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SCDigest Expert Insight: Supply Chain by Design

About the Author

Dr. Michael Watson, one of the industry’s foremost experts on supply chain network design and advanced analytics, is a columnist and subject matter expert (SME) for Supply Chain Digest.

Dr. Watson, of Northwestern University, was the lead author of the just released book Supply Chain Network Design, co-authored with Sara Lewis, Peter Cacioppi, and Jay Jayaraman, all of IBM. (See Supply Chain Network Design – the Book.)

Prior to his current role at Northwestern, Watson was a key manager in IBM's network optimization group. In addition to his roles at IBM and now at Northwestern, Watson is director of The Optimization and Analytics Group.

By Dr. Michael Watson

July 9, 2015



Four Groups that Need to Step Up to Help Make Network Design More of a Profession

Why Isn’t Network Design More Widely Used or Understood?


Dr. Watson Says:

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...The user community has a responsibility to educate themselves as deeply as possible on the tools that are there, the science behind network design, and what other companies are doing...
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I recently had to give a short talk at LLamasoft’s SummerCon on the problems the network design community faces.   As I was preparing for the talk, Jeff Schmidkte of WhiteWave Foods summed up the problem perfectly: he said that network design is not a profession.

Doctors and Lawyers have their associations, on-going training, and required qualifications.  In the supply chain community, there are professional organizations for forecasters (IBF) and for production planners (APICS).

The network design community may be smaller, but what does it need to get closer to being a profession?

Here are four groups that need to step up and help make network design more of a profession.

#1 Vendors:  The network design software vendors need to continue to make their tools easier to use and provide deeper education on the principles of network design.  By creating easier to use tools, the market will open up to more people and more firms.  By providing better education, the users of the tools will be able to deliver more value to their organizations, and raise the profile of network design.

#2 Users of Network Design Tools:  It would be easy to let the users off the hook and have the vendors do all the work.  But, this would be wrong.  The tools on the market are very good.  The user community has a responsibility to educate themselves as deeply as possible on the tools that are there, the science behind network design, and what other companies are doing.  This will allow the users to take full advantage of network design in their organizations.


Previous Columns by Dr. Watson

Supply Chain by Design: How You Should be Using Multi-Echelon Inventory Tools

Supply Chain by Design: You Don't Need the Optimization in Multi-Echelon Inventory Optimization

Supply Chain by Design: On Network Modeling - Blaspheming the Baseline

Supply Chain by Design: Profit Maximization Feature and Amazon’s Focus on Lead Time to Grow Revenue

Supply Chain by Design: Using Profit Maximization to Minimize Cost

More

#3  Managers of Network Design Modelers:  This group doesn’t need to know the details of the tool as well (but, this wouldn’t hurt), but does need to know the underlying science and what is possible.  By understanding the science, this group can better recruit the right people, mentor and guide the users, and spread the word within the organization of the value of network design.  In addition, this person should help drive the implementation of results to prove out the value.

#4 Company Executives: This might be the hardest group to convince, but the effort will be worth it.  I have recently heard too many stories from companies with very good modeling teams that still brought in a big strategy consulting firm to actually do network modeling.  This can be demoralizing to the existing network modeling team (and indicate to them that their skills are not valued in a firm) and lead to less than ideal results (if the consulting firm itself is not doing a good job with items #2 and #3 above).  If this is to become a profession, we need to educate executives about this field, show the value of developing these capabilities in their organization, and also give them some guidance to help judge the quality of their teams.


Final Thoughts

I’m sure this is a partial list and that I’ve missed a few important items.  I would love to hear what you think and keep the conversation going.

Let me know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.
 

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