I’m fresh back from San Antonio and the 2006 CSCMP (Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals) annual conference.
This was the first conference under the tenure of new CEO and president Rick Blasgen (formerly a ConAgra and Kraft supply chain exec), and as far out as many of the details are planned, he probably had only a modest amount of room to make changes, but we saw a few.
San Antonia is an outstanding venue for a show this size (somewhat over 3000, about the same as the past couple of years). The convention center itself felt scaled just right for the crowd, and most everyone could stay close by and near the famous River Walk.
Dealing with some important minutia, the conference guide was the best organized it has been in several years. There was also some modestly increased commercialism this year, including for I believe the first time a group of conference vendor “sponsors,” along with a much better exposed (though still fairly low key) vendor exhibit area. I think it was just fine, and understand the economic realities, but hope Blasgen will resist the financial temptation to go too much further in that regard and take the previously strictly non-commercial event down the “trade show” path.
In the past few years, I really enjoyed the Tuesday morning “executive sessions,” but they were gone in San Antonio. However, I also liked the idea of the two new “hot topic” sessions that allowed organizers to select some issues much closer to conference time than the regular presentations, which are nailed down months in advance. This year, one hot topic included a “simulation” with a panel of supply chain experts on an outbreak of bird flu and how to contend with it. I missed the session, but heard from several people that it was very good. Afterwards, The Limited Brands’ Mark Crone, a member of the expert panel, told me it showed just how important having even a basic plan in advance to deal with a potential crisis is. Without such a plan, the panel really had to scramble to respond effectively.
There were a huge number of sessions, and it would be hard not to find several things of interest. That said, despite a wide range of tracks, it felt to me and a few others with whom I spoke, a bit like the “Transportation and Global Sourcing” conference. There was in fact a “Global Sourcing and Procurement” conference within a conference, but for all practical purposes it was just another set of tracks. While transportation and global supply chains are perhaps the hot issues of the day, I heard from a few that there tended to be too much repetition session to session in these two areas. I think we should all take a pledge – me included! – that there is no real need for literally every speaker to reference rising fuel surcharges, tight capacity, driver shortages, etc. This has now fallen into “blah, blah, blah” land – we should just all reference the “well known challenges” or something and move on to value-added material.
Conversely, the number of sessions devoted to core distribution/warehousing issues seems to continue to shrink. Is this a good thing? Though I understand how this blocking and tackling can seem less interesting to conference planners than global supply chains, I hope we don’t lose too much focus on getting boxes efficiently out the door. There was a Warehousing and Material Handling Track, which included one session I really enjoyed (see below), but it seems to be a rapidly decreasing area of attention. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.
I believe there was a grand total of one session on RFID. Two years ago, many complained the schedule was locked in so far in advance the conference blew its chance to show RFID leadership. You can decide what this means.
This year also saw the introduction of a “Sit with an expert” program, which gave attendees a small group opportunity to hear from say Mary Long of Campbell’s Soup on customer logistics or Nike’s Roger Sklar on inbound international. Not sure how well used these sessions were this year, but think it is a great idea that can evolve into a really good thing over time.
I saw several excellent sessions, including: Ingram Books and TranSystems on using simulation to improve wave planning processes in the DC; a team from Toyota with a powerful presentation on the company’s relentless use of Kaizen in logistics to drive continuous improvement; an absolutely outstanding presentation by Chevron’s Mike Brooks on the company’s development of a visual, near real-time performance dash board; Hershey on how network optimization technology led to non-obvious conclusions about the best supply chain decisions; Caterpillar on its incredible use of activity-based costing and its role in global sourcing decisions; and a very interesting session from Australia’s Dr. John Gattorna on supply chain collaboration. We summarize each of these sessions nearby in News and Views (take a look), and will provide more detail on each in coming weeks.
It was a good conference, and I expect Blasgen will do even more with it over time. That said, I can’t help but offer a couple additional constructive suggestions:
- I would actually consider having slightly fewer sessions, and more repeats of expected excellent/highly popular ones. I bet the standing room only Toyota session, for example, would have drawn the same crowd if offered again, and given an opportunity for folks facing the inevitable conflicts to have a second chance on some presentations. I also think the number of tracks could be condensed to the attendee’s benefit.
- While I personally like speakers from somewhat tangential fields, I’d argue that one key note speaker should always be a supply chain heavy weight.
- Let’s get the forecasting right – why does every conference run out of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi at the breaks, while there’s always plenty of Sprite? The easy answer – it’s push, not pull.
I had the best time in a few years, and learned a lot. Was pleased so many people I met read SCDigest!
Did you attend CSCMP? If not, why not? If so, what was your opinion? Do you agree or disagree with Dan’s assessment? What sessions did you find really good – or not so good? How could the event be improved? Let us know your thoughts.