As Vice President of Global Supply Management & Logistics at John Deere, Wallas Wiggins has seen firsthand the immense value of the supplier relationship. During the pandemic, the strength of those relationships helped the organization—which builds connected machines and equipment for agriculture, construction, forestry, and other industries—through a challenging time. Those relationships are also key to unlocking innovation. “Often suppliers approach us to share what they’re working on, and that can be a very powerful tool to generate innovation, growth, and get first mover advantage.”
We sat down with Wiggins to discuss that path to innovation, always putting people first, and the transformative power of fundamental technologies like GPS.
Accenture: What’s your approach to innovation?
Wallas Wiggins: When it comes to innovation, I always ask what is the value and how does it help us differentiate? I want innovations that are meaningful and of high value to our customers. Our engineers and production system folks work on innovation. But I personally believe there’s a lot of innovation in the supplier community. I want to focus on ensuring we harvest that innovation from suppliers and translate it into benefits for customers, in order to further differentiate ourselves.
Innovation is not always about products, either. Being in the indirect space, I’ve seen powerful innovation in the processes, technology and people that support the manufacturing business. So, innovation is not singular. It can come in a variety of forms and you must be open-minded to understand it, harvest it, and translate it into value for the customer.
Accenture: Can you highlight examples of how Deere technology is differentiating?
WW: GPS location is fundamental. John Deere is one of the few private companies in the world that has its own satellite correction network. It ensures when our customers are in the field, our instrument is accurate to 2.5 centimeters. Many of our innovations are very specialized, like See & Spray. However, we are also working on fundamental technology solutions to help our customers manage the challenges and variability in their operations.
Machine learning and AI are vital, for example. With Engaged Acres, data is captured when a farmer runs a pass in the field for tillage. When it’s time to plant, they can use that data to ensure they’re planting in the right rows. When it’s time to spray, they use that same GPS data to ensure they’re spraying in the same place. It creates a stack of data relating to a farmer’s field, from the time they till the soil, all the way to harvest. That data is analyzed to get yield insights. For example, identifying locations where they should plant more because the yield is higher. Almost every machine Deere makes is connected, so data can be sent from machines to the customer's operation center. We provide tools that customers can use to manage their data and gain insights to reduce costs and increase yield.
Accenture: What lessons have you learned in the past year that you are leveraging to drive resiliency in your supply chain?
WW: This has been an extremely stressful time for all employees, but specifically those in supply management. It’s important to give encouragement and support, and have people take a timeout when they need it, to refresh their minds before getting back to this “battle for products and parts.” Taking care of people is number one.
I’ve learned lessons around resilience when it comes to suppliers. I don’t think you can have too much resilience. This is something I’ve learned from Microsoft’s CEO, from a recent interview he gave. He basically said, "leaders look into the future and try to make sure that what you’re doing today is preparing you for that." The problem is there have been so many “black swan” events we never anticipated. Having an open mind and preparing for that future through diversification and risk mitigation has become essential at Deere, but also for me as a supply management leader.
But we're learning that sometimes we have to be able to adapt. Our Smart Industrial Operating Model has enabled thinking outside the box and reminded us that understanding the required result is extremely important. With a clear result in mind we may find a way to get there faster or more efficiently. Some things can't take weeks—they must be done in days. I’m also learning a lot more about my suppliers. Deere is very relationship-oriented, and that’s proven powerful. Our approach to supplier relationships has paid dividends in this tough time when products are in short supply.
Accenture: What will John Deere look like two to five years from now?
WW: I’d like to think we will continue to ideate and introduce technological changes to the marketplace, both in agriculture and construction. Other areas of our business will benefit from the innovations and technologies we are building. For example, we’re one of the world’s largest providers of forestry equipment. We will continue to be very customer-centric, but one of the big elements of our strategy is the aftermarket. We’re already working on ways to take that John Deere experience you get when you buy a brand-new piece of equipment and extending it. For example, by retrofitting old tractors with new technology, to extend their lifespan and enhance the customer experience. So overall, the John Deere of the future really is a lifecycle of John Deere embracing customer experience enhancements along the way.
The Industrialist is your essential guide to the industrial industry, where you can discover the latest innovations, ideas, and insights.