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First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Dec. 11, 2014  

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2014


It's time again.

10 years ago, I wrote our initial (and somewhat infamous) First Thoughts piece on "Let's Stop the Blah, Blah, Blah." The basic theme: too many presentations at various conferences and other events don't say enough of real value. The jab was aimed primarily at speakers from the consulting, academic, solution vendor, author, and sometimes even the analyst community. This group, as we've noted before, too often tends to be focused on sound bites and restating the obvious, rather than delivering real insight.

As always, I include myself in the category of those speakers who risk blah, blah, blah-ness at times, and recognize how hard it is, especially if you speak frequently on different topics, to avoid going there now and then. I fully admit to falling into blah, blah, blah territory on a few occasions.

Gilmore Says:

If I was a soon-to-graduate supply chain major in the audience, I would sure want to work for Under Armour's "athletic" supply chain.

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All that said, I offer again our Audience Bill of Rights, which offers some reasonable guidelines for what you should expect and demand from presenters. We have even heard of conferences where organizers are now using some version of this document in communicating with speakers.

My conference schedule was about average this year. That said, in rough chronological order, I attended the National Retail Federation's Big Show, MODEX, NASSTRAC, the Logility user conference, the JDA Software user conference, the Gartner Supply Chain Executive forum, the LLamasoft user conference, the annual CSCMP conference, the MHI conference (a first for me), the Vocollect partner meeting, and the BDO national conference (as a presenter).

I unfortunately was not able to get to one of my favorite events each year, the Warehouse Education and Research Council (WERC) conference due to a conflict with the JDA event (ditto for the ISM conference), but feel like a virtual attendee after watching a number of presentations from the event on-line.


I delivered one of our popular trip reports on many of those events this year in one form or another, including many video summaries.

If I was at your event and have somehow failed to mention it, please let me know.

So now as always, in random order, is my list of the best presentations I saw in 2014, capped by SCDigest's runner-up and best presentation of the year awards. To the best of my knowledge, all those cited are still with their companies at the time of the presentations, but of course that could have changed for some of them.

Bill Michalski of technology provider ArrowStream and Steve Hobbs of large distributor US Foods at CSCMP, first on how simply taking over inbound freight from vendors can only get you so far, and then that the real or at least largely untapped potential is to adjust order patterns when doing so in a way that optimizes logistics costs. US Foods did just that, in an innovative and very sophisticated way to achieve big savings. This is a reminder to me I need to follow up on this story, as promised at the time.


Chris Holmes from 3M at the Gartner conference on how in just a few years the company has made major progress in getting control and driving improvements in its sprawling global supply chain, across many disparate businesses. 3M appears to have been able to centralize most supply chain functions even with that business diversity. Holmes' presentation might be summed up as "Business and supply chain is a battle, and we intend to win," and in fact he used words very similar to that to end his presentation. Sure sounded like he meant it.

Dr. Chris Caplice of MIT, as the keynote presenter for our own Transportunities 2014 on-line conference, on "The Three Myths of Transportation Management." Outstanding stuff. As an example, think you can identify a "market rate" for a particular lane? It's a myth, Caplice showed, as is the idea that you can drive big savings from "combinatorial" freight bids from carriers, and that companies are truly optimizing transport strategies between risk and cost.


Dawn Bogia from JDA's training department at its user conference for a presentation on measuring forecast accuracy. Here to me really was the key point: in the last session of the day, on a topic that is not exactly new, the room was packed with attendees from many very large and sophisticated companies. A key insight: too many companies have limited measures of accuracy. Overall accuracy could be high and look good, but in fact be lousy at individual stocking locations, which is where it really matters.


At the WERC conference, an excellent presentation by Mari Bishop of Colgate-Palmolive and Sven Verstrepen of Tri-Vizoron on "horizontal" transportation collaboration between shippers - in some cases even competitors. One clear message - Europe is far ahead of the US in the arena, and the presentation cited many working examples, including an unusual four-way collaboration between a medical device company, a plastics manufacturer, a building products company, and a retailer that amazingly balanced shipments into and out of Spain from the Benalux region. Also interesting: reduction of CO2 emissions is the big catalyst here, not cost savings, though those come too.


Doug Gray of Caterpillar at the CSCMP event, where he delivered what is clearly the best and most detailed presentation I have ever seen on the value of supply chain visibility. Caterpillar (perhaps borrowing from somewhere else) has defined four levels of visibility maturity: (1) where is my stuff?; (2) why isn't it moving?; (3) how can we move it better?; and (4) how can we impact network behaviors? Gray showed how by seeing excess dwell times for inbound containers, CAT was able to reduce their occurrence substantially.


Sean Willems of Logility at the software vendor's user conference, on the need for companies to make more decisions and to make them faster. The core message: supply chain decision processes often do not operate at the same clockspeed as the external environment, and "failing fast" should be a key competency.


Walmart's Brent Beabout, SVP of its ecommerce supply chain, for an overview of Walmart's omni-channel challenges and opportunities at the MHI conference. There was some interesting stuff here about innovation processes and challenges,but I most appreciated the frankness of the information relative to what Walmart is doing here, given that Walmart speakers tend to present at very high levels, to put it mildly.

That leads us to this year's runner-up for best presentation of the year, which goes Matt Algar of Unilever, on the company's modeling of a "perfect logistics network" where all plants can make all products, all shipments go out in full truckloads, etc. Such a network would incur only 55% of what Unilever actually spent on logistics, and Algar and team were able then to detail exactly what other costs (e.g., inefficiencies, unique customer service requirements) made up the other 45% by category.


This would be an incredibly useful analysis tool. Algar is a fine enough presenter, but it was the content here that made him our runner up and near winner.

That leaves our 2014 award for best presentation of the year, from Bill Nienburg, VP of Global Merchandise & Sales Planning at Under Armour, who at the Logility Connections user conference in Atlanta gave a fantastic, almost in your face presentation (in a good way) that in effect said: "This is where our supply chain is headed, and how it is a core element in driving rapid growth. See if you can catch us." This was motivational, and if I was a soon-to-graduate supply chain major in the audience,  I would sure want to work for UA's "athletic" supply chain.

Just FYI, previous SCDigest Best Presentation of the Year award winners were:

2013: Richard Murphy, CEO of Murphy's Warehouse Co., at the WERC conference, on the business case for Green investment in distribution. Great, practical detail.

2012: Raj Subramonian of Dell, with an outstanding, heartfelt presentation on use of "vested outsourcing" to transform a stale 3PL relationship.

2011: Rudi van Schoor of SABMiller's South African operations at the SAPICS conference there on stopping a major supply chain planning project in mid-stream and totally and successfully re-orienting the approach.

2010: Chris Gaffney of Coca-Cola, how to bring balance into increasingly challenging supply chain careers, and how with the right formula less can really be more for both managers and the company.

2009: Jim Kellso of Intel, on rethinking Intel's supply chain to work for a new chip whose much lower price point required a dramatically lower cost supply chain.

2008: Matt Salmonson of Old Navy/The Gap stores group, who spoke at the i2 user conference, on how to implement software the right way, and make change management happen.

2007: Michael Schofer of Coats North America, describing his company's supply chain transformation, at the i2 user conference.

2006: Paul Mathews of The Limited Brands for his speech on aligning supply chain and the corporate boardroom at the North American Material Handling Show. This was motivational.

2005: Glenn Wegryn of Procter & Gamble, who presented at CSCMP 2005 on how P&G has developed a methodology and set of tools to drive supply chain strategy and planning into overall business strategy and planning - wonderful.


I ran into Wegryn at the LLamasoft event - he happily referenced his inaugural award!

So, that's our list. Congratulations to the winners. There was a lot I missed, of course. I welcome your nominees for any outstanding presentations you had a chance to see in 2014.

Did you see any outstanding presentations, especially any that were highly visionary or motivational? In general, are you happy with the quality of presentations you see at conferences? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or section below.



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