First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  December 6 , 2007  

Annual No Blah, Blah, Blah Issue

Gilmore Says:
  Our presentation of the year award goes to Michael Schofer of Coats North America, describing his company’s supply chain transformation, which literally saved it from perhaps business disaster, at the i2 User Conference.

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Yes, it’s time again. Three years ago, we wrote our first (and infamous) piece on “Let’s Stop the Blah, Blah, Blah.”  I argued at the time that too many presentations at various conferences and other events say very little of real value. The poke was aimed primarily at speakers from the consulting, solution vendors, authors, and sometimes even the analyst community. This group, as we’ve noted before, too often tend to be focused on sound bites and restating the obvious, rather than delivering any real insight.

“End user” presentations - those from true practitioners - at least generally have some basis in a real life situation, and while not always delivering a lot of value, are much less likely to fall into true blah, blah, blah territory.

As always, I include myself in the category of those speakers who risk blah, blah, blah-ness, and recognize how hard it is, especially if you speak frequently on different topics, to keep totally clear of this terrain. I fully admit to venturing to this territory myself on occasion.

Each year, some readers tell me I am being too hard on speakers. As a frequent speaker, I recognize the challenges of delivering quality material. But in the end, it seems to me that if you don’t have something interesting and valuable to say, you just shouldn’t present it.

That said, I offer again our Audience Bill of Rights, which offers some reasonable guidelines for what you should expect and demand from presenters.

Below you will find my totally subjective list of the best presentations I saw in 2007. As usual, I attended many events, but certainly there are dozens of other venues I don’t get to. I especially wish I made it to more of the conferences sponsored by universities, which can offer some excellent material, as the Georgia Tech Supply Chain Executive Forum I regularly attend always does.

As I prepared for this column, one thing that struck me was that, while I saw many fine presentations, I didn’t recall any that really struck me as visionary or highly motivational. I suppose a WERC conference keynote by Keith Harrison of Procter & Gamble came close (in terms of supply chain motivation), but I had seen versions of this before, which reduced the impact. I heard the presentation by Colin Powell at the Spring AMR Executive conference was excellent, to no one’s surprise, but I missed that event (though our Gene Tyndall wrote a review).

I don’t know if this was just a factor of what I happened to see, it was an off year, or even perhaps a sign of some maturity in the evolution of supply chain thinking – would love your perspective on this.

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

  • 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.

Relatively few presentations by non-practitioners really stand out. A few that did:

  • Omer Rashid of KOM International at the WERC conference did a very nice job of explaining the potential improvement in space utilization and labor cost savings that companies can achieve from digging into their data and reslotting their warehouses. Right to the point, with no blah, blah, blah overhead.
  • John Cutler, a transportation law attorney who does work for several industry associations as well as private clients, gave a very succinct and useful overview of key legal and legislative issues at the Georgia Tech Supply Chain Executive forum. There’s more going on here than most of us know.
  • Barry Conlon, president of Freightwatch International USA, gave an excellent, if at times scary, presentation on the perilous state of logistics security around the globe at the Fall session of the Health and Personal Care Logistics Conference.
  • Panelist Kevin McCarthy of CH Robinson and moderator Gary Girotti of Chainalytics, both of whom demonstrated deep knowledge on a session on transportation procurement at the CSCMP conference.

On the practitioner side, these stood out:

  • Laurie Copeland, at the time of Home Depot (someone told me she took a spot elsewhere recently – not sure) gave an excellent presentation at WERC on the use of metrics to drive and improve 3PL performance.
  • Brittain Ladd of Dell, at the i2 User Conference, who gave a great presentation on practical and “visionary” strategies for making logistics a lot more “green.”
  • Tom Dadmun of Adtran, also at the i2 conference, on the differences between supply chain “scorecards” and “dashboards.” The last session of the day, down at the lowest level of the hotel, not easy to find – the relatively few of us who made it there saw a good one.
  • Fanny Chen of Abbott Labs, also at the Health and Personal Care Logistics Conference, who delivered an outstanding session on global sourcing best practices. Nominee for best of year.
  • John Onderko of Kimberly Clark for an excellent tutorial at RFID Journal Live in May on how to select RFID tag printers and readers. Much note taking going on.
  • Andrew Lewis of Honeywell’s Aerospace and Automation division, who did a great job describing the journey they made to Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning (SIOP) excellence, at the Logility user conference.
  • Tracy Rosser of Wal-Mart at the Manhattan Associates user conference, who “opened the veil” a lot more than the company usually does on its strategies for transportation success and improvement.
  • David Kaduke of The Limited Brands, with an excellent CSCMP session on how the Limited is using continuous network planning and applying fresh strategies for its supply chain after shedding some business units. He couldn’t make it through the material because it was so interesting it generated tons of questions.

Our presentation of the year award goes to Michael Schofer of Coats North America, describing his company’s supply chain transformation, which literally saved it from perhaps business disaster, at the i2 User Conference.  It’s a great story, but it is my top pick because there was just something very real about the presentation, and it provided more detail than an executive (he’s VP of supply chain and CIO) presentation typically offers. This one was from the heart.

There was a lot I missed, of course. I welcome your nominees for any outstanding presentations you had a chance to see in 2007.

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? What can vendors and consultants do to improve make their presentations better? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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