First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Dec. 11, 2015  

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2015


It's time again.

More than 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:

Do you know where your company's efficiency frontier curve is and where you stand in relation to it? Likely not.

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All that said, I offer again our Audience Bill of Rights, which provides 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, a CSCMP Toronto Roundtable meeting, ProMat, NASSTRAC, the JDA Software user conference, the WERC conference, the Gartner Supply Chain Executive forum, the LLamasoft user conference, the Logility User conference, the annual CSCMP conference, the MHI conference, and the Penn State Supply Chain Forum.

The only major event I didn't get to was the Institute for Supply Management conference, which as always directly overlapped the WERC event.

I delivered one of our popular trip reports on I believe every one 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 2015, capped by SCDigest's runner-up and best presentation of the year awards. As far as I know, all those cited are still at the companies they were with at the time of their presentations, but of course that could have changed.

David Butler
, with the fine title of VP of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Coca-Cola, with a quirky but very interesting presentation at the MHI conference on how the beverage giant fosters supply chain innovations though investment in start-ups with ideas that could never get off the ground internally. Great approach, with several successes already.

Reuben Slone, now head of supply chain at Walgreen's, for a basic but very effective presentation on what supply chain is all about, at the Gartner conference. It starts, Slone said, with appropriate product availability - that drives revenue and sales growth. But then that product availability needs to be achieved with maximum inventory productivity (cash flow) and cost productivity (margins). There you have it. It really was quite good as a result of its simplicity.

George Soleas of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which has developed an intriguing system for palletizing cases of beer, wine and spirits before they are sent to retail stores, using existing material handling system technologies, but with some proprietary software. Wasn't the flashiest presentation, but it was the real deal, with tons of detail - and it led to LCBO deservedly winning the 2015 CSCMP supply chain innovation award.

Sven Verstrepen from consulting firm Tri-Vizor, a spin out coming from some research performed at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, in a presentation at WERC that focused on so-called "horizontal collaboration," which involves arrangements with peer companies - sometimes even a company's own competitors. He listed a number of the different ways this is manifesting itself in Europe, which is far ahead of the US on this - but it will be here soon.

Lawyer John Cutler, for his presentation at NAASTRAC on the myriad legal/regulatory issues facing shippers and carriers. This is more like a lifetime achievement award - I have seen Cutler do this presentation many times - and while not exactly the most exciting material, Cutler provides all you need to know in 45 minutes or so. And believe me, there is a lot to know, with a crazy amount of issues at any point in time. Cutler is on top of them all.

Along a similar theme, I will also call out the Demand Optimization Council (DOC) meeting held each year at JDA's user conference, featuring some of its top retail, consumer goods and wholesale customers. Nothing else quite like it, from what I know, as many DOC members present on a given theme each meeting. In 2015, that was key supply chain initiatives for the year, and the breadth of those stories really told you a lot about how different companies think about supply chain matters. The group is well-run by JDA's David Johnston.

Greg Matson of Caterpillar at the LLamasoft conference presented on the industrial giant's massive initiative on what it calls its "engineered value chain" program, in which sourcing, inventory levels and product flow paths are being optimized for every single one of the tens of thousands of parts Cat deals with. It frankly seems a challenge no company would have the resources to tackle, but Caterpillar appears to be doing it. Note to self - follow up on this as promised at the time.

2015 Runner-Up: Holden Bale of Kurt Salmon and Josh Mayer of Belk department stores, also at WERC, on Omnichannel retailing. I am sometimes hard on consultants for flying way too high in these kinds of presentations, but that was far from the case with KSA's Bale, who clearly knows what he is talking about and who offered high levels of detail on what the challenges and opportunities are in Omnichannel retail. Mayer shared some good detail on the Belk experience. Much more meaty than most Omnichannel presentations.

And the winner for 2015 is Sean Willems, chief scientist at Logility, for his presentation at the company's user conference in San Diego on the "efficient frontier" - in essence, another term for supply chain tradeoff curves, but with some new wrinkles. It was outstanding, and aligned very well with some thinking I have been doing on this same topic. Do you know where your company's efficiency frontier curve is and where you stand in relation to it? Likely not. I wrote on this after Willems' presentation, and will do more soon.

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

2014: Bill Nienburg, VP of Global Merchandise & Sales Planning at Under Armour, for an in your face description of how the apparel giant was going to use supply chain to win in the market - and he really meant it.

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 at CSCMP 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, at Georgia Tech on 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 at CSCMP, 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 an i2 user conference on how to implement software the right way, and make change management happen.

2007: Michael Schofer of Coats North America at i2, describing his company's supply chain transformation as its traditional apparel sector customers were all leaving the US, enabling it to survive.

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 2014 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 2015. Many ask if I have copies or links to these presentations, and alas I usually do not, but feel free to inquire, as I sometimes do.

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 Feedback section below.


Recent Feedback

Great! Thanks for the courage because a lot of people don't like the challenge!

Thomas Gaal
Global Operations
Dec, 14 2015