First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Dec. 9, 2011  

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2011


It’s time again.

Seven 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.

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 on occcasion.

Gilmore Says:

I welcome your nominees for any outstanding presentations you had a chance to see in 2011.

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All that said, I offer again our Audience Bill of Rights, which offers some reasonable guidelinesfor 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.

I actually went to fewer events this year than usual. That was primarily caused by several major conflicts, as an unusually higher number of events overlapped.

Anyways, I attended at minimum NRF, WERC, CSCMP, SAPICS (South African APICS), ISM, ProMat, the eyeforetrasnport Supply Chain Executive Summit, the MIT Supply Chain Forum, the JDA Software User Conference, the JDA Demand Council meeting, the High Jump Software User Conference, the Oracle TMS User Conference/SIG, and a couple of private company supply chain meetings. That's 12 regular conferences by my count - I am north of 15 most years. I better recover in 2012.

I saw a number of very good presentations, but I cannot say that any of them really inspired me or were characterized by a compelling new vision in the way many of our Presentations of the Year have been in the past. I am sure they were out there, I just didn't happen to catch one this year.

With that introduction, here are my picks for our supply chain presentations of the year. All individuals were obviously at the named companies at the time of each presentation. Could be some changes in the meantime, though we don't know of any. Listed in random order, except for the last two.

PepsiCo's Animesh Ukidwe, for a presentation at the JDA User Conference on what I called "wave management for TMS." This was a new front end Pepsi built for its existing TMS implementation that automated the process of getting its massive order pool (across business units) into optimization runs, and then smartly deciding which loads should be promoted to execution and which thrown back into the hopper for a next run. Very competent and interesting presentation, but wins for the sheer innovation of the idea - will be the way all large shippers do it someday.

Goodrich's Susan Modeland, at the ISM annual conference, on the company's approach to supply chain risk management. She is an energetic presenter, and convincingly made the argument that few companies really did a thorough job of vetting risk consistently. She also detailed two tools Goodrich has developed - a risk dashboard and a risk "register" that tracks emerging risks across the globe - that should be models for hundreds of companies to emulate.

Bill Lindeke of Kimberly Clark, assisted by Mike Marlowe of Kane is Able, who described at the WERC conference how KCC is "co-locating" its co-packers within its distribution centers. This is just an innovative idea, and Lindeke did a great job of explaining the challenges, benefits, and lessons learned.

Former DHL executive and now parcel consultant Jerry Hempstead, who in an SCDigest Town Hall Meeting in early 2011 counseled parcel shippers on how to best manage significant rate hikes by both UPS and FedEx. You want the absolute real deal - this was it, from someone who knows. Blew me away. The good news: we're repeating the effort again for this year's hikes in mid-January. Details next week.

Walmart's Greg Forbis, senior director of inbound transportation, at CSCMP, where he gave a great update on Walmart's controversial program to take control of inbound vendor freight. Why isthis in the list? Because Walmart presentations tend to be very high level and mostly brag about Walmart. This did a little bragging at the beginning, but then was real, honest, and surprisingly detailed about where Walmart had gone right and wrong in the program's inception and execution. More please.

Professor Nick Binedell of South Africa's Gordon Institute of Business Science, who gave an excellent and very entertaining presentation at SAPICS that did as good a job as I have seen in summarizing an impressive amount of detail about business and demographic trends across the globe. Let's just say there is a lot to know. I don't know if he invented the concept, but I liked his "3 C's" of pressures facing companies today: Change (increasing at a more rapid pace), Complexity (likewise growing rapidly) and Competition (growing and global).

Fairchild Semiconductor's supply chain chief Kevin Chynoweth, who gave a great presentation at the JDA conference on how to think about managing a supply chain in periods of demand constraints versus supply constraints, but what really struck me were the changes Fairchild has made to connect "top floor to shop floor." Unlike a few years ago, there is simply absolute alignment there now between S&OP forecasts and other high level plans and what happens in the downstream fabs and assembly operations, to the point where customer priorities and service policy segmentations at higher levels of the company's planning are exactly reflected in Fairchild's detailed manufacturing planning. Excellent.

Brad Fisher of Sears, who at the Oracle TMS Users Group detailed how the retailer has built a powerful TMS dashboard that serves not only the transportation department, but many others in the company as well. This has to be among the most comprehensive TMS analytics applications on the planet, and this was a truly classic "how to" presentation that was both detailed and easily comprehensible. The project was a lot of effort over several years - but the results are game changing.

Brian Spearman
of PepsiCo, who at the MIT supply chain forum gave a very interesting and detailed presentation on the company's journey with automated case picking (ACP) at its bottling operations - a subject of big interest to us here. The core message of which is that ACP works, but just how far you go has to be tailored to the specific volumes, footprint, and other factors of each warehouse. No one size fits all. By the way, first time ever to speakers from the same company in our list.

Presentation of the year runner-up: Eric Robinson of Lowes, assisted Mark Garland of Capgemini, who at the JDA User Conference gave a "tour de force" presentation on how Lowes is implementing a new set of demand planning and replenishment software. Robinson explained how Lowes has "over invested" in its upfront conceptualization phase, from wide ranging interviews with users and execs to development of a full prototype system for analyzing the fit with business needs before deployment. This was in fact motivational - this is the way to do software implementation right, as we all know but usually don't do.

And our Supply Chain Presentation of the Year goes to Rudi van Schoor of SABMiller's South African operations, who detailed the brewer's initial real and serious problems with implementation of a new advanced planning system - and how ultimately these were overcome by taking a step back, recasting the mission, and simplifying the deployment. This again was the "real deal" - companies rarely present where they went wrong - and it was a story that you were very interested to learn what was going to come out in the end. Very nice job. Not one minute of blah, blah, blah here, and I mean it.

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

  • 2010: Chris Gaffney of Coca-Cola, 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, 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 2011.

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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