First Thoughts
  By Dan Gilmore - Editor-in-Chief  
  Dec. 14, 2012  

No Supply Chain Blah, Blah, Blah 2012


It's time again.

Eight 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 2012

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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.

As I sat down to write this, I at first felt like my conference schedule was very light this year, but upon further reflection my view is that while it might have been down a little, what really happened is that I went to quite a few events in the Spring, less than usual in the Fall, and that affected my perspective here at year's end.

In rough chronological order, I attended the National Retail Federation's Big Show, the new MODEX event from the Material Handling Industry of America that in effect replaced the North American Material Handling Show, the Vendor Compliance Federation (VCF) Spring conference, CSCMP Columbus roundtable Spring meeting, the Warehouse Education and Resources Council (WERC) annual conference, NRF's supply chain conference, MIT's advance manufacturing conference, the user conferences of HighJump Software, RedPrairie, JDA Software and (in the Fall) Logility, and of course the annual CSCMP conference.

If I was at your event and have somehow not been able to track it down, please let me know. I would surely have attended the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) conference, but as usual of late it exactly overlapped with WERC and this year also the MIT event, so I just couldn't get there even though it is always quite good. Had invites to speak at other local CSCMP roundtable meetings that I just couldn't quite make happen. For reasons I can't even remember I didn't make it to NASSTRAC

Before I move to my list of this year's best presentations, I will simply say this: when I sit down every year to do this list, there are some presentations that simply jumped to my mind instantly. Those are the ones that become candidates for presentation of the year. Others I have to go back and do some digging from my notes.

So, in random order, here are the best presentations I saw in 2012, capped by SCDigest's runner up and best presentation awards. To the best of my knowledge, all those cited are still with their companies at the time of the presentations, but of course that could have changed for some of them.

Mike Rescigno of Rescigno Logistics Group (and a former Belk's store chain executive) at the VCF conference on how all sorts of little things can rapidly cut the profits out of ecommerce fulfillment, whether you are a retailer or any business selling on-line. The only way to be profitable is to constantly sweat the details, and I mean the details, looking for every penny, and understand how decisions and processes say in the call center can impact costs in fulfillment.

Also at VCF, Sarah Polworth of Saks Fifth Avenue, who gave an excellently detailed presentation on the learnings from the retailer's pilots with item-level RFID. There were some very interesting insights here.

Dr. David Simchi-Levi of MIT on a videocast early in 2012 on our Supply Chain Television Channel, in which he announced his new Risk Exposure Index, which really for the first time provides a way to quantify the cost of "unknown unknown" supply chain risks. True innovation in thinking in this increasingly critical area of supply chain.

Russ Meller of the University of Arkansas at CSCMP on the vision he and some colleagues have for a "physical internet," greatly summarized as thinking about freight moves as standardized Lego pieces that can by dynamically assembled similar to internet communication packets. When you first hear this, it sounds like crazy theory that would never work in practice and result in higher costs - until Meller shows you the data. Just maybe. At minimum, great fun to ponder.

Spirit Aerosystems CEO Jeff Turner at the MIT manufacturing event, who described the incredibly win-win approach this aerospace components maker took to an agreement with its union workers that tied pay in part to company achievement (for management too), in return for guarantees against outsourcing. This is an enlightened model that I believe many more manufacturers should adopt, and has led to great success for the company. Labor relations went from a weakness to a strength.

Kraft's Tom Drake at the RedPrairie user conference on the company's success with the RP's store-level DRP system in improving a wide variety of supply chain metrics, notably huge gains in forecast accuracy. This was just really interesting, a well-told story of what could be a breakthrough new approach, but what also set this apart was the clear detail Drake walked us through. Outstanding and passionate.

Bill Tarlton of Procter & Gamble at the Logility user conference on the results the P&G has achieved from its adoption of inventory optimization technology. First, to repeat the theme, it was just very factual and straight forward on the great improvements the company has made in lowering its inventories. Second, it had film clips of senior company executives, not just supply chain managers, touting the importance of inventory optimization to overall business success. Very cool. Non-IO users take note.

I came down to three candidates for the two special recognitions - each of them worthy candidates for presentation of the year.

Just missing was the excellent presentation by Kevin Smith, also of Kraft, at the JDA user conference, around the company's very successful approach to leaning out its production processes by moving a more fixed scheduling approach to its production lines. Customer demand is too unpredictable and dynamic, the critics said, so this won't work. But it does work, Smith showed in detail, and in many cases actually improves customer service while significantly reducing manufacturing costs and inventory. This was an eye-opening case study.

My runner up for best presentation of 2012 is awarded to Allen Kohl, CEO of consulting firm KOM International, and Michael January of food distributor Ben. E Keith, who teamed to deliver an outstanding presentation on Keith's evolution in terms of managing slow movers in the DC. I believe I have never seen a consultant deliver more detail in a presentation than Kohl did, including an objective, detailed summary of the throughput potential of various technology options. Not one second of Blah, Blah, Blah here from either presenter.

That leaves our 2012 winner, who is Raj Subramonian, general manager of Dell's Global Outlet business unit, who at CSCMP delivered an excellent presentation on how his business unit rethought its approach to outsourcing its critical reverse logistics processes, moving from a growingly tense, win-lose type of relationship to a win-win approach with partner Genco based on "vested outsourcing" principles. Subramonian took some personal risks to make this happen, and the heart and soul he put into the successful outsourcing transformation he led at Dell came through strongly in the presentation as well. Very strong audience engagement.

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

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, 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 dramatically 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 2012.

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 section below.



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