Connected & Ready

Supply-chain technology for an excellent customer experience, with Microsoft’s Ashley Haynes-Gaspar

Episode Summary

Trade restrictions, inventory shortages, employee shortages, political turmoil. The supply chain side of the business world has had to deal with more than its share of disruption over the last few years. In this episode of Connected & Ready, host Gemma Milne talks with Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, COO for Microsoft Business Applications and Industry Clouds, about her latest insights around the role of technology in supply chains, where business leaders should be focusing in terms of their own supply chains, and especially how supply chains can help you shape a compelling customer experience. Learn how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management is helping businesses build agile and resilient supply chains. Request a live demo today: Thank you for listening to Connected & Ready! Do you have ideas of how we can improve the show? Want to recommend a guest for us to interview? We value your partnership and participation. Please drop us a note at We would love to hear from you.

Episode Notes

Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, COO for Microsoft Business Applications and Industry Clouds, talks with host Gemma Milne about key supply chain topics like how to coordinate stakeholders across your organization around your supply chain strategy, how to drive technology adoption, and unlocking the power of digital twins.

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About Ashley Haynes-Gaspar

Ashley is the Chief Operating Officer for the $1.5B division of Microsoft Business Applications & Dynamics 365 portfolio. Product lines include Customer Engagement (CRM), Finance & Operations (ERP), and the Power Platform to help transform customers, businesses, and industries at scale. She also serves as COO for Microsoft Industry Clouds in the US, representing the company's full capability across manufacturing, retail, healthcare, government, financial services, and supply chain solutions.

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Episode Transcription

Gemma [00:00:05] Hello and welcome. You're listening to Connected and Ready, an ongoing conversation about innovation, resilience and our capacity to succeed, brought to you by Microsoft. I'm Gemma Milne. I'm a technology journalist and author, and I'm going to be exploring trends around how companies are adapting to a disrupted world and preparing for tomorrow. We're going to speak to the innovators who are bringing products, operations and people together in new ways. In today's episode, I'm chatting with Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, COO of US Business Applications and Industry Clouds at Microsoft, to hear all about the radical and everlasting impact the pandemic has brought upon supply chains from a customer perspective. Marketing, service and sales teams are challenged to deliver on customer needs as inventory and expectations shift for everyone. So we discuss what it means to delight in amongst the disruption. We also dive into the technology side of the equation to address supply chain visibility, risk mitigation and decision making. Finally, we chat about what it means for Microsoft to continue to commit to help organizations and customers alike to achieve more. 

Gemma [00:01:09] Ashley, thank you so much for coming and joining us on the show today. Why don't we start with some introductions? Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role and experience at Microsoft. 

Ashley [00:01:18] Thanks so much, Gemma. I have to tell you, I am so excited to be here with you to really talk about what we've seen over the past couple years as it relates to supply chain and how Microsoft is really helping our customers transform them. My role today I am the Chief Operating Officer of U.S. Business Applications and Industry Clouds at Microsoft, and in this role, effectively what I do is I help customers transform their businesses to be more agile, to be more profitable and to be more customer centric. And I came to Microsoft four years ago from GE, General Electric, and my experience at G.E. there spanned marketing, sales, service and operations, which really gives me a unique perspective on the criticality that supply chain plays and really creating awesome, sticky, breathtaking and connected customer experiences. 

Gemma [00:02:14] Amazing. Well, that I think leads really nicely into our conversation then. Obviously over the past a bit, it's now two years, right, there's been trade restrictions, inventory shortages, employee shortages, obviously lots of different political things happening all around the globe, many factors impacting customers and of course, the professional teams that are enlisted to, to delight them, frankly. I wonder if you could paint us a picture of how expectations and realities have shifted over the course of the pandemic. 

Ashley [00:02:44] I think it's been a fascinating time. And I think crisis sometimes speeds evolution. And, you know, pre-COVID, pre-pandemic, most organizations saw their supply chains as a cost center. You know, it was an area for potential savings, but not necessarily an area for competitive advantage. I think that's all changed. You know, it's really interesting when I listen to some of our customers analyst calls, CEOs talking about their results, they're talking about supply chain and their investor calls. And I don't know that that's something that we would have seen three,five years ago. A few years ago, it was all about cost reductions and efficiency and Lean Six Sigma. And now at its base level, it's about maintaining the right buffer stock. It's about the ability to see upstream through your supplier tiers because those dependencies have become so essential, and really figuring out like how you coordinate across trading partners and with third party logistics companies. And a lot of those companies are finding that smart decisions in those areas come down to data. You know, there was a recent Gartner study where they basically said that almost 90 percent of manufacturing organizations are investing in technology for this shift that we've seen to really drive supply chain resilience and agility. 

Gemma [00:04:06] I want to pick up on something you said that I thought was really interesting. You said that the discussions around supply chain have sort of shifted from talking about it as a cost center to talking about it as a competitive advantage. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that. I mean, I guess there's the obvious point of: you're competitive if you can deliver things on time. But tell me a little bit more about that shift in conversation and what it sounds like to hear it being talked about in this way. 

Ashley [00:04:30] Thanks for that Gemma. You know, what's been really interesting is as we follow headlines, I think as recently, as you know, the past few days where auto manufacturers in the United States have lost share domestically, I think for the first time in a few years. Two international automakers who have the ability to meet the moment of the now, you know, and historically supply chain was always about how you drove shareholder return through increased profitability of a company. It was really a P&L discussion. What's interesting now is that supply chain has become a top line discussion in a way that we have not seen over the past three to five years. And it's really today becoming a more market share conversation than perhaps it's been historically because it's about who can meet the moment. And that is a supply chain discussion at its core. 

Gemma [00:05:21] I think building a little bit on shift in discussions, shall we say, and particularly I guess, provocative ideas when we're talking about digital disruption and what noise you hear, these kind of bombastic, provocative ideas like go digital or go bust and all these sorts of mindsets that we're talking about, but also encouraging business leaders to pay attention to. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what should business leaders consider as we move forward and a little bit about how those decisions impact organizations', you know, future profitability and customer relationships. 

Ashley [00:05:55] Yeah I appreciate that and I have to tell you when I hear things like go digital or go bust, I feel like that's a bumper sticker, like a strategy should ever be expressed in something that could fit on a bumper sticker. You know, here at Microsoft, we've been helping companies with their digital transformation journey for years and we've been on one ourselves. It's a major topic in supply chain these days. Companies need to be able to move more quickly than ever and sometimes really pivot at a moment's notice. And I think we've seen that it has been seemingly like one black swan event after another over the last two years. I mean, pandemics, semiconductor crisis, boats getting stuck in the Suez Canal. It felt like almost like every headline was a little bit more unbelievable. You know, as we roll through 2020 and 2021, and I think business leaders are looking at their supply chains and really figuring out how to respond to disruption quickly. And a lot of this comes down to leveraging data that already exists. That can be anything from bills of lading and invoices to customer transactions and really tracking the movement of goods. So going digital really allows organizations to make changes on the fly without giving up control of the process. You know, you probably saw this over the holiday season, where the most successful retailers really knew what delays to expect from their suppliers, from shipping and from last mile logistics. And they used data and were able to collaborate with their partners to plan better than to make better decisions on the fly during the rush. So it's about the end to end chain, from supplier to manufacturing and logistics, which really then comes down to end customer fulfillment and satisfaction and technology enables that sharing. And what I will say from my perspective is that companies are more willing to share data with one another to help ensure that that is a seamless customer experience, and that has felt a bit like a breakthrough during COVID. 

Gemma [00:07:56] Let's build a little bit on customer experience because I think a lot of time when we talk about supply chain, it feels very, you know, B2B, back office stuff the customer doesn't really think about or necessarily care about beyond - does it arrive on time? So let's talk a little bit about customer experiences and what it means to sort of delight customers in amongst all these, as you say, different black swan events we've been having recently. 

Ashley [00:08:22] You know, I think today most companies have a pretty murky view beyond their tier one and sometimes tier two suppliers. And it's one of the reasons why we've seen so many disruptions, I think in the last couple of years. And that's starting to change and technology is really helping businesses gain visibility into their supply chains to really be able to accurately assess risk and make better decisions. So now you can start to map your suppliers and your suppliers of suppliers, which is important when you want to identify hidden vulnerabilities. Now, those vulnerabilities could be things like geopolitical risk. They could be vulnerabilities like weather delays, and data really enables the ability for us to start to map these things beyond tier one, which is super powerful. And I think cracking the supply chain risk problem really relies on that better data. It relies on predictive analytics and it relies on productivity tools, and it's the whole stack. Advanced analytics can really help us make sense of signals from a wide range of sources, and we're seeing companies really integrate these signals now, not only from suppliers, but also from outside sources like websites and press reports and weather and State Department warnings and even satellite imagery. And the most successful organizations have the ability to really merge that data and analytics to go from data to insight to action with knowledge from their experts. It's always going to be the interface of technology and people that really matter. You know, technology really empowers the experts to be able to predict and demand and automate logistics and ultimately make better decisions. But all of that really helps to unlock that customer experience 

Gemma [00:10:03] And tell me then a little bit about, I guess, creating that customer experience by ensuring that everybody in the business tasked with thinking about customer experience - how do they coordinate around the business's the supply chain strategy to ensure the customer experience is still delivered in a way that's doable nowadays? 

Ashley [00:10:24] I love that, and I will tell you, you know, my prior experience, one of my greatest frustrations sometimes is that our data was stranded and it was siloed, and the customer was only like marketing's job or sales' job, and the customer wasn't everybody's job. And what that created for our customers was really a fragmented experience. And I think the ideal supply chain really allows an organization to deliver the right product at the right time to the customer, and it's resilient against disruption, whether it's expected or unexpected and really secure from end to end. And resilience requires connectivity and connectivity throughout the value chain is essential not only to business continuity, but to that customer experience. And successful organizations, no matter the industry, have a responsibility to deliver great products and services to their customers on time, like delight them and meet their expectations. And this starts with alignment at the C-suite with a common mission and purpose that everybody wakes up every day for the customer, regardless of what function you're in. Because you can't have marketing promoting products, you can't keep on the shelves. You can't have sales incentivized to sell something that you can't stock. Your customer service folks need to be able to understand when we get it wrong for a customer, how do we make it right? And that requires visibility into the supply chain. You know, and if you and your organizations happen to have field service teams that are going out to customer sites to fix things, you need to make sure that they've got the inventory to make the fix the first time when they're out to site. Otherwise, that is a detracting experience for that customer. So this means really connecting data across the front office with the back office, and it's about those connected systems. It's about those insights to really drive that customer relationship and connectivity. So what used to be siloed functions with the organizations, so we talk about what's next, they're going to have to be linked. And success is going to rely on connectivity outside an organization's walls as well. So to my earlier point, it's not just about that internal connectivity. We now have the ability to pull in those insights from suppliers to the factory, then through to customer fulfillment and support. And that really means ever increasing connectivity with trading partners and warehouses and logistics companies and ports and everybody that matters in this entire system to deliver that sticky five star experience with customers. 

Gemma [00:12:52] It's super compelling and it seems almost pretty obvious, this idea that, well, everybody needs to have this information in order for the business to function well. But what does that kind of look like from a practical perspective in terms of actually implementing that strategy? Tell us a little bit about what does this technology fuel supply chain actually look like for an organization? Is that something really hard to begin? Is it one piece of software? Give us a little bit more detail. 

Ashley [00:13:19] Yeah, I think all of this is enabled by data, but I can't help but say we are uniquely positioned to help here because what we have the ability to do is to create a common data platform where this data exists across all of the silos. We have CRM solutions, we have ERP solutions, you know, we have data and analytics capabilities that have the ability to reason over all of these massive data sets to help leaders get to these insights, providing a connected customer experience. Importantly for customers, but perhaps more importantly, for the humans that deliver those experiences and for employees. You know, we have collaboration and work tools inside Microsoft that give employees that are in marketing, in sales, in customer service the ability to collaborate together to solve customer issues based on that common data platform and that common set of data that people are using. So we have the ability to help data be democratized, to have it be analyzed, and to get to insight and action across silos and organizations. 

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Gemma [00:14:56] One of the things that we're hearing a lot about a growing trend is this idea of the digital twin. I wonder if you could give us a little bit of context, some examples about what digital twins are, what they enable, and how they lead to better outcomes for customers. 

Ashley [00:15:09] You know, people are like, hey, listen - if you had to describe a digital twin at a dinner party, like what would you say? You know, I think a digital twin is just a digital copy of something that exists in the physical world. It can be a factory machine. It can be an IOT asset. And it can also represent a digitally connected supply chain, for example. Really spanning across suppliers, physical goods, the trucks and the ships that move all of these critical componentry around. And digital twins are a way to really simulate changes to a system before making a major investment, and also to plan for these super unique and special black swan events or scenarios. You know these what if scenarios are a lot easier to get your head around when you have these digital twins because it allows you to kind of pull a different lever and figure out with specificity, depending on what that disruption is, what's the fastest path of solve?

Gemma [00:16:03] So, yeah, I think let's pull it back to the kind of reality of not only getting this aligned, this connected supply chain you talked about, but also allowing room for growth into the future for new products and ideas and technologies such as digital twin that I'm sure will keep coming. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what it means to, I guess, attack this or strategize this from a small, a medium, a large business perspective, because I'm assuming it will be very different depending on size, but also the current state of the business from a digital transformation perspective. 

Ashley [00:16:36] So I think it really depends on the organization and what problems need solving. And you know, though you asked a solution question, I think a really important part of the solution, Gemma, is ensuring that you have alignment across your leadership team on what a great customer experience is and that that is a strategic priority for your company. Because what it's going to mean is that that decision has to culturally cascade through the organization. It has to financially cascade through the organization. From a people perspective, it has to cascade through the organization and from a technology perspective, it has to cascade through the organization. So when you say, you know, we are in the business of providing breathtaking, sticky customer experiences when it's most impactful, and I think this is where market share will be captured over the next three to five years is a commitment across all of those vectors. Everybody is saying this is our mission critical priority. 

Gemma [00:17:34] Let's dive a little bit deeper into that. You know, I'm thinking about people who are listening to this podcast, all at different levels within companies. We'll have some people who are in leadership, some people who are middle management, so on and so forth, who are agreeing with you and saying, yep, we clearly need this alignment. So how do we start to try and get that alignment, try and get that agreement of the importance of customer experience to everybody to then sort of effervesce, as you said through the organization, in order to get that supply chain strategy nailed down. 

Ashley [00:18:04] So I think once you have leadership commitment to the cause and you've got folks aligned, and you ask the question, what's next, there's probably a million ways to crack that nut. I can tell you how I've done it in my career. What we have done is we have had design thinking experts come in and help us design what that breathtaking customer end to end experience would look like. What's differentiated from our competition? What are all the potential customer touchpoints that they have with our customer? What are the points of delight today versus the point of frustration? And then that helps you prioritize perhaps where to start. Because the vision that I articulated across is completely connected organization is provocative and it's a multi-year journey. And what you want to do is you want to start with the elements that are causing you the most acute pain today. So for our supply chain friends on the phone, you know, it might be things like supply chain visibility and agility, like, we've got to solve that, but you can't solve that in isolation. If you're committed to this as an organization, you need to workshop together with your chief revenue officer, your chief customer officer, you know, your chief service officer really across the organization to say, OK, if I do this in supply chain, how does this impact your world? And is this the right order of solve? Or would you ask me to think about these things a little bit differently, depending on how you define a great sticky customer experience? You know, so if marketing automation as an example is on the second horizon, it's how and what I'm doing today in supply chain, how can that help my CMO as they're on their journey to talking to customers about what we can do and what we can't do so that we start to build in a connected way together, though from a technology horizon perspective that may span multiple years. Does that make sense? 

Gemma [00:19:50] Yeah, definitely. And I guess then I suppose because we've had this conversation a lot on the podcast about, you know, we can talk about all these new interesting technologies and what they provide for people and so on and so forth. But if you don't have not only a strategy and a vision, but also the sort of cultural set up in order to execute, I don't want to say the technology is pointless, but you know, it's sort of technology for technology's sake, right? And so I suppose that's why it's so important, as you say, to make sure that you're at least aligned on what's next and then allowing yourself to expand your horizons and think about what it could really mean in an idealized situation, but know that technology's there to back it up. 

Ashley [00:20:28] You know, it's so funny because you raised such an incredibly important point, right? Which is technology without adoption is a science experiment, right? And when I led customer service, we had 95 different customer support systems in a prior job. And for my employees, oftentimes they were swivel charring between three and four different systems, sometimes to support the same customer, depending on which products they had in the portfolio. Because we were just a complex organization that was built over time through acquisition. And part of our mission was to get to like this breathtaking, sticky customer experience, right? So I recognize going from 95 systems to one streamlining process, making it delightful, is a journey for our customers, and I need to make sure they have transparency and visibility on the journey that they're going to go on because there are going to be times that we're going to get it right and there is going to be some times where we're going to need some grace. But similarly, like our employees had to have a say in it because they were going to be the ones who were going to be asked to change how they work, their knowledge base, the types of things that they do in their day to day job. So part of what we did, Gemma, was we created a series of visioning videos that we used at every turn the organization to make sure that our employees were on the journey with us, you know, because a lot of people derive their personal value through what they do when they walk into a building every day. I'm no different. Like, I get a lot of juice out of what I do, and I think a lot of people are the same. Particularly when it comes to helping customers. So ensuring that your employees who are going to be living in a, I don't know, a kitchen renovation, you know, as you go through this transformation, understand the end vision is such an important part of this journey to make sure that they're with you and that when they pick up that phone or they engage with that customer, that they are doing it in a way that honors the brand that you're trying to have in the marketplace. 

Gemma [00:22:22] So Ashley, you've, throughout this conversation painted, as I've said before, a really great picture of what things could be. I'm just thinking for anyone who's sort of listening to this discussion and is on board and agrees with me that they've been convinced as well, what would be the next step, what should they do now in order to activate things and get things moving forward? 

Ashley [00:22:41] I think for anybody on this journey, step one is getting internal alignment. I think step two is, you know, reaching out. We have resources that can help you from design thinking to envisioning to solutioning. And you know, those engagements don't run months, they have a tendency to kind of run weeks. So if you're interested in exploring the art of the possible, you know, we'd love to meet you at the table and bring a few of our partners along with us. 

Gemma [00:23:08] I want to ask you one final question, and you know, we've just said about how culture and leadership and sort of taking step by step and knowing that this is a journey is important to think about. But let's park that and say, OK, what's on the horizon, what's in the future, what's coming next? And obviously, Microsoft is working on many different kinds of solutions for supply chain and many other things too, and talks a lot about how it's all about helping organizations achieve more. And I wondered if you could give us, I don't know, a bit of an insight into what Microsoft is on their horizon. What are you guys looking at that's in the future? What's coming for organizations to be able to get on board to help better their customer experience and their outcomes? 

Ashley [00:23:51] Thank you for that. So I will tell you, apart from that common data platform and the ability to kind of work across the C-suite, I would say in the last few months in our business applications portfolio, intelligent order management has gone into general availability and think about intelligent order management as a tool that really helps companies both with inventory optimization and customer fulfillment. And then on the visibility end of things, we've launched supply chain insights into public preview. And it's a way for organizations to really collaborate with their suppliers to know what's happening upstream and then predict and respond to disruptions. All that comes in and provides supply chain leaders with insights around potential disruptions. And then what actions do they need to take when these things occur? And these business applications work with our customers existing applications estate. So whether it's Dynamics 365 or some of our partner solutions, our product portfolio services and the power of our partner ecosystem really work together to help drive that supply chain outcome that we've discussed today. So I'm so grateful for the time. I'm so grateful for the conversation, and I want to thank you for the opportunity. 

Gemma [00:24:57] Thank you so much for coming and joining us Ashley, it's been really brilliant to get your insight and your expertise on what's happening now and what's coming next.

Ashley [00:25:03] Thanks a ton. 

Gemma [00:25:03] That's it for this week, thank you so much for tuning in. You can find out more about Ashley's work and indeed some of the broader themes we discussed today in the show notes. If you enjoyed the episode, please do take a few moments to rate and review the podcast, it really helps other people discover the show. And don't forget to subscribe, and tune in next time to continue our conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed. 

Ad [00:25:36] Learn how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management is helping businesses build agile and resilient supply chains. Request a live demo today by following the link in the episode description.