John Santagate on Creating Secure And Resilient Supply Chains

John Santagate on Creating Secure And Resilient Supply Chains

Below is an interview between David Leichner, CMO at Cybellum, and John Santagate of Körber– originally published by Authority Magazine.


The cascading logistical problems caused by the pandemic and the war in Eastern Europe, have made securing a reliable supply chain a national imperative. In addition, severe cyberattacks like the highly publicized Colonial pipeline attack, have brought supply chain cybersecurity into the limelight. So what must manufacturers and policymakers do to ensure that we have secure and resilient supply chains? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who can share insights from their experiences about how we can address these challenges. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Santagate.

John Santagate leads Körber Supply Chain Software as the Vice President of Robotics. He drives the strategy for autonomous mobile robotics, warehouse robotics, and the robotics partner network. As a key component of Körber’s end-to-end solutions, John ensures his technologies drive customer success and integrate seamlessly with the broader Körber portfolio. Solving complex challenges and opening new opportunities through technology and innovation, John spent his career in supply chain making his customers the most efficient and profitable businesses in their industries. Prior to his role at Körber, John acted as consultant to industry-leading organizations to transform their supply chains with Tata Consultancy Services in the Supply Chain Center of Excellence. He was also a leading robotics and supply chain industry analyst at IDC for five years, where he focused on market trends, forecasts, and thought leadership for supply chain robotics and business process evolution. In addition to his VP role, John is an adjunct instructor at The University of Massachusetts Lowell where he teaches a course on supply chain and logistics. John Santagate is an avid American football fan, and each year he and his wife take a trip to visit a different college football stadium to catch a game.

Competition is built into the fabric of who I am. Growing up I was an athlete and even now make time to participate in athletic competition. I grew up in a very modest family and was introduced to the logistics industry at a very young age — even if I didn’t know it yet. My father had a 30-year career as an over-the-road driver. I took an unconventional path to where I am today. I started college with a major in football and left with a degree in finance and management. After college I had several roles in technology, including a stint in bio-tech. I decided I would need an advanced degree to achieve my career goals, so I enrolled in the MBA program at Rutgers. That was the best decision of my career thus far. Since then I have had the opportunity to work as a management consultant, an industry analyst (which is what really catapulted my career), and today as a business leader.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

This is a bit of a quirky story, but had a major impact on my perspective since. I was at a conference in 2017 (maybe 2018) and stopped by an exhibit where Sarcos, a robotics company, had a display. The robot on display was a manually operated “snake” with a jointed midsection and magnetic tracks. It was really cool, but it was manually maneuvered so I questioned whether it met the criteria of a robot. I met the CMO of the company, Kristi Martindale, and posed my question to her. Kristi and I shared a great conversation, and she had invited me to the Sarcos HQ in Salt Lake City where the team there showed me their full body powered exo-skeleton suits, ‘snake’ bots and tele-operated robot arms. They changed my perspective on robotics from one of autonomous centric to realizing that robotic technology need not be fully autonomous, but can leverage mechatronics to augment human performance.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Curiosity, commitment, and collaboration have been key characteristics that have driven my professional direction and success.

Being curious will fill you with knowledge that can spur creativity and be useful in ways you can’t predict. Before joining IDC, I had never engaged in any aspect of robotics. As a part of their recruitment process I was asked to define three technologies that would transform supply chains (this was a decade ago). I thought about what was happening in the market, drew some correlations, and came to the position that robotics would be the most impactful thing to drive positive outcomes in the supply chain. That started my journey to where I am today.

Commitment comes from a desire to consistently grow. I have always believed that to get anywhere worth getting you have to be committed to the journey as much as you are committed to the objective. Many people will share the objective, but the struggle of the journey will deter many. There have been plenty of times where the only thing that kept me pushing was the commitment to the journey, the unwavering belief that the effort of today is worth the outcome.

As far as collaboration, nobody gets to where they are without others. As much as we want to believe it is our own efforts, the biggest things happen when we lock hands with others and give as much as we take.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am always working on exciting new projects. That is the great thing about working with robots, it’s always new and exciting. At Körber, we are working with companies of all sizes to help improve supply chain operations through the application of mobile robotic technology. We are helping people to simplify the work they do and ease the physical burden of working in the warehouse through the use of mobile robotics.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. In order to ensure that we are all on the same page let’s begin with some simple definitions. What does the term “supply chain” encompass?

Supply chain is probably one of the most complex and least understood terms in all of business. That said, I have the pleasure of teaching a Supply Chain and Logistics course at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and in that course I define supply chain as all activities involved in managing, moving, and improving materials from one stakeholder to the next throughout the entire value chain. This includes all components from raw material, all the way to the mine in which minerals are extracted and every step through to the end consumer.

Can you help articulate what the weaknesses are in our current supply chain systems?

As in anything, the supply “chain” is only as strong as its weakest link. The challenges that have been most impactful for the past several years have been labor, visibility, and quality. We have seen an ongoing and ever worsening labor crunch related to supply chains. It is difficult and expensive to fill the jobs required to turn earth into raw material, that raw material into a component, that component into the next, and so on, until a product is in a box, on a shelf, in a warehouse, and waiting to be picked and shipped to the end user, or the outlet at which the end user will find the product available. At all levels, the jobs required to complete this chain are labor intensive and difficult. Not to mention the shortage of logistics related labor such as sea captains and truck drivers. This all comes down to the human condition and an ongoing shift towards a more service related economy.

In addition, visibility is often a struggle. Material is often lost in transit. Location visibility is the easiest component though. Visibility to labor conditions at contract manufacturing facilities or sustainability practices of packaging suppliers, etc. is much harder. Visibility, not just of the next link in the chain, but the end to end chain, is one of the biggest challenges to solve for supply chains and relates to both visibility and quality.

Can you help define what a nationally secure and resilient supply chain would look like?

Let’s start with resiliency. It’s useful to think about the value of productivity enhancing technology in terms of operational continuity. Operational continuity is almost parallel to resiliency. It means being able to ensure that the business continues to grind in the face of adversity. We recently experienced a massive impact on continuity and resilience with the COVID pandemic. Labor shortages and workforce restrictions reverberated throughout the global supply chains. Organizations were forced to struggle with the question of how to supply the population with the products they demand with a lack of labor and logistic resources. Resiliency is about being able to maintain operational continuity in the face of adversity.

Security is a more complex question. This means thinking about the risk involved in supply at all levels of the supply chain. Ultimately, this is a quality issue, but also relates to visibility. How capable is the organization of ensuring that, among the many sources of supply, the materials meet requirements? From a logistics perspective, how much risk is removed from within the transportation from point a to point b throughout the process? Clearly, different products require different considerations regarding physical security. For example, hazardous materials or pharmaceuticals require greater security measures, compared to children’s toys, which carry a lower cost and a lower level of risk. Overall, supply chain security is an issue that is tackled on a case by case basis, but is one that is critical to the operational continuity of the supply chain.

What would you recommend for the government or for tech leaders to do to improve supply chain cybersecurity?

Improving supply chain cybersecurity is a moving target. Malicious actors are constantly working to identify and exploit digital weakness. Therefore, the number one thing to do is avoid complacency. All organizations should have a strategy in place to understand and identify current threats, have a plan in place to mitigate any potential exposure, have a reaction plan in place, and be taking measures to reduce the risk of exposure.

Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the “5 Things We Must Do To Create Nationally Secure And Resilient Supply Chains” and why?

  1. Identify potential sources of risk. For example, looking across the various components of the national infrastructure (water, telco, transportation, etc) to identify and document strengths and weaknesses of each. With the weaknesses established, we must ensure that we are taking action to strengthen those points of weakness.
  2. Model out the impact of an incident across the various points of risk and craft an avoidance plan. Avoiding a disruption is the best way to reduce the risk of a supply chain disruption. Not every supply chain disruption has the same degree of risk, so it is important to look at the identified areas of risk and establish an event/impact matrix. The risk elements with the highest likelihood of occurrence and the highest degree of impact should garner the most well-defined avoidance plan.
  3. Craft an impact mitigation and reaction plan. No matter how many avoidance measures we take, there is always the chance that a disruption can still occur. Even more important than avoidance is mitigation and reaction. For those scenarios that we can identify, we must have a strategy to respond efficiently to a disruptive event and to reduce the time and impact of a disruption. It is an impossible task to model out all scenarios, but we must be as complete as we can.
  4. Where possible rely on redundancy. While not every circumstance can have a backup, where possible there should be redundancy measures in place to allow a failover in the case of a disruption. In the supply chain, this means multiple sources of supply, multiple carriers, multiple routes, etc. Redundancy offers the opportunity to shift demand in the instance of a disruption. On a national level, we need to consider establishing the capability to either build or source electronic components in multiple regions, so that, in the case of a trade issue, natural disaster, geo-political conflict, or other disruption, we do not lose the only access that we have to critical product components. This is one example. Across product supply, transportation, storage, and manufacturing, we need to be considering the potential for risk and inject redundancies to allow for shifting when and where necessary.
  5. Own It. The highest levels of supply chain management must take ownership of our security and resilience. We must ensure that there is accountability to the development, management, and execution of items 1–4 on this list in a way that drives ownership of the outcomes. Supply chain risk management is not about making sure that you are prepared for every single possible scenario. Rather, it is about creating plans that are specific where necessary, adaptable where able, and scalable.

Are there other ideas or considerations that should encourage us to reimagine our supply chain?

There is no single supply chain at the national level. We have a series of supply chains both private and public. Everything goes through a supply chain in order to get to where it is going and different points in each supply chain will consider itself a different stage of the chain. One area of known risk is our history of outsourcing much of the manufacturing of products that we consume. This puts tremendous strain on the chain, as it has resulted in a loss of control and a lengthening of the supply chain, geographically speaking. This is not to say that we should stop engaging in this practice, but we do need to look closely at how we enable redundancy of supply and manufacturing capacity in multiple regions and to the extent that we can either domestically or nearshore.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There is a lot that can be done to deliver on the idea of a sustainable supply chain. There is so much innovation occurring on so many levels where we can better leverage sustainable processes, policies, tools, and technologies to not only move goods across the supply chain but do good for society and the environment.

How can our readers further follow your work online? I am reachable via the following social channels:

LinkedIn —

Instagram — @_that_robot_guy

Twitter — @_that_robot_guy

This was very inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this interview!


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