in?

Honestly, it’s because of the, there’s never a boring day in logistics and supply chain. There’s never the same set of problems. It’s the problem, and it may have spawned a different iteration of this problem, it may have evolved into something bigger, but for me, it’s the problem solving I enjoy. It’s like a big puzzle. How can I make this picture clear for everyone? How can I best apply what I know to this current task? And no two tasks are the same. Even if they seem, start out the same, they never end up with the same solution either. So for me, it’s just the problem solving of it all.

Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodAmazing. I think something you spoke about when we had Navigate was not only the problem solving, but actually starting to see the reach of the impact of your problem solving within the business, which probably has been true in the last couple of years than ever before.

Yeah, it really has. When you feel like you’ve made an impact, a positive impact, and you also feel it when there’s a negative impact and negative implications for the things that you’ve done. But you feel it. I think it becomes really tangible and it becomes, you can see the progress or where the progress needs to be made. For me, that’s always sort of a motivator. I’m not perfect. No, it is. I have failed many times at many things, but it’s the drive to make it better. It’s the drive to fix those things. I am inherently a fixer, so for me, it’s a real big key component of my job.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodPerfect. I’m thinking, I wonder if there’s anyone listening to the podcast who might be considering a career in supply chain or wanting to become a logistics expert, and you’re saying, fixers and problem solvers. They’re going to be able to geek out on fixing any of these problems.

It really does help if you enjoy analysing things as well. So you have that Venn diagram of components that you need to be great at your job. This is it.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWell, you’re veering us into, I know you’re sort of pet topic. The one you love talking about, which is all around data, isn’t it? When we had our Navigate session, we spoke about data. Tell me, what is it about data that you love?

I think I touched upon this a lot in the Navigate. It’s very much taking that sort of gut instinct and applying the science to it. Applying a very scientific method of, this is what I think, now the data can show me if I’m down the right path or if I need to go someplace else. It then takes out that sting of, “Ooh, this may not work,” or that uncertainty of it all. You can feel confidence in as long as you have really good set of data, but you can have that confidence that even if it’s the wrong decision, all points led to this decision. It wasn’t just pulling something out of the air and just making it up. It was these are the reasons why. They’re tangible reasons why you made this decision.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWhich is interesting. So I suppose, is there an implication in what you’re saying that in possibly supply chains that are not data rich, or maybe the old world of doing supply chain, people were making subjective decisions that came with probably greater risk.

Yeah, exactly. It’s the thing of when you have that clean, solid data, it’s really easy to do those things. But it’s harder to do it when you’re in a singular environment. When it’s just you looking at this. And so, when you have that data set and you have that sort of clean, perfect data, you know that you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to veer from that once you get a taste of it, once you get a taste of this is what’s right and moving into some place where, the data’s all over the place and you have some here, someone else’s hard drive, it’s fragmented across the business and unifying that, you can see the fruits of that labour. You can see sort of what the knock on impact is and what can be done when you have something that’s shareable across different departments, even.

I think I touched upon in the Navigate conference where we don’t have different technology throughout our company. We all use pretty much the same tech, pretty much the same standard things, but it’s the way that we look at it and the way that we slice it and the way that we manage that. I’m looking at something different than the buying department would look at. I’m looking at the same data set, but with different eyes than, say, the Head of Commerce. And so, it’s making sure that it has all of the information there and available with the minimal amount of human input.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWhich is super interesting. You did speak about those different, I think you were talking about, it was almost like different camera lenses and everyone was zooming in on the data in a slightly different scope and with a slightly different lens. But of course, the dependency was that the data was consistent, the data was accurate, so that what everyone was approaching it, they were able to do that.

I think it’s really difficult in logistics and supply chain to understand, not understand the needs of other departments, but understanding the requirements of visibility of the data from other departments. Unless you all sit down in a pow-wow, which we actually did when we were implementing our ERP here at Velocity Commerce was what do you look at? And breaking down each of their reports. Because then we noticed that a lot of people were double handling things. Oh, well, I get this data set from here. Oh, well, this person was doing the same thing, but they were pulling it from a different source and they were getting completely different numbers, but doing the same thing. And so, it was identifying those things and tightening those things up that really help streamline things and help the business understand, okay, well, the unified reporting and unified source of data is where we need to be.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWhich is really interesting because I imagine even though it might sound obvious all of your departments got together and spoke about your shared needs, it’s so easy for all of us to end up in little silos, in little areas of our own. So even the fact that you were able to use sort of, I suppose, data as almost like the single common language to bring functions together, I think is so great to hear.

It’s great when that happens because, I spoke about this before where different systems speak different languages, and then you have that one person in the company who feels like they’re the translator and has like the C3PO of the world. We have to translate all of these different languages across the world and make it make sense to each individual department or each individual stakeholder who is speaking a separate different language. It’s very interesting when you actually see it come together. You see that formation of something really good.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodPriscilla, it’s really interesting to hear. Obviously the way that you guys are doing things at Velocity Commerce is, I hope you don’t mind me saying, it’s quite an evolved and advanced supply chain. You’re using data, you’re working collaboratively across the business. I imagine, even within the scope of your own experience over the last few years, you must have seen a real change between the old way of doing things versus how you’re doing things now. So, what’s that transition looked like?

Very much so. Just even looking back three years ago from the way that things worked to the way that we’re working now, it’s very much, we’re more reliant on a more agile system. I’m more reliant on being able to be flexible depending on the shifts in the market. With COVID and the pandemic it’s been really difficult to judge, like, are these COVID sales or are these just regular sales? Is the increase due to COVID and everyone being locked down and nothing to do except buy stuff on the internet? Or is it actually tangible sales and organic growth?

And so, we’ve seen those shifts with the sound bars that we sell, and sort of the ups and downs. And so, being able to utilise data and make those decisions really crystal clear for other departments has been, again, it’s made me feel like a really integral part of the business. Looking back how being able to plan years ahead, and that’s your supply chain, this is what’s coming in, we’ve planned this for the past two years, this is what’s happening, it’s been the line drawn in the sand, I don’t think businesses work like that anymore. With shortages all over the world in resources, we can’t rely on being able to plan out years and years and years ahead. But we can shorten that timeline and make it better and make those decisions quicker with the new technology that we’ve been using. ERP systems, moving slowly away from Excel, and more into sort of data-driven solutions.

Priscilla Parrish Helena WoodWhich is great. I know we’ve spoken before about Excel. You had some interesting personal experience of seeing just the kind of the opportunity cost and the impact of a slow and broken process using Excel. You spoke before about things like human error. Can you tell us a bit more about what that looks like for businesses that are dependent on those old, old ways of working?

It’s really funny that this morning even scrolling through YouTube as I do in the morning with my coffee, I was suggested a link to an advert for Excel from 1992. It blew my mind. It was the first release of Excel. This advert for it is just hilarious. With the wonderful things you can do. It was great 30 years ago. You can auto some things. It was great 15 years ago.

But our reliance on it and being just locked into that format and locked into that, again, that data silo of you’re the only person in this, you’re the only person looking at it, and then sharing it across different formats and teams messages and all of that. Every person who touches it can pollute it. Every person who modifies it has the potential to corrupt your data. And you won’t know that most times until it’s too late. And so for me, I’m a really big proponent of API connections. I’m a real big proponent of data streams and keeping the human element out of it, and keeping the human element more in tune with making sure the systems are running and making sure that the payoff is happening based on what the system is telling you.
Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodIt’s super interesting. I’d love to see that advert. I think I might get onto YouTube myself and see if I can find it.

I’ll send you the link after this. Just quite funny. I’ve shared it across all of my nerdy Excel friends. We’ve had a good laugh this morning.

Priscilla Parrish Helena WoodSounds great. But it’s interesting because you were talking so much about the potential of having improved data leading to automation and what that can mean for a supply chain in a business. But I think there are lots of people who might listen to a podcast like this who work in supply chain, maybe a business that’s not felt ready to take that step, or that sees a list of reasons not to change the way they’re managing data and processes. What is your stance on the sort of adoption of improved data and tech within supply chain?

It’s all, again, change management. It almost feels like you have to persuade the top and then work your way down. If you persuade the stakeholders and you get them on board, then it’s usually a lot easier to enact that change, to push it through. You’re always going to have the stragglers who are set in their ways. You’re always going to have those people and it’s okay. I am very much a person who doesn’t enjoy change, believe it or not. I don’t enjoy it. But if I can see the benefit of it, if I can be shown, again, an analytical solution, that makes sense and you can prove that to me, I’m a lot easier to persuade to adopt.

For me personally, there have been some struggles and some challenges throughout my career at getting people to see the vision. The best way again that I’ve ever showed that, and I know I’ve said, “Move away from Excel,” but following the money. My friend, who also works in logistics when she was mentoring me, that was her first thing, always follow the money. So if you can prove that you can save money, if you can prove that this saves time and time is money, if you can prove those things to the major stakeholders, that usually is the first starting off point and usually get a lot of adopters to come to the Priscilla way of thinking, so to speak.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodThere’s some really practical advice in there though, isn’t there? Which is for anyone that’s maybe thinking how to make that case, follow the money, be brave, talk to the leadership and to your key stakeholders and use that data to demonstrate potential.

Yeah, 100%.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodAmazing. Now obviously, I’m a convert to the Priscilla way of thinking. I’m sure lots of people who are listening to this are converts too, but you’ve had such an interesting career. I’d love to hear Priscilla. You said yourself, you’ve had ups and downs, you’ve seen failures, you’ve seen challenges, and that’s something we talk about a lot. Ship happens. So can you tell us, what’s the story that you tell your friends at a dinner party about when ship has happened in your supply chain career?

Oh, there are so many things ship happening. When I was with my former company, this is when I had a real handle on opening stores. I could open four or five stores per week across the world and different time zones. It wasn’t a piece of cake, but there was a system, there was a process, everything went to plan. They were opening a new brand. We were opening it in North America. We already opened a few stores in the UK and they had a whole different logo branding, everything. So they needed a whole new, different set of bags, tickets, stickers, all of the consumables non-stock things, and I was in charge of that. Ordered these hangers from China three, four months ahead, gave myself a good buffer. Always give yourself a good buffer. Never, never work to that really tight dial. Always give yourself a buffer.

So I had a buffer and everything was supposed to be in line for these hangers to arrive. Import and then be distributed to the stores with two or three days to spare. Perfect. Priscilla plan was working well. We followed the tracking of the containers as much as we could at the time. And when the container that we thought our hangers were on arrived in port, showed up to the warehouse, there are no hangers on it. There was all the other stuff that we needed. But the most important thing in any clothes shop is hangers where you can’t just display clothes on just on the floor.

So, it was a big problem. And because we couldn’t use our sister brand or the parent brand company hangers, because it’s completely different brand, we were in a bind. We had a total of, I think it was four days, to get, produce hangers from nowhere, and get them to, it was two stores at the time, to two stores across the country from each other. There was a lot of swearing, there was a lot of anger, and it was because there was no visibility. We were told that the supplier did this. We took their word for it. We had no manifest. We had no information other than here’s your container number.

It was probably one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I’m not even going to lie. That week was, it was very hard. But we managed to pull it through in the end by calling several different companies and just getting plain hangers. Then we figured out that we could get the logo off of the old hangers. We just rubbed it off with some nail polish remover. Perfect. Then, there was a deep discount on hangers for the next year because of this. But that was probably the worst week I’ve ever had.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWho would have thought?

Yeah, like hangers, right? And it was just because there was a delay in production. But that wasn’t fed across to the supplier. The supplier also assumed that the hangers were on board and was as shocked as I was when they weren’t.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWell, testament to how important visibility is and how important being able to follow that data. But I never thought that clothes hangers could have cost so much stress.

Yeah, right?

Priscilla Parrish Helena WoodThat’s a good point though. You can’t open a shop unless you’ve got something to hang the clothes on.

Exactly. So, a lot of folded piles everywhere.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodI’m going to catch you out though, because this was meant to be a ship happens moment, but you really overcame that. You sorted out, you solved the problem, the Priscilla way persisted. Has there ever been a ship happens moment that you’ve not been able to turn around?

I’d like to say yes. At the end of the day, it’s really hard to say yes to that. I can’t think of one instance where we weren’t able to come together and solve pragmatically and make a solution. There are lots of things that happened. Oh, for instance, it was too cold in the warehouse during one particularly cold winter and the stickers for things, for dispatched items, they came unstuck and they were sticking to other things. No one could understand why this was happening at first. This isn’t my story. This is while I was working at my former company. But this is what happened. All of the e-comm orders were getting muddled up and stickers were sticking to the wrong thing. People were getting wrong items and no one could figure it out until a visit to the warehouse and physically seeing the labels falling off because they weren’t sticky enough. That took a while to solve. It took a couple weeks of ‘Why?’. I mean, that took longer than it needed to be, really.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodYou’ve told me about the many hats that you have to wear in your career. I’m imagining you got your Inspector Poirot detective hat for a case like that.

I have a Sherlock hat. I didn’t bring it today. I forgot it completely. But I have a Sherlock hat. My coordinator, she has a Watson hat. We are Sherlock and Watson. We’re a dynamic duo.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodLove it. I love a dynamic duo. Priscilla, as we come towards the end of our podcast, I’d love to hear from you what you envisage or think of as the future of the industry. Is there anywhere that you would like to see change in the supply chain space?

This is going to sound like a plug for Zencargo, but after adopting the Zencargo, and sharing my vision with Zencargo, and seeing how much it aligned, what the extrapolation of sort of the visibility that I’ve gained and the accountability that they have been able to provide me for my suppliers, the next step for me is tightening up that chain and going digital. I want everything digital. No offense to the lovely people at Zencargo, but I want less contact with you as much as possible. Unless there’s a problem, unless there’s a fire, unless there’s something that absolutely needs my attention right then and there, I would love to see things happen in a very automated way.

I was part of automation and implementing automation in my last warehouse and seeing robots and seeing those types of things and building business cases for that. For me, that’s the core to my job, is making sure that we enable the rest of the business to go forward without costing more and being more agile. I would love to see more companies doing those things.

Also, more companies thinking about their footprint. I’ve spoke in depth about container utilisation and how important that is to me. But it’s not just the utilisation point of it, it’s the environmental impact that it has. You ship a half full container, well, not only are you wasting money, but you’re impacting environment in a negative way. There needs to be some accountability or at least someone looking at that to try and minimise those things. So I’d love to see more of an environmental aspect of logistics and how the two can coincide. Because supply chain is always going to need to be there. We’re always going to need to have a supply chain. We just need to be better at what we do for our earth and the future generations.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodSuch a true point. I feel like I probably also need to throw in an official disclaimer that we didn’t put too much pressure on you to call out Zencargo.

But thank you for aligning to our way of thinking and hopefully our vision of a world with smarter trade. Priscilla, I’ve got two more areas of focus that I’d love to go through with you. One is, it’s around appreciation actually. Because something I’m noticing is we have these podcasts and I’ve been so privileged to talk to some amazing leaders from across the supply chain space. In a world that is logistical and full of heavy goods and machinery and products and SKUs, actually at the heart of it, even with the data and the tech, we’ve got a whole lot of incredible people who are driving supply chain and we all have people to thank in our journeys. You already called out someone who mentored you. I was just wondering while you’ve got this forum of the podcast, is there anyone that you would like to call out and thank for their impact on your career?

There are two people I will call out and they’re both going to really hate me for this: Karen Donovan and Jess Mays. I am proud enough to call them my friends. But also they’ve both helped me in my logistics career. It’s always great to have that sounding board with someone who isn’t … Logistics is really a niche career in a way that you can explain what you do and people still don’t understand it. I mean, now they do with the pandemic and supply chain being blamed for everything. Well, the shortages of everything. But having someone who you can speak to and they understand the struggles, they’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they can give you advice on it, that’s been a great help, especially transitioning from operations into logistics. It seems like it’s sort of a good fit, but there are this way of thinking, this is how it should be operationally. You have to tweak it for logistics because it’s not the same. It’s different. Those two people are probably high up on the list of people I’d like to thank.

Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodThanks for calling them out. It’s great that obviously that mentorship has turned into into friendship. It’s the best end point. We’ve got one more thing to do Priscilla, and you knew it was coming. It’s time for our quickfire question round.

I knew this was coming.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodIt’s edge of your seat stuff. I hope you’re ready.

Let’s do it.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodLet’s get started. First question for you, Priscilla is, would you rather at this moment in time, focus on making your supply chain agile or resilient?

Resilient.

Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodPerfect. Can you sum up the supply chain market in three words?

Hectic, trying, fruitful.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodGreat best career advice you’ve ever received?

Always follow the money.

Priscilla Parrish

Helena WoodWhat is the number one lesson that working in supply chain has taught you?

Ship happens. Your delivery might be late. There’s no reason to be mad at that delivery driver. It could have been 12 different movements above that person. Ship happens. It is what it is.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodWe love that Priscilla. I knew we were going to have a good time. Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.

Thank you for having me.

Priscilla ParrishHelena WoodAnd a huge thank you also to our audience for tuning into this episode. If anyone has any questions or any feedback, please do contact me or Zencargo on LinkedIn. Thank you everyone and until next week, goodbye.