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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

Dec. 15, 2016

A Supply Chain Christmas Wish List for 2016

From More Practical Supply Chain Research by Academics to Hope there are Jobs Left after the Robots, Gilmore Offers Santa his List


For the past many years, for my last First Thoughts column of the year I have generally been oscillating between my versions of "A Supply Chain Christmas Carol" and "Twas the Night Before a Supply Chain Christmas," updated as appropriate from year to year.

Just once I decided to compile a supply chain Christmas list that I hoped Santa might deliver in the coming year. So I decided to offer that list again here in 2016, with frankly a couple of holdovers from that original 2012 list because frankly Santa still hasn't come through (maybe I am on the naughty list?) and well as some new ones. It is a short list, but think would have a major impact if Santa could somehow fill up my supply chain stocking.

Gilmore Says....

You don't have to go to many events to figure out who the frequent contributor companies are..

What do you say?

Click here to send us your comments

Would love to hear an item or two on your supply chain wish list as well. So here we go:

I wish we had more recognized supply chain thought leaders. Quick, if I asked you to name the top thought leaders in supply chain right now, whom would you cite? It's not easy, is it? Isn't something not quite right with that?

In many disciplines, for example IT, there are many recognized thought leaders who regularly are the keynote speakers at major industry events. I don't think supply chain has ever reached that level of star power, but I think 15 years or so ago we did have more recognized supply chain pundits.

What's the issue? I am not completely sure. A once healthy corps of thought leading academics seems to not have been replaced with a new cohort of equal thought leadership (agree or disagree?). Supply chain executives, with very few exceptions, either don't wish to or are largely prohibited by their companies from being regular public faces. I wish we could more regularly hear what they are thinking.

The supply chain practice leaders of major consulting firms, for a time often out in front of supply chain trends and opportunities, have now largely gone underground – I actually know whom very few of them even are, and that didn't use to be the case.

As an example, who currently heads Accenture's giant supply chain practice? I don't know, and doubt most of you do either, compared to say the years when the late Bill Copacino was consistently providing thought leadership when he was in that role.

Finally, there has been consolidation among industry analyst firms, reducing the pool and competition, while it seems that among those still standing the systems no longer really develop "stars" in the same way they used to. And it seems to me technology vendors aren't producing thought leaders the way they use to either (think Alan Dabbiere at Manhattan Associates, or Sanjiv Sidhu at i2, in their days).

On a somewhat related note, I wish a lot more supply chain academic research would be truly useful. We have a lot of really smart supply chain and logistics academics, and I know many of them personally. But far too few of them are using those talents to produce research that is of practical use to supply chain professionals. It is often almost unreadable except to other academics, if then.

This was on my original list a few years ago, but I was reminded of the wish at the CSCMP conference in Orlando this past September, when 2016 Distinguished Service Award winner Chris Caplice of MIT offered similar thoughts.

Yes, I understand this is far from unique to supply chain, and indeed is probably the status in virtually every academic discipline. I also get the whole "public or perish" thing in academia.
However, at many if not most supply chain departments an academic would actually get more credit for tenure or promotion for some abstruse paper in a journal none of us recognize or would want to read than for an article on supply chain that was published in the Harvard Business Review. This is crazy.

I discussed this topic with the late legend Dr. Bowersox of Michigan State a number of years ago, and he told he knew of one excellent academic who wasn't hired at a prestigious supply chain program because his research was deemed too "applied" - meaning practical.

We can do better, can't we? We are collectively losing so much opportunity.

I wish that more companies contributed presentations and case studies at industry conferences. Here is the reality: there is a clear 80-20 rule here, in which a small percentage of total companies wind up carrying the majority of the industry load.

Of course, I get the issues with opening the supply chain kimono, and companies are understandably reluctant to share what they believe are competitive advantages. But let me in on a little secret: employees change jobs, vendors and consultants talk, etc. Your competitors already know what you are doing. It's the rest of is that need enlightenment.

You don't have to go to many events to figure out who the frequent contributor companies are. From my perspective, in recent years those include Caterpillar, Intel, Pepsico, Mondelez International, HP, IKEA, whom else? If you have a company to point out for their regular contributions or want to toot your own horn, please let me know.

We all owe these frequent contributors a debt of gratitude, and we really couldn't have these conferences without them. We need more companies in the supply chain presentation boat.

I wish supply chain media and conferences focused more attention on the supply chain needs and opportunities for small and medium sized companies. For a variety of reasons, the publications and the conferences tend to focus on the large, well-known companies, due to that name recognition.

But the reality is there are many times more small and medium sized companies than there are Fortune 500 firms, and collectively (including SCDigest) we don't in my opinion do enough to serve them.

In talking about this with a good and well-known friend a few years ago, he noted that big company supply chain challenges are usually just a lot more interesting than those faced by smaller firms. I agree with that, but at the same time, how those challenges were solved by large companies are often not relevant to SMBs.

Do you agree that articles and events need more balance to address the supply chains of small and medium size businesses? This is something SCDigest at least can address in some way, and I am working on some plans to do so.

I wish I better understood what makes "advanced analytics" different from regular analytics, and "big data" different from all the data we've had for many years. My friend and SCDigest columnist Dr. Mike Watson has explained the analytics thing to me before, but I need to hear it again. I actually have some insight into both these questions, but in general would say few throwing out the terms make the distinctions clear.

Finally, my 2016 supply chain Santa list includes my wish that the experts saying that the rapid advance of robots in and outside supply chain really won't result in a mass net loss of jobs are correct. Those pundits say automation always creates more jobs in the end than it kills, even if those jobs are not the same as in the past.

Surely there will be some of that in this new robotics era, but I am very concerned it will be different this time, especially as the software robots replace white collar jobs, and the physical robots advance according to Moore's Law levels of improvement. We really have no idea where this is headed.

On that cheery note, a Merry Christmas or other salutation of choice to all SCDigest readers. Lots in store for 2016. We're off for two weeks for this newsletter, but the home page will be active with news, and we will be back the first week of January with our 2016 supply chain review.

Look for Jim Stephens and I doing Twas a Night before a Supply Chain Christmas this Monday on our Supply Chain Video news.

What do you think of Gilmore's Christmas list? What is on your list? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or Feedback section below.

Your Comments/Feedback

Julian B

No Title, No Company
Posted on: Dec, 16 2016
I agree there iis way too little thought on how to get small and medium size businesses into the modern supply chain world. The only successful answer for most of them is work woih a capable 3PL.

Is that the limit of what can be done?

Maybe from an exonomic standpoint, but I wish there was more thoght put into it.

Don Bechtel

Partner, The Partnering Group, Executive in Residence, Walton College, University of Arkansas
Posted on: Dec, 16 2016

I’ve been a subscriber to Supply Chain Digest for several years.  I agree with your comments on thought leaders in the Industry.  I found it ironic that just last week I was cleaning out some old files and came across a number of articles that were  written by Bill Copacino many years ago.

As a supply chain executive at Procter and Gamble, I frequently used Mr. Copacino’s  articles to help influence senior managers who struggling with the new frontier of a more fully integrated, end-to-end supply chain.  Your article also brought to mind several old colleagues and friends like Ralph Drayer (P&G), Lee Scott (Walmart), Joe Andraski Nabisco and VICS), and more recently Dr. Matt Waller (University of Arkansas). 

All of these are pioneers whom I have had the opportunity to know and work with during my career.  I think most them would be recognizable by your readers.  I would love to see some names from other readers who may be familiar with a new breed of supply chain thought leaders.

Jon Kirkegaard

CEO, DCRA Solutions
Posted on: Dec, 16 2016
As always an insightful and truly thought provoking “First Thought”. 

Maybe the cause is industry has been so beaten down by government regulation, financial crises etc it is has just been in a survival not thrive mentality and thus offering reflect what they will buy ?   

It seems demand for real supply competitive advantage projects has narrowed to fewer industries and shrunk.  Hopefully some of the leadership changes in government is about to re-spark this desire to gain advantage ?  I think exception to this is Amazon, which I see using basic competitive advantage efforts to out maneuver their competition.  As far as I know they buy nothing but build all their own solutions ?

The leadership you describe seems to be have been replaced by professional Olympic water treaders… no Michael Phelps?   The current leaders use the term supply chain even try to use S&OP to sell marketing noise around Cloud, largely useless but expensive technology, powerpoints consulting process and theories that serve some niche agenda or narrow profit opportunity for the sellers but rarely if ever return the big ROI for clients.

Real supply chain/S&OP efforts are ALL about competitive advantage… not treading water.
These breakthrough S&OP/supply chain efforts ONLY work when they embrace people and understand the overriding problem is a distributed data / inventory production synchronization / work effort coordination problem.   Thus cannot be solved by synchronous computing apps in isolation (99% of what is offered today).  By the way synchronous computing applications is about all 90% of IT professionals are comfortable with… thus a big problem, big gap but big opportunity ?

What is sad is still maybe less then 5% of the extended enterprise coordination of resources is being done anywhere let alone everywhere.  Thus the opportunity to use basic problem solving approaches applying communication, workflow, and optimization technologies and adherence to rigorous finance thinking present probably unbounded business profit opportunities.

For example leverage of postponed mfgr to promote US jobs, protect IP, grow profits, create more choice for customers… as one small example I mentioned in response to your Trump supply chain article ?

Like you I think there should have been 50 Hau Lee’s, Sanjiv Sidhu’s,  Jim Moorehouse’s, Bob Delaney’s minted in past 10 years.  

I have seen this gap in industry and have frequently  turned to academia in engineering and MBA programs to see if they want to grab the tourch and and set out BHAG  (Big Harry Audacious Goals)  What I find they are all fishing for corporate money to grow the size of their programs and thus take their lead from these same “treading water” or niche signals. 

Time to break the cycle ?

John Hill

Consultant, The St. Onge Company
Posted on: Dec, 16 2016
Bang on, Dan.  One of your best!  "Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end - - -  "
Happy holidays

Gary Smith

Vice President, Supply Logistics, New York City Transit
Posted on: Dec, 17 2016

I am in general agreement with your comments.  I believe that there are numerous thought leaders in supply chain, just look at the speakers at recent APICS and CSCMP conferences.  Many are just not in the companies that you'd expect.  I do agree in your comment on supply chain research and I have had this discussion with my academic friends for several decades.  That is why much of what I learn comes from APICS Magazine, CSCMP's Supply chain Quarterly and publications like Supply Chain Digest.  However, one promising project is sponsored by APICS with MSU, called Beyond the Horizon.  I hope to see some promising research from that study. 

I, too am struggling to keep up with advanced analyitics and big data as my organization transitions into Enterprise Asset Managment.   And while I also believe that automation will ultamatly create jobs, my concern is that there will be a rather large gap in time (5 to 10 years) until we finally see the gap begin to close.  Keep up the great work.


Barton Jennings

Professor of Supply Chain Management, Western Illinois University
Posted on: Dec, 19 2016
The issue of academic research versus practical research is one that drives some of us crazy. AACSB (the accrediting body) added a faculty category for practical work and industry relationships, but many schools have ignored it and stuck with the traditional theoretical research requirements. This even applies to simple presentations. I can speak in an empty room to five other academics, and I get praise and a possible bonus and promotion. If I speak to 1000 industry people, I get criticized as doing something useless. However, very few academics have any real work experience where they were responsible for a P/L, so the subject of practical industry research seems to scare them.

David Schneider

President, David K. Schneider & Associates
Posted on: Dec, 29 2016

The reason why we hear all about the supply chains of the big companies is that they are big companies, and that is what the press typically gravitates to.  This was not always the case, but in these times of the sponsored stories in the trade press, where the story supports the advertisers in the publication, we hear about the things the big companies do because that is what those advertisers want to cover.

Think of the economics of the issue.  If you are the VP of sales and marketing at a software company, consulting firm, a 3PL or a carrier, what size of client do you want to use as your prestige example?  You use the big company that has name recognition.  If you are in that same position, what do you want to have as accounts, 10 big name companies or 10 no name SMBs?  Shoot, you might need to have 100 of those SMB customers to equal the business that one big name brings you, so where will any smart VP of sales and marketing focus?


The idea that SMB (Small – Mid Market Businesses) don’t have the same issues and problems to where they are not as interesting to work on is not accurate.  SMBs have all of the same issues that the larger companies have, except for scale.  Scale makes solutions easier.  A SMB does not have the resources in people, process or capital that a larger company has.  In my time at Pep Boys our freight spend alone was more than the total revenue of many of the clients I serve with my consulting practice.  However, the problems are the same and are much more challenging to solve due to the lack of people, resources and capital to deploy.  The tools that the bigs use, the “double comma” priced SCM systems, just do not scale down to what a $10MM or even a $100MM revenue company can justify.  However, the SMBs still need to manage their inventory, they still have to fulfill orders, ship orders, and deal with returns.  I have come to the opinion that it is much harder to solve these problems, and that the solutions must be deployed with great care in a SMB environment because the typical SMB can’t tolerate the errors and variance that the big companies can.  An error that would be a rounding issue at a Fortune 1000 company can be devastating at the SMB level.


Scale matters.  In the SMB world the person that manages the warehouse, and perhaps transportation, may be managing the day to day of order processing and picking.  Even in $500MM companies, the talent pool is small and shallow.  The leaders can see what needs to be done – they get the strategy.  They may even understand the tactics.  But they sure don’t have the depth in resources to start executing the tactics.


The SMB community is being served SCM material to think about and deploy.  However, that content is not coming from the usual suspects in the SCM world.  They get information from their industry associations, industry specific trade publications, from conferences focused on that industry segment, or from the Vistage, YPO and similar groups.  They talk to other owners they know at the local Rotary or Lions Club meetings.  In the SMB world the CEO is often just a few steps from the warehouse or the plant floor.  They don’t go to CSCMP or WERC conferences because they don’t know about those organizations, or when they look at what the conference offers they see problems and solutions that are not what they as leaders have to deal with. 


Can the SCM trade press do a better job of servicing the SMB market?  The short answer is YES.  However, it is going to take a different mindset, a focus on providing more than just the strategy and some of the tactics of SCM.  It will take a level of commitment that the trade press may not be able to make, considering the cost of running those businesses.  It will require writing about solutions that may not bring in advertising revenue, writing about solutions that some of the large vendors may not want covered, because there are solutions that provide the same functions for the SMB world as the big systems do, for far less money.  In a publishing business model that depends on 100% advertising revenue for survival, can the publishers afford to provide the level of coverage that brings value to the SMB world without the advertising support that supports that mission?

Jonathan Smith

Manager, Logistics Engineering, Network Solutions, Expeditors
Posted on: Dec, 29 2016

Thanks for your thoughts in last week’s blog A Supply Chain Christmas Wish List for 2016. Here’s some feedback on the topics mentioned.


Regarding supply chain thought leaders, what about Lora Cecere and her Supply Chain Sharman blog or Adrian Gonzalez and his TalkingLogistics blog? I have found both to be perceptive and articulate. (Of course those blogs are in direct competition for readers’ attention with the SC Digest First Thoughts.) Also LLamasoft considers its own Toby Brzoznowski and Don Hicks as thought leaders.


Thanks for promoting more applied research. Consider the research presented at MIT’s Supply Chain Masters Program Research Fest 2016 or what’s happening at Georgia Tech with Supply Chain Engineering.


As for companies who contribute:

·         Whirlpool deserves a mention for presenting at LLamasoft’s SummerCon and on SC Digest.

·         Check out the INFORMS Franz Edelman Award won by UPS in 2016 for its On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) Project.

·         Read about all the 2016 INFORMS finalists and award winners in the summary document here. In particular, consider the 2016 INFORMS Prize won by GM for “for reliably using big data and advanced analytics to predict failure of certain automotive components and systems before customers are affected” (p. 72).

·         TNT Express won the Edelman award in 2012 for supply chain-wide optimization.

·         Consider the INFORMS Business Analytics Conference held each spring.

Gene Tyndall

Exec VP, Tompkins International
Posted on: Dec, 29 2016
 Hi, Dan.  Thanks for your column on the apparent limits these days of supply chain thought leaders.  I fully agree with your points, and you and I have discussed this issue before.  I offer a few comments as one who has been promoting, opining, and consulting on this topic, as well as having led an industry supply chain management company, ever since the origin of the term in the early 80’s.

First, I refer everyone to the excellent and impressive article in “SupplyChain247” on Dec. 15th, “The Emergence of the Strategic Leader”, by Dr. Steven Melnyk.  To me, he captures the true essence of the issue – that supply chain management has produced numerous strong supply chain manager tacticians, but few supply chain strategic leaders.  He cites experts such as Kevin O’Meara and David Closs to help make the case, and he goes beyond to provide substantive conclusions and insightful criteria to explain what strategic leaders need to possess and do.

Although there are several reasons for the gap in supply chain thought leaders today, I believe that this issue is the most important reason. As you and I have discussed for years, there are simply not enough “Chief Supply Chain Officers (CSCO)”.  Moreover, there are not enough supply chain strategic leaders who focus on capabilities rather than capacity; whose vision is on business outcomes rather than technical solutions; and who approach everything supply chain as fulfilling the value proposition of the business – i.e., why customers should buy our products and how we will insure they are delighted to do just that – and thus welcomed to the senior executive table along with other C-level executives.

The “new supply chains” will be more strategic than ever before.  The supply chain leaders who recognize this fact, and who lead their companies with both business and operations strategies, will emerge as the “new thought leaders”.  Let’s all add this to our “Christmas Wishes” for 2017 and beyond.




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