First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Feb. 25 , 2011  

Readers Respond: What to Tell Students and Bureaucrats about Logistics


Well, it's my favorite sort of column this week, where I let the readers take over.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on "What to Tell Students and Bureaucrats about Logistics," relative to an upcoming presentation I had in Columbus to a group of educators, students, policy makers and others about the role of logistics in company and country competitiveness, logistics and supply chain careers, and more.

I offered a perspective in that column that became the basis for my presentation earlier this week, which all told went very well

Gilmore Says:

"Rightly or wrongly - the term "logistics" seems to today connote more of a technical/engineering expertise, whereas "supply chain" is more managerial.

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A number of readers sent in their own reactions and thoughts to my ideas, which I believe are worth sharing in the space today.

Marc Wulfraat, president of MWPVL International, brought up a point I wish I would have thought of.

"If I was addressing a general audience of students and bureaucrats, I would make mention that we need more women in the logistics industry, particularly in logistics management positions," Wulfraat said. "If I had to venture a guess, I would say that women constitute less than 5 – 10% of logistics and supply chain management positions in the North American context. This is unfortunate because for the most part, the women that have made it to the top in our industry are darn good at what they do."

He added that "The onus is on the leaders and ambassadors in our industry, and I include you in that population, to go out there and promote a logistics/supply chain career path as being enriching and rewarding for both men and women. Our industry is tough because it has the most moving parts that can break, where no standard rule book exists on how to do it right, and where good solid creative thinking and ingenuity can enable game changing competitive advantage for companies. We all could certainly benefit from an expanded talent pool."

That's a perspective we need to consider much more often, and will note that our upcoming videocast on Dell's Supply Chain Transportation features Annette Clayton, VP of Global Operations and Supply Chain there.

I had a great exchange of emails with the always insightful David Armstrong of Inventory Curve, who made this interesting observation: "One of the biggest challenges in getting people to understand logistics and the supply chain is that to an extent, it is invisible. It is so extensive and pervades and touches on most area of organizations that it is "just there". Many times when people are discussing the meaning of supply chain and logistics, I'm reminded of the poem, "The Blind Men and the Elephant", where six blind men touch various parts of an elephant and describe what they feel: it's like a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, a rope. Each was partially right, but no where do the complete picture emerge."

I think that is a good analogy, and would add that sometimes the extended supply chain team itself falls victim to that less than holistic perspective.

Armstrong added that "Too often, I think organizations look at the functional areas of their organizations (like the blind men and the elephant) and apply the current terms being used to a functional activity or area. For example in one firm, the term, Supply Chain management, is applied to a group that basically does customer account management. One of their primary activities is expediting. In another firm, the major organization unit is materials. Logistics in responsible for day to day warehouse operations and shipping. Buyers have the title, Supply Chain Specialist, with major functional activities are sourcing, replenishment ordering and expediting. Key supply chain and/or logistics process activities such as process development, channel analysis and differentiation, and integration of activities across the full supply chain are missing."

Armstrong says he uses the terms "logistics" and "supply chain management" almost interchangeably, to which I responded that "Rightly or wrongly – the term “logistics” seems to today connote more of a technical/engineering expertise, whereas "supply chain" is more managerial."

I would be interested in your take on this.

Relative to this, Harry B. Fanning II of Boeing sees Logistics as being the superior term.

"I believe that your overall message is very much on point. However, you have mis-used the term Logistics," Fanning wrote. "Throughout the article the term Logistics could easily be replaced with Transportation. Transportation and SCM are sub-sets of Logistics. Logistics consists of 10 integrated disciplines that span the entire product life cycle. These disciplines combine to develop and execute plans necessary to sustain a product throughout its life cycle, including disposal of that product at the end of its life."

Well, I was embarrassed to say that I was unaware of the 10 integrated Logistics disciplines, and upon inquiry Fanning sent the list: Sustaining Engineering, Supply Support, Maintenance Planning & Management, Packaging, Handling, Transportation & Storage (PHS&T), Technical Data, Support Equipment, Training & Training Support, Manpower & Personnel, Facilities & Infrastructure, and Computer Resources.

This may have a aerospace/defense orientation, but I will look into this approach at some future point here at SCDigest.

Dr. Brian Gibson of Auburn University offered these thoughts: "To reach students, it helps to put it in a context that they understand and care about. Talk about a specific product like an iPhone or their Starbucks coffee and how logistics/SCM makes it possible for them to enjoy reasonably priced products from around the world without too much effort on the student's part."

He suggested I reference and "a definition that will make sense to students: Supply chain management (SCM) is all the activities that take place to get a product in your hands – from the time of raw materials extraction to the minute you pull out your credit card and take the final product home. SCM focuses on planning and forecasting, purchasing, product assembly, moving, storing, and keeping track of a product as it flows toward you and other consumers."

Anthony Burgher works in the Defense Logistics Agency, and says he is a potential candidate for the DoD's SCM management science program. He wrote that "I am pleased to know that SCM is discipline that holds promise. I like the [supply chain] definition given by Dr. John Gattorna, because I tend to be a “details” type of person."

Jan Tukker, who works in Logistics at a prominent apparel retailer in South Africa, said that "The supply chain environment is changing here at a rapid rate. Stock turns and stock efficiency are now commonly talked about alongside sales. Logistics is now considered during procurement decisions. There is a strong belief that good logistics and supply chain management will provide stronger financial results - there has been a paradigm shift in our company's thinking!"

He added that "One of the main contributors to our success (that is, the Supply Chain and Logistics departments within our company) is the continuous internal marketing of the benefits of good practice in this area. This can only be achieved through employing Logistics Professionals that can communicate at all levels. This has to be done together with strong operations excellence to avoid having to be sent into the detail to fix short term issues within the Logistics area. Once there is trust that the operation runs well, there is almost an "invitation" to participate in the company wide decisions and a will to listen to the Logistics person."

Anindya (didn't get a last name, but he works for an SCM technology provider) says that here at SCDigest we have a " knack of picking both challenging and brilliant topics" to write about on these pages (thank you), and then adds some thoughts for students.

"The students should be a little clever in making them marketable too. So, my advice to them is that network/contact a practitioner of the subject and learn the basic functionalities of a traditional manufacturing company, such as demand management, supply management, production planning, detailed scheduling, warehouse management, etc., at a very high level."

Get that knowledge and then "compile a list of the top 5 companies that provide solutions in these respective areas of supply chain management. Pick one area and one vendor and spend another $1000 to take a certification course to learn that application," he adds. If a student does that, he or she "will automatically become highly desirable by an employer."

There were several more, but I am out of space. Would love your further comments on these topics.

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