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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

Dec. 7, 2017

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2017

SCDigest's Annual List of the Best Supply Chain Presentations of the Year


It's time again.

In 2005 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....

In great summary, Vodafone mined data from some 1.2 milllion POs to learn just why only 38% of them are executed just as they are supposed to be.

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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. In rough chronological order, I attended the National Retail Federation's Big Show, ProMat, the Logility user conference, the WERC conference, the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Forum, the LLamasoft user conference, the annual CSCMP conference, the MHI conference, and the enVista user conference.

The only major events I didn't get to were the Institute for Supply Management conference, which as always directly overlapped the WERC event and Gartner conference, and APICS, which I just haven't made it to for a number of years.

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.

My sense again this year is that overall the quality of presentations has been trending down: lots of good ones, but fewer great ones, for reasons not clear. We also lack a strong cadre of recognized supply chain thought leaders, as is common in other disciplines. Also, some conferences seem to be favoring panels versus presentions, a trend in general I do not support.

So now as always, in random order, is my list of the 10 best presentations I saw in 2017, 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.

Jason Morin of XPO Logistics at the WERC conference on applying Lean thinking to distribution operations, a poorly understood subject, with many questions. Morin started with an interesting game to illustrate the inefficiency of batch operations, followed by real world DC examples, though more on the inbound side than order picking. Still, best I have seen on this topic.

Bill Best, VP of supply chain REI, on the supply chain sustainability efforts of outdoor retailer at the MHI conference The main focus of the presentation was the nearly $80 million new DC REI recently built in Goodyear, AZ. It was simply designed for sustainability from the get-go. This one of the two best sustainability presentations I have seen in recent years, one that came from the heart with credibility, and was persuasive without hype.


Nate Rosier of enVista at its conference, on what he termed "product flow design." Hard to summarize in a few words, the essence was that supply chain network design tools often don't sufficienctly deal with granular operational details needed to deliver the best answer, and thus must be supplemented with additional analysis. Rosier convered a lot of ground fast and I need to learn more, but this was true thought leadership, increasingly hard to find.


Previous Best Presentation winner Sean Willems of Logility and the University of Tennessee at the Logility conference on the use of playbooks in supply chain, by which he means a structured way for looking at problems and opportunities. He cited the four-chapter playbook used by Jeff Wilkie, CEO Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, which includes constraint management, statistical process control, cross functional supply chain issues, and "DC managers matter." Willems is always good.


Brain Tessier of industrial giant Schneider Electric at CSCMP on use of blockchain in the supply chain. Tessier passionately believes this still sort of mysterious blockchain is goling to have perhaps as big an impact on supply chains as the Internet. He detailed I believe six current blockchain pilots Schneider is engaged in, and it was this level of detail combined with a real passion on the subject that made this almost one of my two finalists.


Also at CSCMP, our Expert Insight columnist Dr. Michael Watson of OpEx Analytics, his colleague Kristen Daihes, and Paul Brown of Clearwater Paper on keys to building a supply chain analytics center of excellence. First, it is pleasure to hear three obviously true experts on the topic speak without the usual hype and agendas. Second, this is a hot topic, and it provided all kinds of useful insight into creating such a COE.


Tal Rubin and Het Naik, of US Silica - a producer of sand-related products - at the LLamasoft user conference, on using a network design tool to create operational "available to promise" and inventory allocation capabilities - based in part on order profitability. Who knew the sand supply chain - driven recently by huge sand demands from US fracking operators - was so complex? And who knew you could take a strategic tool and make it work in almost real-time support of operational decisions?


Filip de Keersmaeker of Johnson & Johnson at the Gartner conference, on J&J's efforts at building a supply chain modeling capability at the company. J&J is "over investing" in talent to ensure success, while it found an early optimization run across the supply chain resulted in a full 40% of J&J SKUs being affected - meaning safety stock, sourcing, manufacturing "cadence" or other decisions were changed versus before the new modeling process - based a model that considered an amazing 4 million variables.


2017 Runner-Up: Perhaps surprisingly, a presentation on the use of big data to improve the procurement  at German telecom giant Vodafone, by Alex Rinke co-founder of technology firm Celonis, as part of the supply chain innovation award track at the CSCMP conference. In great summary, Vodafone mined data from some 1.2 milllion POs to learn just why only 38% of them are executed just as they are supposed to be. It opened my eyes with a real, high impact case study of what could be done with advanced analytics, in a way I had not heard of before.

And the winner for 2017 is John Phillips, a supply chain executive at Pepsico, on the "eight supply chain disruptors," at the Gartner conference. Phillips has been on the speaking tour for a few years now, in part because he is very good at it. How he assembles all the current facts and examples he provides I don't know, but he gets you up to speed very quickly. The time flies by, because he is simply fun to hear, with great visuals.

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


2016: Piyush Bharkava, a procurement executive at Delll, who presented at CSCMP on the company's remarkable development of an innovation culture to support its sustainability efforts.

2015: Sean Willems, chief scientist at Logility and also of the University of Tennessee, on the "efficient frontier," basically a fresh look at supply chain tradeoff curves.

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.

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 2017. 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.

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