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Control towers: how to build the right capabilities in the team

Wouter Van Wijngaarden
November 10, 2020

Almost a decade ago, Capgemini defined the control tower as “a combination of organizations (people), systems and processes in order to provide supply chain partners with a high level of product visibility along the entire supply chain”. Nowadays, the Control Tower is capable of much, much more than ‘just’ providing visibility as the technologies have been replaced by more modern tools and software. Data becomes more and more crucial to support the growth of data science and AI, which allows for predictive and prescriptive recommendations to resolve supply chain disruptions or mitigate disruption risks.

However, the people working with these new systems, technologies, algorithms and customer requirements are still the same people as 10 years ago. Since humans do not adhere to Moore’s law, it becomes increasingly harder for us to successfully interpret and understand high volumes of data. Simply adding more data, algorithms and technologies will therefore not be a solution to solving the supply chain disruptions of the future. The opposite might even be true; by adding too much information without additional capability building, we stop being able to make sense out of the information fired at us. We can partly fill these human capability gaps through predictive and prescriptive recommendations, but in the end an algorithm or dashboard does not report to a manager nor does it follow the escalation or governance processes. It does not understand cultural differences and it cannot calm down an upset customer. We therefore need to pay special attention to the ‘people’ as people still need to explain what is happening and communicate to stakeholders why certain decisions have been made.

The first questions we are asked most frequently by clients preparing a Control Tower project are “Which software do you recommend?” or “What AI do I need?”. Although these technologies are indeed important, these clients should be looking at the problem instead of the answer first. The questions should therefore be preceded by an explanation of which processes will be managed by the Control Tower and how to make sure that the people working in this Control Tower will have the right capabilities to steer these processes. Only then we can define what information needs to be brought into the Control Tower and via which system(s) or technologies.

“While Control Tower software can be updated and algorithms improved, a capability building program is the only way to realize continuous improvement of people”

Capability building therefore, is much more than training someone in performing a task. It relates to an individual’s understanding and knowledge of the organization and its systems, company processes, people and cultural aspects and other hard- and soft skills (such as communication and leadership behaviour, language skills or dealing with stakeholder pressure). In several Control Tower implementations, we have seen a focus on training new processes and systems in a short timeframe prior to starting operations instead of a broader capability development plan. However, this does not always have the desired effect and may lead to unexpected or adverse effects, since the execution of a task is not always the most important part of someone’s role; sometimes it involves understanding emotions, cultural differences or hierarchy. Therefore, creating a dedicated capability building plan is mandatory for a successful and sustainable Control Tower setup. It requires analyzing the Control Tower design blueprint (vision, processes, deliverables and architecture) to define the required capabilities. Once the required capabilities are mapped, the appropriate tools for skill building, training and measurement can be created. After that, the right knowledge experts, people with the appropriate skills and knowledge to build a capability (which can be either internal to the organization or external), can be activated. This plan should also be maintained and forward-looking in order to stay aligned with the organization’s strategy, vision and service portfolio, ensuring the Control Tower team focuses on the right targets to achieve strategic goals.

Figure 1: different capabilities are required to make the right decisions and foster collaboration in a control tower.

We recently completed a Control Tower implementation for a high-tech company where new, complex processes and technologies were introduced to an almost completely new team. Additional complexity was that this team is based in East Asia and due to COVID-19 we could not get any of the knowledge experts to physically work alongside the new employees. We therefore set up an extensive remote capability building program of more than a month for each hiring group, in which these employees were exposed to various topics by knowledge experts, who we trained to be effective in transferring knowledge and motivating their audience. Instead of ‘learning-by-doing’ (or as some might call it; ‘being thrown into the deep end’), these new employees had a classroom-style learning program in which they were challenged to ask questions. The groups worked together with each other and their more experienced colleagues on real-life cases in group learning exercises to get to know the organization and its stakeholders as well as build their capabilities in process knowledge, system knowledge and their interpersonal & leadership skills. Next to that, a program was setup to connect the team to the rest of the organization on a regular basis, allowing them to understand the impact of decisions in a broader supply chain scope.

Like any investment, a capability building program should prove its value to the organization. Just like performance indicators that steer predictions and prescriptions in a Control Tower, which are nothing without thresholds, Control Tower performance is nothing without thresholds. Continuously assessing performance based on the required capabilities for one’s role is a very powerful way to determine both the impact and effectiveness of training programs on the individual strengths and skill gaps of team members. It allows an organization to define a capability building plan per employee, as well as for the overall team. For example, does a training on customer sensitivity for a person or a group of people increase overall customer satisfaction?

Seeing where we were almost ten years ago and where we are today, one of the questions that we ask ourselves regularly is “where will Control Towers be in ten years from now?”. We expect that machine learning and AI will become increasingly important, and that the team’s capabilities need to grow in order to understand the scenario’s that are proposed and the automated decisions that are made. During this transition phase, the thresholds for which decisions could be automated and which should still be made manually by human intervention should be set initially but reviewed regularly to determine whether an increase of automation is feasible. This can only be achieved by growing your Control Tower team through continuous capability building.

How are you improving or measuring the capabilities of your control tower team? We would love to hear from you. Connect via LinkedIn or email directly

This blog was written together with Camiel Rijlaarsdam who can be contacted on LinkedIn or

Lastly, for more information on control towers please see our latest Point of View: Cognitive Control Towers – How consumer-products organizations can improve stability and resiliency through dynamic control-tower capabilities.