At Google, Supriya Iyer is asking the right questions

At Google, Supriya Iyer is asking the right questions

Supriya Iyer is the Director of Supply Chain and Commercial Operations at Google. Here, she explains what it takes to lead and who inspires her

Research from SEO Tribunal suggests that there are over three million Google searches every minute. But behind the familiar question tab is Supriya Iyer – the Director of Supply Chain and Commercial Operations at Google. 

Born in India, Iyer went on to complete her schooling there, all the way through to postgraduate study. After completing a double Master’s in Mathematics and Information Systems from B.I.T.S Pilani India, Iyer then moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she became a formidable player working in global supply chain and operations roles across a variety of industry sectors, such as automotive and high tech. 

“My work at General Electric was especially pertinent to my growth as a professional,” she explains. “It was there that I truly learnt about managing change and driving transformation.”

In 2016, Iyer moved to the Bay Area with her family and started working at Google Cloud in the global partner programmes team and subsequently in the professional services organisation. 

“In October 2019, I took on my current role in the Google networking team as the Director of Supply Chain and Commercial Operations. The Google networking supply chain & commercial operations team is structured to effectively manage procurement and supply of networking equipment to sites, overseeing significant investment in assets and services across the business.”

The challenges in this role range from supporting Google Cloud’s enterprise customers to ensuring effective procurement and delivery to complex countries.

“The shift over the past 40+ years to just-in-time inventory and global manufacturing has helped to optimise costs,” says Iyer. “However, the pandemic added a new set of unforeseen challenges. On the supply side, border closings combined with lockdowns constrained the manufacturing and shipping of key components and goods, significantly increasing lead times. Juggling supply to meet growing demand has therefore posed new challenges.”

Hiring supply chain and project management talent globally in a labour constrained environment has been more of a challenge recently. 

“As a leader, supporting team members to take care of their health and overall wellbeing during the pandemic has been critical, but not always easy to do. The last two years have been a marathon and it isn’t over by any stretch of imagination!”

Iyer and her team are working hard to overcome these challenges.

“We have developed frameworks, processes and metrics to help better understand and quantify these challenges. For example, working with business stakeholders on an emerging market roadmap, developing a materials supply playbook for these markets and investing in planning ahead to support timely deployment in these markets have helped. 

“Similarly, developing a two-year capability roadmap has helped not only supply chain but also our partner teams to work on the right tools, data structures, reporting and processes to enable scale and velocity.

“Strong partnerships with strategic suppliers has been pivotal to ensure smooth supply and early notification of supply constraints. Jointly, we have been able to develop solutions that have supported Google networking’s rapid growth.”

Vulnerability and authenticity in leadership

The best piece of advice Iyer has ever been given is to “get out of the office and connect with customers, vendors, peers and team members” – pretty difficult to do in the pandemic, but not impossible. 

“Only then can you hope to understand them and build relationships of trust and open communication,” she says.

This advice is in part inspired by an eclectic range of Iyers personal heroes.

“I’m inspired by seekers – anyone who is committed to learning, growth and giving back: Malala Yousafzai, Mahatma Gandhi, Greta Thunberg and Maya Angelou, they are some examples of people who inspire me by what they stand for and how they lead. They demonstrate vulnerability, authenticity and standing up for the community. 

“At work, I am inspired by the Google leaders, my peers and of course my team who have shown customer centricity, perseverance and teamwork despite the tough challenges of the last 2 years. Compassionate and competent leaders – my first mentor (John Gafferena) and my father (Alak Sundararaman) – have always inspired me to challenge the status quo, invite diverse perspectives and focus on the customer.”

Making the Google supply chain resilient  

Google is a planet-scale network, but there are some figures that can provide a more easily digestible view of the organisation:

  • Google’s global network consists of a system of high-capacity fibre optic cables that encircle the globe, under both land and sea, connecting data centres to each other and to users
  • Globally, Google operates data centres in 23 locations, 34 cloud regions and 103 zones
  • The company has 147 points of presence and has announced 20 subsea cable investments around the globe
  • Google also has thousands of edge locations around the world in over 200 countries and territories, offering users and customers very low latency services such as Google Assistant and rich content such as YouTube and Google Photos

Though undoubtedly a complex, multi-layered role, which elements of growing this worldwide network demand most from Iyer?

“Anticipation is key and asking the right questions to pre-empt the needs of a rapidly growing and evolving network is a challenge,” she says. “The only guarantee is the next 12 months won’t be like the previous 12 months, for sure!”

Innovating material supply in ways that enables responsiveness at short notice will be key in the coming years – most likely for all industries. Part standardisation, rationalisation and in-region customisation are some approaches that Google is taking to reduce long lead-times. Iyer’s team invests considerable time in building on the strong partnership with their strategic vendors and jointly innovating with them. Similarly, working with the engineering, deployment and network operations teams within Google, to ensure alignment, is a key part of Iyer’s work. Over time, the Google network hopes to be able to deliver greater predictably with innovative solutions to meet industry needs, while operating an autonomous network. Similar to a self-driving car, Google’s intent-driven automated network needs to evolve into an autonomous network. 

“In addition to thinking about reliability as ‘How do we minimise failures?’, at Google we think as well about ‘How we can make our services resilient to failures when they happen?’. In our organisation, we spend as much time on systems and processes to respond to failures as we do in preventing them in the first place. Google Cloud has grown significantly, and we are continuously increasing the number of enterprise customers we support.” 

Supply chain and digital transformation at Google

Iyer has a roadmap for Google’s networking supply chain. She and her team have devoted considerable effort to optimise their supply chain tools and systems to reengineer across the end to end value chain and enable FLOW and agility. 

“Revisiting processes and systems in light of both the demand and supply variability is essential to predictably deliver at scale,” she says. “The frequency and volume of change will increase and we are developing processes and tools where we can react within a lead time that our customers need to sustainably succeed.”

Iyer plans to leverage AI and ML capabilities to further automate supply chain processes and simplify decision making. An example of this could be scaled invoice validation to support timely processing and payment.

“Integration with vendor systems and tools for timely information flow across the materials supply chain,” she explains. “For example, integration with third-party warehouse providers is key to ensure the right information is available to make the right decisions in a timely manner.

“We are actively working to deliver an agreed capability roadmap. We are well progressed on all fronts and, in light of the recent supply constraints and demand growth, we have further refined our capability roadmap to predictably meet customer demand in the coming years.”

This transformation will help Google to offer customers capabilities that it hasn’t been able to offer before, with the investment in enhancing tools, systems, processes and data frameworks helping Google to support cloud customers with new networking products and capabilities at scale. It will support customers’ growing businesses and help them to achieve their purpose and strategy. 

However, Google’s long-term strategy for the Google networking supply chain links right back to Google’s vision: ‘To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful’. “My team’s vision aligns with this as we aim to provide access to networking materials and all material related information to our customers easily and simply,” says Iyer. “Responsive and responsible supply of networking materials and services is our mission; that is what motivates us.”

Such a mission would not be possible without a reliable partner ecosystem. At Google, vendors are valued partners and the company actively collaborates with them at all levels to develop innovative solutions and products. Google networking engineering, product, supply chain and other teams regularly connect, discuss and work closely with vendors. 

“They are vital to delivering our vision and strategy and, likewise, Google as a customer is critical for them and their organisations,” says Iyer. “There is mutual respect, trust and confidence in our ability to shape Google’s network in the coming years.

“Our relationship with our vendors has deepened in the last two years; we’ve been learning from each other. We have also supported each other in developing innovative solutions and ensuring timely execution of critical projects.”

Increased digitisation; stronger partnerships with suppliers; working closely with governments; holding larger inventory buffers for critical components; bringing supply chains closer to home; and increasing optionality will be key to protect from future shocks.

The pandemic has given supply chain professionals a platform to appropriately influence design, engineering and deployment – and Iyer is ready for the next stage.

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