Building the Network of Networks. Call for Action. Want to Help?

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network-of-networks-small_narrowcropIn the 1980s commercial internet providers evolved. In 2001 Steve Jobs put 1000 songs in our pocket.  And steadily, over the last three decades, mobile phones changed the pace of business. In the process, the banks got bigger and business networks grew more complex. In the last decade social networks and new business models evolved. eCommerce and electronic shopping carts drove new forms of commerce. It lifted all boats in our personal lives.

However, this is not the case for B2B business processes. Data sits–examples include images, map and location data, sentiment, telematics, warranty, and weather– on the doorsteps of manufacturing companies and retailers. These signals cannot be used. Supply chains respond. They do not sense. Supply chain business networks need an overhaul.

Supply chain transactions remain dependent on EDI messaging standards which are now over 45-years old. EDI solutions consolidated and innovation slowed. Data does not move at the speed of business. Instead, data lies in pools within functions of the organization.

Connecting business-to-businesses is difficult, too costly and inefficient. Today’s supply chain is more dependent on supplier and customer relationships. The process is more complex, but we are not making much progress. Onboarding a supplier today takes two to five months, and while supply chain professionals wax eloquently about multi-tier processes, and driving value in business networks, it is not today’s business reality. I have studied this space for the last 15 years. I say ENOUGH!  Let’s drive change. This is why I started the Network of Networks initiative, i.e. to jumpstart that change.


Someone asked me the other day how I adopted the name for this blog. My first goal was to find an available URL and  Supply Chain Shaman met this requirement. While I shun the religious and spiritual connotations of the word Shaman, I gravitate to a shaman’s role as a visionary to educate and heal. This is what I am attempting to do in my work at the Network of Networks sessions. To do this we bring together business and technology leaders to ideate together.

Today’s supply chain is sick. Companies struggle to make progress in their continuous-improvement programs. Strapped IT budgets grow burdened by the maintenance costs of historic spend. Processes are not equal to the task. Traditional approaches attempted to optimize a nonlinear system through linear optimization. Mistaken advice from consultants’ focus became functional excellence and project management. As a result, expectations are not being met.

Sharing My Personal Bias 

Ask anyone about Lora Cecere and they will probably share that I am a woman of strong opinions. No denying the truth. I will never be known as a milquetoast.

During 1992-2001 I worked for a software vendor, Manugistics, and was part of a think tank tasked to develop a vision for the future of supply chain planning software. Before joining a software company I managed production and distribution facilities for large consumer products companies: Clorox; Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, now Nestlé; Kraft/General Foods, now Kraft/Heinz; and P&G. I was very fortunate to have rich experiences–building and starting up new products, implementing software, and driving continuous improvement programs– in established companies across the industry.  Entering the world of software was a jolt. Why? It was a different cultural DNA, pace, and business model.  Making the transition was difficult, but I feel fortunate to have been able to walk in the safety shoes of the practitioner, draw on the whiteboards at a software vendor, and then move into the research world to share insights with others.

When I joined the Advisory Services Group in Supply Chain at the Gartner Group in 2002, the concept of trading exchanges was exploding. We were tracking hundreds in a turbulent market. Today there are 11 major players: Descartes; GHX; Exostar; IBM (Sterling); INFOR (GT Nexus); Elemica; E2open; OpenText (GXS); One Network; SAP Ariba; and SupplyOn. There is no connectivity between these networks, and onboarding is long and expensive. We are not achieving on the promise. The efficiency and effectiveness of business networks eludes us.

At that time the commonly held view was that business networks would happen on the back of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). The worldview was there would be a series of connections from ERP and that the applications of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) would be the natural adaptors to build the network. I know that you know now how flawed this logic is. I would sit at my desk and contrast the implosion of the trading network market, driven by visionaries and technology innovators, with the more limited views of the enterprise technology software vendors rapidly being dominated by a few ERP vendors.

shutterstock_79601143In 2002-2003 I fought a personal battle within internal walls of Gartner Group, fighting a concept called ERP II. I lost the heated debates. Gartner’s public advice was to standardize on ERP and build large instances, common instances. The focus was on IT standardization. I felt that the analyst could not be independent. There was just too much pressure to comply with the prevailing view of technology vendors.

I gave up and left Gartner because I could not endorse the ERP II logic. I now know I should have fought it more. The belief in ERP II took supply chain planning systems backwards a decade. While companies needed a common system for transactions to build global supply chains–this is well-served by ERP– the tight coupling of transactional systems to decision support eroded progress. (I will avoid getting on my soapbox. This could be a blog post all in itself.)


Figure 1. ERP II-Centric View of Business Networks


In 2012 I formed the view of B2B networks shown in Figure 2. I believed that companies would use large data warehouses for storage, and new forms of collaborative applications, and decision support would evolve to drive B2B connectivity. I knew it was nonlinear with many interconnections, and that the drawing was too simplistic. The technologies in 2012 were not equal to this vision.

Figure 2. My Vision in 2012


I now think it looks more like Figure 3.  I think the storage requires read/write schema, massive parallel processing, the use of structured and unstructured text, the support of ontologies and cognitive learning, open models and real-time data. Today’s supply chain databases are batch with a focus of storing and using only structured data. Computing memory was a barrier in 2002. It is not now.

Figure 3. Evolution of Network of Networks Thinking


I think making this vision a reality hinges on a confluence of technologies: Hadoop, Spark, Blockchain, Cognitive Learning, Semantic Reasoning, Ontologies, Open Data Models, Multi-tier Process Canonicals, and new forms of Descriptive Analytics.

Figure 4. Confluence of Technologies


To do this I think we need to take supply chain technology thinking to a hard left. It is a sharp departure from conventional wisdom. In this blog post I share what this means.

shutterstock_380726770I believe the Network of Networks architectures are:

  • Distributed
  • Open
  • Outside-in Based on Multi-Tier Processes
  • Adaptive Learning Engines (Cognitive Learning, Ontologies and Machine Learning)
  • Structured and Unstructured Data
  • Data Moves at the Speed of Business


This is a sharp contrast to conventional supply chain investments. The focus of traditional projects is a hard right. What do I mean? Most companies’ IT projects are multi-year projects built on traditional supply chain systems which are:

  • Proprietary
  • Closed
  • Batch
  • Linear and Single Tier
  • Fixed
  • Inside-out
  • Dependent on Standards and Hard Coding of Data

Can we take a hard left? I don’t know. We need to prove the value proposition through testing. We will have bumps and bruises. It requires education, and the shift is anything but easy. It will take a village. This is the basis of the Network of Networks effort.

What Is the Network of Networks Effort?

To drive progress I started an initiative termed the Network of Networks in the spring of 2016. It is open to all technology providers and business users. We have had three meetings. Our next meeting is the middle of April. Our goal is to test the concepts in live sandboxes and share the results openly at the September Imagine 2017 conference. We are lucky to have Schneider Electric volunteer to let the group test the storyboards in their digital dirt.

What is the goal of the Network of Networks initiative? “It is the adoption of distributed and open technology by the ecosystem of technology providers and business leaders to drive interoperability in networks to deliver new outcomes.” This is a simple statement for a big idea.

We realize that no one vendor or trading partner can make this happen. It requires the rethinking of network capabilities.

The Potential Value Proposition

There are many angles to take in the testing. The first focus will be on digital onboarding and a community registry. The second pilot will be the combination of Apache Spark with Blockchain and Cognitive Learning to test data mapping of disparate systems requiring data at different speeds. In the future there are many possibilities.

Figure 5. Possibilities of the Network of Networks


We do not know where this will lead. While we hope for a revolution in supply chain technology process thinking, we must stay grounded. Listed in Figure 6 are the group’s aspirational goals.

Figure 6. Group Goals


The pilots and meetings are open. On January 11, 2017 at 10:00 ET, we will host a webinar as a call to action for participants in the pilots. We hope to have you join the effort! It will take early adopters, late followers, and technology compliance by solution providers. The early adopters in the pilots will absorb their costs and provide data while signing a release on NDA and intellectual property development.

Disrupting in the Midst of Disruption

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2016 Supply Chain Insights Global Summit

We are continuing to break the mold to help supply chain visionaries gain first-mover advantage. While other analyst firms put their research behind paywalls, we set it free. We want everyone around the globe to use our research freely and openly. Through our research panels—using Linkedin and Twitter—we now have a database of over 6500 respondents. Our philosophy is “When companies give to us by participating in our surveys, we give to them through open, shared content.” We do this through our monthly newsletters, webinars and podcasts. It is working. Our goal is to build a guiding coalition of supply chain leaders to help supply chain teams think differently and drive new outcomes.

This week we will be hosting our fourth Supply Chain Insights Global Summit. We are excited to reconnect with 120 supply chain leaders in face-to-face conversations, but we are also looking forward to a truly global conversation with supply chain leaders around the world on topics like the autonomous supply chain, making the digital pivot, Supply Chains to Admire, and building supply chain talent. To help the supply chain leader, we set up the conference to maximize networking. We use research materials, case studies, videos, and financial analysis to stimulate new levels of thinking.

With travel restrictions and competing priorities, we know that not everyone can make the conference. Again, we are breaking the mold. This year we will live stream the event to ensure that supply chain leaders everywhere—in every part of the globe—can participate. The event can be accessed through and during the session, we will take questions from twitter at #imagine2030.

Helping Leaders to Imagine a Path Forwardshutterstock_317629430

Why are we doing this? Growth is slowing and costs are rising. Companies want to use new forms of analytics and drive insights; but unfortunately, budgets are tied to traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Advanced Planning (APS) projects. Companies want to move forward with new forms of analytics, but they are unclear on the Return on Investment. As shown in Figure 1, the first steps will be in the investments in analytics. Followed by machine-to-machine automation through the Internet of Things and the embracing of 3D printing and robotics. On the horizon are new forms of sensing, self-driving vehicles, digital manufacturing, and bio-molecular engineering. We believe that processes shift to be outside-in, that consumer activism for social responsible supply chains increases and that leaders will redefine B2B to be a network of networks. supplychain2030

The pace of change in technologies to drive a digital advantage is staggering. It is hard to keep up. To help leaders, we invite all of the cool technologies that we see in our travels to the digital showcase at the event. We want leaders to come face-to face with emerging technologies and learn the art of the possible directly from innovators.

Through our partnership with CorpU, we have finished seven short learning sprints, termed catalysts. At the event, attendees will be able to experiment with the training and learn how it can be customized to accelerate their programs or change management initiatives. The catalysts include online benchmarking, digital case studies, ideation tournaments and social interaction. At the end of a training session, the business sponsor can assess organizational readiness to make the digital pivot by region or business and understand how their team rates against the competition.

After the conference we will share the videos, powerpoints, and research openly. We will continue the discussion on how to Imagine Supply Chain 2030 on Linkedin and in our Beet Fusion community. We will also continue to host our Network of Network facilitated sessions twice a year to stimulate new levels of thinking between business users and technologists. We are the analyst disruptor to help the supply chain leader through disruption. We look forward to hearing from you. Let us know your thoughts!

Supply Chains to Admire – 2016 Results

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sc-to-admire-2016-general_miniFive months of analysis. Lots of heated debates. It is now over. This morning we announced the Supply Chains to Admire Winners and Finalists for 2016. The research starts in April and stretches over many weeks as we analyze the different elements and understand the patterns of each industry.

Why do we do it? Selfishly, we need a standard for our research, but we also want to help supply chain leaders gain new insights from a deep data-driven analysis. There is no agreed-upon standard for supply chain excellence. Leaders agree that it is easier to say than define. A clear goal is needed to drive progress. The answer? We think deep research to help companies determine benchmarks and set goals.


The Supply Chains to Admire analysis is now in its third year. It is data driven research: a deep analysis of performance, improvement and Price to Tangible Book Value of 320 companies across 31 industries for the period of 2009-2015. The source data for the analysis is public reporting of balance sheets and income statements.

To determine the winners, we compare the effectiveness of each company against relative performance within an industry-specific peer group. We determine which companies have driven higher levels of improvement (based on Supply Chain Index calculations) and shareholder value (as defined by Price to Tangible Book Value) while outperforming their peer group on growth, operating margin, inventory turns and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC).

Figure 1. Supply Chains to Admire Methodology


The Results

In the analysis, we divide companies into three groups: winners, finalists and under-performers.

  • Winners. The winners of this analysis meet all of the criteria of improvement, value and performance when compared to a like industry peer group. Sixteen companies qualify against this criterion. This is a high-performing group representing 5% of public companies studied.
  • Finalists. A finalist drove higher levels of improvement, and value, and are within 10% of the industry average on three out of four of the performance factors, and no more than 25% below the mean on any of the four factors of growth, operating margins, inventory turns and ROIC. Twenty-one companies meet this criterion. In this analysis, 7% of companies studied are finalists. The combination of finalists and winners equals 12% of companies studied.
  • Underperformers. The winners and finalists are an elite group. 88% of companies do not meet the three criteria of improvement, value or performance. Unfortunately, we find most companies are moving backwards on the Supply Chain Metrics That Matter™ or making progress on singular metrics versus driving performance improvement on a balanced portfolio of supply chain metrics that correlate to market capitalization. (If you see one of my presentations, I am sure that you remember the gnarly patterns of the orbit charts.) This includes industry icons that are often referenced as best-in-class supply chains. (When you hear an industry consultant speak of a top performing supply chain, trust but verify. Check out their performance by plotting year-over-year metrics at the intersection of two ratios and look at the patterns. We find the patters and the intersection of inventory turns and operating margin and growth and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) to be insightful.)

Figure 2. Results of the Supply Chains to Admire Analysis

2016 Supply Chains to Admire Winners and Finalists 2009-15

There are no winners or finalists in the industries of aerospace & defense (A&D), automotive, automotive suppliers, conglomerates, consumer durables, ecommerce retail, hospitals, over-the-counter drugs (OTC), packaging, pharmaceutical, third-party logistics or toy industries. Similarly, industries like beverages, contract manufacturing, food, oil & gas, restaurants and fast food, and retail apparel have finalists, but no winners. We find it ironic that the industries with the greatest challenges—high-tech & electronics—post the greatest progress, while industries with slow market shifts—household products, food, and beverage—are regressing. 

What Drives Value?

In the report, we wanted to determine which factors correlate to Price to Tangible Book Value (PTBV). We wanted to answer the question of, “What Should Supply Chain Leaders Do to Drive Value?”

As a part of this analysis, we wanted to answer the question for supply chain leaders on what drives value. To answer this question, in parallel with the Supply Chains to Admire research, we mined our quantitative data to answer the question of, “What steps should companies take to improve PTBV?”

In the analysis of the Supply Chains to Admire, we use PTBV as a proxy metric of value. We believe that improving the value of shares outstanding in relationship to assets and tangible book value is within the control of the supply chain leader. The definition of PTBV is:

Price to Tangible Book Value = Market Share Price / Tangible Book Value/Shares Outstanding

To help the supply chain leader reading this report, we wanted to use our survey database to understand the relationship between strategies/process options and improving PTBV. (Through this analysis, we find that companies that have a successful Supply Chain Center of Excellence, an effective S&OP process, and have less business pain with supplier reliability drive greater PTBV performance. In the spirit of transparency, in Figure 3, we include the correlations of these factors to PTBV.  In addition, factors considered, but had a correlation less than r=0.30 and greater than -0.30 are included in the full report. Check it out! As many commonly held factors, like a single instance of ERP, do not show a pattern of correlation to PTBV.

Figure 3. Steps to Take to Improve Price to Tangible Book


What Can We Learn from the Research?

When we interview companies making the Supply Chains to Admire list, we find commonalities and similar patterns. These are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Characteristics of Supply Chains to Admire Leaders

characteristics of the Supply Chain to Admire winners

These companies have longer tenure of their leadership teams with a focus on long-term outcomes. In addition, there is consistency in direction. The teams sidestep fads with a dogged focus on supply chain excellence.

Complexity hampers results. In our analysis, we also find that these companies are more focused on the management of complexity through the adoption of customer segmentation, cost-to-serve analysis and item rationalization. They are better  at horizontal processes, supply chain planning and network design (form/function of inventory).

Over the course of the next six months, we will be sharing case studies of these companies in our conferences, podcasts, webinars, and writing. We want to raise the level of discussion on supply chain excellence and get out of the trap of blindly defining legacy processes as “best practices.”

For details check out the full report on Supply Chain Insights. Winners will be featured on the podcast Straight Talk with Supply Chain Insights and at the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit on September 7-9, 2016 in Scottsdale, AZ. We  hope to see you there! Please join me in congratulating the top 12% of supply chains that are driving improvement, value and higher levels of performance on the Supply Chain Metrics That Matter.


First Class Ready!

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On May 7, 2016 we announced a partnership with CorpU for next-generation supply chain learning. Today our first course, Supply Chain Metrics That Matter, is ready for sale. The development is complete. The other courses, designed as fast sprints, are currently in development. The full course catalog will be complete by the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit. (Stop by on September 7, 2016 and test them out in the Digital Showcase.)
The other six courses are being tested by ambassadors. In the ambassador program, companies get a complimentary license to test the program and give us feedback in the early rollout phase. Each course will have 5-7 ambassadors with cohorts up to 50 employees per course. The ambassador slots are limited on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The seven courses currently in joint development between CorpU and Supply Chain Insights are:

  1. Supply Chain Metrics That Matter. Most companies are working on a cost-driven agenda. How can they shift and drive value? Improve the metrics that matter on the balance sheet? In this course we explain this journey and help supply chain teams to speak the language of the balance sheet with an understanding of how their actions drive business results.
  2. Making the Digital Pivot. Supply chains are not equipped to sense, think, and respond intelligently through digitized relationships which provide new sources of data and insight. The digital pivot shifts the focus to outside-in. Extreme connectivity and in-memory analytics enables the redesign of the atoms and electrons of the supply chain. Build a guiding coalition to drive a digital supply chain to connect it through machine-to-machine and machine-to-human interactions.
  3. Building the Customer-Centric Supply Chain. To drive growth, supply chains must align the customer response into operations to reflect custom and customer segmentation policies, and so that they can align measures such as cost-to-serve with profitability. Build the organizational muscle to take supply chain segmentation into policy and execution.
  4. The Market-Driven Value Network Journey. The traditional supply chain is supply centric. As companies deploy growth strategies they need to rethink the principles of demand, become demand-driven, and mature relationships to market-driven orchestration. In this training catalyst you’ll define a demand glossary and a go-forward plan for the supply chain team to manage demand flows.
  5. End-to-End Supply Chain Orchestration. Spreadsheets and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) tools are no longer sufficient to create visibility across the extended value chain, manage planning and unstructured data, or to enable hands-free capabilities to get the right data to the right person at the right time. In this class the team builds an end-to-end journey.
  6. Driving Improvement in Decision Making Through Supply Chain Planning. Supply chain teams must synchronize 4 planning layers – strategic, tactical, operational and executional – but most tools were implemented within functions without a holistic view, making this synchronization impossible. In this program learn how to build a supply chain planning roadmap and define the organizational structure. Through this training your team will recognize what makes a good plan and build processes for evolution.
  7. Building Agility Through Horizontal Processes Like S&OP, Supplier Development and Revenue Management. Sales & Operations Planning processes are not maturing fast enough to support an organization’s growth objectives, and must shift from matching demand with supply at a volumetric level, to maximizing profitability and orchestrating plans that can shift with markets. This course helps to define the concepts for action for the organization.

Supply Chain Insights Taps Next Generation Collaboration Platform to Accelerate Talent Development

Next year, we will add gamification and two more courses. Grow with us, get the details today! If you are interested in partnering with us and being an ambassador, please contact us by sending Regina Denman, Director of Client Services, an email at to sign up.

Building Talent: A New Approach

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Supply Chain Insights Taps Next Generation Collaboration Platform to Accelerate Talent DevelopmentYou are running hard. As a supply chain leader you want your team to make progress and outpace the pack. One of the toughest challenges for the supply chain leader is building and retaining talent.

Managing a global supply chain team today is not easy. We find that 59% of companies are experiencing issues in training and retaining mid-management talent. One in three companies have open jobs that are taking nine to twelve months to fill. Talent is scarce and a new constraint. This is especially true in the areas of big data analytics, supply chain planning, and staffing centers of excellence.

Recruiting new-hires from schools is less of challenge than helping existing teams to rethink supply chain practices, to embrace new technologies, and make the digital pivot. To build the next-generation thinking requires learning a new language and new thought processes. Teams must rethink well-entrenched processes and technologies while building outside-in processes. So how does a supply chain leader build mid-management talent while driving the tipping point to define and execute next generation supply chain practices? It is a tough challenge. To help, we created a targeted, efficient solution that will meet this challenge.

At Supply Chain Insights research is our business. We sit on 15 years of supply chain financial data and over 6000 quantitative responses fielded in 68 survey instruments over four years. We are a small team focused on building research insights for the supply chain business leader. We are independent and focus on driving insights on next generation practices. Each week we share Open Content—newsletters, blog posts, reports, webinars—with the global community. In our research we try to not only tell you the “what,” but also the “So what.”  We are actively trying to help supply chain leaders tie actions and choices in strategies to balance sheet results. Each year we host an annual conference to help supply chain leaders learn new concepts to make the digital pivot. However, we recently realized that we were not doing enough.

supply chain insights 2016

We know travel budgets are tight. Employees’ time is a constraint. As a result, we set out to bundle our research onto a e-learning platform which would allow supply chain organizations to learn in a meaningful way through social collaboration. It is for this reason we partnered with CorpU to deliver an e-learning platform.

When I went to the market to find a partner to deliver e-learning, the CorpU training program platform exceeded my expectations. The approach of short learning sprints with automated videos on a collaborative platform for short interaction is novel and right for today’s environment. The courses we have designed with CorpU are built as short sprints. Each class is a one-week program where employees spend 45 minutes online (via phones, tablets or workstations) in the learning platform, at their convenience, working with content which has been distilled to focus on only the most relevant subject matter.  We’ve built a program that packs a concentrated punch in a virtual environment. This allows employees around the world to ideate on important topics, on their schedule, from anywhere in the world. In the training, Supply Chain Insights provides the research as a spark to enable a new conversation, and embeded online assessments to help employees gain perspective on the current state of their processes versus the wider population.

So, if you are a supply chain leader working on a next-generation supply chain project, consider using our courses in your organizational readiness program. You have many options:

  •  Driving a New Strategic Initiative. If you are driving a new strategic initiative, leaders can video themselves, put project charters and goals on the CorpU platform to customize the training, and then ask the team to drive collaborative conversations and learning on the research-guided programs that have been prepackaged through the efforts between CorpU and Supply Chain Insights.
  • Online Benchmarking. If you are looking to gain an understanding of how your processes stack up against your peer group on alignment, agility, balance, ability to get data, supply chain visibility, time to make decisions, planning productivity, planning effectiveness, or supply chain financial benchmarks, this is a program which will allow you to see differences by business unit or geography to better understand your current state and compare it to the general market.
  • Supplier Development. If you want to train your suppliers on next generation supply chain thinking, this program could augment your efforts. Build these short sprints into your supplier diversity or supplier development training materials.
  • Driving Supply Chain Excellence. Excellence does not just happen. It must be carefully defined and honed over years. These courses can be used to help guide conscious choices and widen the horizons of employees on what is possible.

The courses, designed as fast sprints, are currently in development. The full course catalog will be complete by the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit. Stop by and test them out in the Digital Showcase.

Over the course of the summer we will be rolling out the courses through testing by ambassadors. In the ambassador program, companies will get a complimentary license to test the program and give us feedback in the early rollout phase. Each course will have 5-7 ambassadors with cohorts up to 50 employees per course. The seven courses currently in joint development between CorpU and Supply Chain Insights are:  

  1.  Supply Chain Metrics That Matter
  2. Building the Customer-Centric Supply Chain
  3. The Market-Driven Value Network Journey
  4. Making the Digital Pivot
  5. End-to-End Supply Chain Orchestration
  6. Driving Improvement in Decision Making Through Supply Chain Planning
  7. Building Agility Through Horizontal Processes Like S&OP, Supplier Development and Revenue Management

If you are interested in partnering with us and being an ambassador, reach out to test one of these seven programs. Please contact us by sending Regina Denman, Director of Client Services, an email at to sign up.



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