The Supply Chain Resource Cooperative (SCRC) at NC State University’s Poole College of Management has welcomed a new company to its portfolio of corporate partners for the 2021 – 2022 academic year.
Earlier this year, Western Digital, a global data storage company that offers an expansive portfolio of technologies, storage devices and solutions for business and consumers, connected with the SCRC to support its procurement efforts in emerging technologies and predictive risk solutions.
The collaboration is providing Western Digital with fresh perspectives on current trends and supply chain research, while NC State students are getting the chance to work on a hands-on project with Western Digital’s strategic procurement operations.
A commitment to supply chain excellence
When it comes to its supply chain, Western Digital has a distinct approach rooted in transparency and accountability. In fact, to bolster its commitment to supply chain excellence, the company formed a Procurement Center of Excellence in 2018.
“Our role is to provide ideas and solutions for the organization that are innovative and disruptive,” Deepti Chintalapudi says, who is a senior engineer focused on global procurement and supply chain at Western Digital. “We research and provide guidance regarding cutting edge, innovative technologies, techniques, methodologies and tools in procurement.”
Leading the Western Digital’s work on emerging technologies is senior manager, Christopher Wolf, whose efforts focus on designing and deploying predictive risk solutions that “ensure an intelligent and predictive end-to-end workflow of operations within the organization,” states Wolf.
Enter NC State
After Western Digital’s Center of Excellence was formed and the team was defining its capabilities, they decided it would be beneficial to collaborate with new, external perspectives to further refine its cutting-edge procurement organization.
“By collaborating with universities to understand the trends in procurement and supply chain, we sought to bring in new, outside voices to the discussion. We are relentless innovators and innovation and disruption are part of our DNA,” Chintalapudi says.
The team collaborated with an industry analyst firm to research the best universities for supply chain management and found that North Carolina State University was one of the most prominent names among the best schools for supply chain and procurement.
Considering the Western Digital team already had two close connections with NC State — one with Chintalapudi, who is an NC State MIE alum, and the other with SCRC Executive Director Rob Handfield, with whom Wolf had worked previously — choosing NC State seemed like a natural choice.
“I think that overall we had a good strategy for collaboration with academia, and also great reasons to connect with NC State,” Chintalapudi says.
Teaming up with NC State students
Like many of the SCRC’s partner companies, Western Digital is taking advantage of the opportunity to work on a project with Poole College’s supply chain students this semester.
Specifically, the Western Digital team has tasked a group of students with working on a predictive cost project that will serve the organization’s predictive risk efforts.
Chintalapudi is managing the project, bringing her full circle after completing similar projects as a student. “I’ve been there and I understand what goes on in a student team,” she says. “It’s been really impressive to see them asking questions we haven’t thought of…finding dynamics and factors that we didn’t identify before.”
If successful, the students’ work will help the Center “better understand the landscape of raw material pricing and sourcing,” which will help them in supplier decisions, Chintalapudi says.
Supporting student success
Since Wolf understands the ins and outs of the Center’s predictive risk engine, he’s helping the students understand the technical aspects of the project — “mostly with things they haven’t been exposed to yet,” he says. “So, learning about machine learning and AI, natural language processing, all the tools that we use and how we work towards identifying the dynamics and the factors that influence pricing.”
Wolf adds that, in addition to supporting his team’s efforts, the students are gaining valuable experience applying relevant skills first-hand, such as interviewing stakeholders, constructing data-based models, and pooling resources to build a prototype tool — all within the tempo of a real procurement organization.
With the mutually beneficial relationship between Western Digital and the SCRC moving full-steam ahead, Chintalapudi says her team is optimistic about what the future holds for the new partnership.
The Center of Excellence team has plans to further explore predictive lead time and AI machine learning systems applications — both of which will likely present opportunities to work with NC State students and thought leaders.
“We also want to see how we can integrate blockchain technology in the procurement processes in order to improve our processes, shorten the cycle time of our process and improve our efficiency,” she says.
“So, there are many use cases for future collaboration. The opportunities are endless.”