A couple of weeks ago, I offered my thoughts on The Intelligent Supply Chain, in part reviewing something I had written on this topic all the way back in 1999 and seeing how that thinking stood up today.
While my piece didn’t generate a flood of feedback, we did receive a number of very thoughtful reader responses that I thought were worth sharing in this column. We get a lot of input that our audience really enjoys reading the thoughts of their peers, and part of what SCDigest is about is building a community of supply chain and logistics professionals. So below you’ll find some highlights of some of the best letters we received. We’d still like your thoughts on this topic – send us your feedback.
Lalit Panda, SVP Supply Chain and IS at Harman Consumer Group, noted the potential to more deeply synchronize supply and demand. “I believe there is unexploited potential of significant benefits from linking factory planning to demand signals to reduce the bull whip effect,” he wrote. “While supply network planning is a step in that direction, true integration at the bill of material level for executing to real-time demand changes has been the vision and I believe is still a goal for most companies. The complexity of such an exercise across multi-product, multi-locational production systems cannot be denied but should certainly show results.”
One director of supply chain planning at a consumer company, who asked to remain anonymous, said we needed to focus more on a supply chain organization’s ability to learn as an aspect of intelligence.
“I believe a key element of supply chain intelligence is the ability to be a ‘learning organization’” she wrote. “While we all talk about speed and velocity and agility, the reality is that most companies actually approach supply chain change very slowly and deliberately. But if we could more quickly and easily accumulate what we learn and have that drive strategic and tactical change, now that would be an intelligent supply chain.”
Rich Turner of LMI, who does a lot of work with the U.S. military and DoD, offered some thoughts on the concept: “I like the term "Intelligent Supply Chain"; we have played around with "Adaptive Planning", "Sense and Respond", "Focused Logistics", and other like phrases over the past several years in the DOD,” he said. “Some have even quibbled about the use of the term "chain" and are advocating "supply network" (oh well). But the use of the word "intelligent" has power -- it connotes both foresight and response, clarity of thought and the application of intellect.”
He also agreed visibility was a key attribute of supply chain intelligence.
“We have not solved this problem in the DOD -- we keep trying to see too much at all times and as a result have not gained focused visibility on the important, priority tracking needs,” he also wrote. “In our business we overstressed the importance of visibility as a customer value and under-emphasized visibility as the business enabler it should be.”
Kevin Wong, VP of Operations for Nulogy, nicely quite literally answered the questions I raised at the end of my piece. So what makes an intelligent supply chain, I asked?
Wong responded: “The most important shift that will be required for supply chains to become intelligent is for the people managing them to think more intelligently, and more strategically. Executive leaders must lift their heads up from the frenetic pace of just getting the job done, and recognize the value they will be able to create once they and their partners and customers have greater operational intelligence."
Jon Kirkegaard, DCRA Solutions offered another perspective on supply chain intelligence, focusing in part on clearer ties to financial performance.
“An intelligent supply chain is one that allows all activities and people to be accountable to balance sheet, cash flow-based income statement advantage and or customer order fulfillment metrics for the business,” he said. “Thus all activities that are supposedly “supply chain” activates can be directly or indirectly measured as to their value add.”
Finally, James Drogan correctly pointed out that we should have included an element related to supply chain security in our discussion.
“In a security conscious world the supply chain should also be intelligent about the involved parties and patterns of behavior in the chain,” he wrote. He’s absolutely right that today an intelligent supply chain must have a comprehensive approach to securing its goods across the network. I missed it.
Great thoughts from all of these readers. We’ll publish their responses in full next week. Until then, we’d welcome your thoughts on supply chain intelligence or our reader feedback itself.
What do you think makes an “intelligent supply chain?” Is it just another word for responsive? What would you add to these reader comments?