First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Dec. 10, 2009  

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2010


It’s time again.

Six years ago, 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.

In general, I find presentations from what vendors typically call “end users” – regular companies and practitioners – generally don’t fall into “blah, blah, blah,” though the level of detail and insight shared varies greatly. There is also the somewhat bothersome trend of some companies obviously having marching orders to never leave a slide up long enough to actually write down anything useful. I guess we should be thankful enough they were permitted to tell the story.

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 it now and then. I fully admit to falling into blah, blah, blah territory at times – though I think I had a pretty good year with my Supply Chain 2015 and a couple of other presentations.

Gilmore Says:

I welcome your nominees for any outstanding presentations you had a chance to see in 2010.

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All that said, I offer again our Audience Bill of Rights, which offers some reasonable guidelines for what you should expect and demand from presenters. We have even heard of conferences where organizers are now using this document in communicating with speakers.

We were plenty busy at SCDigest this year (it was a fantastic 2010 for us - thank you again), but I was on the road quite a bit. Best I can recall, I attended the CSCMP annual conference, a major CSCMP St. Louis roundtable meeting, a CSCMP Atlanta roundtable meeting, the Warehouse Education and Resource Council (WERC) annual conference, the University of Wisconsin's e-business forum, the International Association of Asset Management conference, the annual HK Systems/Dematic Material Handling and Logistics Summit, the two meetings of the Georgia Tech Supply Chain Executive Forum (let's hope it continues after Dr. Langley's departure), the North American Material Handling Show (may it RIP), and the user conferences of JDA Software, Manhattan Associates, RedPrairie, Shipper's Commonwealth, HighJump Software, and Data Alliance (hope I didn't miss anyone).

I also presented and participated privately at global logistics/supply chain meetings of two regular companies in 2010. I do a limited number of these each year. If you are interested, drop me a line – it seems to work out well (yes there is a charge).

In general, I found presentations at these events solid this year, and am actually starting to get blown away by just how sophisticated many of our supply chain leaders are becoming. Sometimes concerned we're not far from getting about as good as we can, I have also come to find that quite often the near perfect story we hear at the conference has a few more supply chain skeletons in the closet than attendees might know. At the same time, I don't really recall presentations that were truly inspirational in a supply chain way as I have some years, though that may actually reflect the fact that greatness is now all around us - almost commonplace.

Below you will find my totally subjective list of the best presentations I saw in 2010. All company affiliations were at the time of the presentation. Some may have changed, though none I am aware of.

Best Supply Chain Presentations of 2010 (random order):

  • Jim Butts, Sr. VP of Transportation for CH Robinson,who gave a thought-provoking presentation on supply chain innovation at the CSCMP St. Louis roundtable (one of the best) last spring. We all believe in supply chain innovation at one level or another, Butts said. But is your company measuring it, or even better specifically investing in it? Or is it just talk? For service providers, are you tracking how much revenue is being driven by innovation? Thoughts worth pondering.

  • Thom Grohalski, a project manager for Kellogg's, who at the RedPrairie user conference gave a great presentation on how to make automated guided vehicles (AGVs) work in distribution - not easy. What set this presentation apart was simply the level of detail - excellent.
  • Patrick Lanzing, head of transportation for Logitech (of computer mouse and other gadget fame) who gave  a fascinating presentation at CSCMP 2010 on the Logistics Service Alliance, a coalition he began of 10 shippers doing what is in effect carrier bid optimization across multiple modes and three regions of the globe (Americas, Europe, Asia). That such a thing was happening and almost no one had heard of it was the main distinguishing feature of the presentation. Lanzing could hardly finish because he was interrupted so frequently with questions
  • John Gentile  now independent consultant and former transportation exec at Owens-Corning, who in a great presentation at the Shipper's Commonwealth user conference asked shippers to take a closer look at how carriers rate them as customers - especially important in what is already an increasingly challenging capacity environment. "Voice of the Carrier."
  • Philippe Lambotte, Senior Vice President, Customer Service & Logistics for Kraft, at the University of Wisconsin's E-Business Consortium in October, with a thought-provoking piece on using supply chain innovation and collaboration with customers as aggressive offensive weapons to win market share. This was inspirational, actually, and offered a very new way of thinking about things.
  • Terra Winston, president of consulting firm inTerract, on PepisCo's new comprehensive program to develop supply chain talent. This is where the battle will be won going forward, and PepsiCo is showing the way. Interestingly, I came in a bit late, and didn't realize until the very end that Winston was not a PepsiCo employee. More on this soon.
  • Melissa Schmidt, head of North American Logistics for Cummins, during a Videocast this year on our Supply Chain Television Channel. Schmidt gave a detailed and impressive presentation on their highly successful WMS implementation (RedPrairie). It was all business - absolutely no blah, blah, blah here - and provided a real tutorial on implementing WMS right.
  • Jeff Hehir of Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, for a presentation on choosing between ERP and best-of-breed supply chain planning software at the JDA user conference in Las Vegas. This was one of those presentations in which you could sense the speaker is somewhat reluctant to share too many details, yet Hehir's s presentation on how his company went through the ERP/best-of-breed decision process and the incredibly detailed way in which they calculated ROI was among the best I have seen on these subjects.

Finally, the SCDigest award for 2010 Supply Chain Presentation of the Year goes to Chris Gaffney, at the time head of Coca-Cola Supply (he has moved on to a new executive assignement after the Coke's merger with bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises. At the Spring meeting of the Georgia Tech Supply Chain Executive Forum, Gaffeney gave a solid presentation on how Coca-Cola Supply was moving towards becoming demand-driven. But what made it our presentation on the year is when he then took it in a whole new direction about 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. The presentation clearly had the executives in the audience thinking about whether they needed to review their own approaches to managing their organizations.

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

  • 2009: Jim Kellso of Intel, on rethinking Intel's supply chain to work for a new chip whose much lower price point required a dramaticlly lower cost supply chain.
  • 2008: Matt Salmonson of Old Navy/The Gap stores group, who spoke at the i2 user conference, on how to implement software the right way, and make change management happen.
  • 2007: Michael Schofer of Coats North America, describing his company’s supply chain transformation, at the i2 user conference.
  • 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 2010.

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 make their presentations better? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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