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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

Sept. 20, 2019

Supply Chain Comment: Trip Report - CSCMP Edge 2019 in Anaheim

In Surprise News, Incoming Board Chair Says CSCMP Needs New Business Models

I am fresh back from Anaheim in Orange County, CA and CSCMP's 2019 annual conference. It was a good week, and I spoke with lots of SCDigest readers- several of whom wanted selfies!

All told I give the event satisfactory but not exemplary marks - but with a surprising twist on the last day that should be positive news for all us.

Thousands of you have watched my daily video recaps of the conference. You will find them here: CSCMP Day 1 Video Review, Day 2, and Day 3.

Gilmore Says....

In an age of the internet, social media, different priorities and more, CSCMP needs a new business model, Meyer said.

What do you say?

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This was the 57th annual conference across CSCMP and its predecessor organizations, the Council of Logistics Management and the National Council of Physical Distribution. In 2017, the event became CSCMP Edge, after basically forever being just referred to as the CSCMP/CLM conference.

Before I go further, I will note there is no question I am more of a critic for both the CSCMP conference and the Gartner Supply Chain Forum than I am with most other events.


The reason is simple: these are now the two largest and most important supply chain conferences we have, and while both are fine events, there is always room for improvement. It's my job in part to point out where that is. Our readers tell me to keep it up.

CSCMP again said there were about 3000 attendees, same as in recent years. That is a generous estimate by my counting. Attendance always drops when CSCMP holds the conference on the West coast, as it does every 5-6 years, and it felt that way for sure again this year.

Under this year's conference chair Susia Bodnar of Four Kites, there were some minor but welcome imrovements.


In addition to new yoga and meditation classes, those changes started with trimming breakout sessions from 75 minutes, which became the norm 4-5 years ago, back to 60 minutes, a change I have been lobbying for since the first year they went long. Much better.

From a big picture perspective, there were 19 breakout session tracks this year, ranging from Talent Management to Warehousing. That was down a bit from 21 last year and the higher twenties not many years ago, but felt even more skinnied down than that. That is because not every track had a session in each time slot. So the number of choices you faced was very manageable this year versus years past.

I counted about 80 total breakout sessions across all tracks, versus about 100 in 2018.


As with the Gartner conference, you have to pay a bit of attention to how a given breakout session was created. At this year's conference, there were several "sponsored" tracks - meaning paid for - and still more as part of the conference's Supply Chain Exchange trade show, for which some booth packages include a breakout session. Garter, I will note, does the same thing.

It was hard to pick up much in the way of themes from this year's presentations. I would cite the most visible topics as talent management, blockchain, and omnichannel, but barely. By contrast, I saw nothing on RFID, and little on Sustainability, for what that's worth. Also not much content on supply chain planning and network design, compared to most years.


All of the above is observational, not a commentary. The breakout topics actually seemed pretty well balanced.


On the final day, Wednesday, the crowd pulls back to at best a quarter of the first two days. As usual in recent years, there once again were three 90-minute "mega-sessions" to choose from to start the morning. The last day morning concludes with about 90 minutes or so of closing festivities, including as always a motivational-type speaker -  and this year some surprising commentary from the incoming board chair, as I will relay here in a bit.

In his opening comments Monday, Blasgen noted that as never before, it's "evolve or die" - a notion geared towards companies and supply chains - but applicable to conferences and organizations too, as we'll see.

He also emphasized the need to look at problems at opportunities through different lenses - this is fact is crucial today, in my opinion.

The opening keynote Monday was from innovation expert Jeremy Gutsche, consultant and author of the book "Better and Faster."

He was a great speaker and seemed to get the audience going, but I have seen a number of these innovation speakers, and just like people who have climbed Mt. Everest, in the end all say about the same things.

Such as: innovation really is a science, not art; companies treally can drive more innovation with right policies; don’t punish failure; fail but fail fast, proactively solicit ideas; etc.

The best takeaways for me started with the observations that many great innovations were spawned by finding overlooked opportunities, not some rocket science genius. There still is hope for all of us to make billions with a new product or service.
Look around.


But its very difficult to get out of current paths, as individuals or companies. On a person level, there is a substance called myelin that actually forms pathways in the brain that get wider over time. That enables us to get better at doing some things - but harder for us to get out of that swiim lane. There is of course a corporate version of this, if metaphorical not biological.

In fact, Gutsche said companies often only pay lip service to innovaton – 97% of CEOs by one survey say innovation is the corporate lifeblood, but another survey found 55% of managers think their companies are lousy at innovation.


Ironically, innovation at a personal or company level is especially difficult around what your really good at – and takes real will power to overcome. In the end, Gutsche said companies must take the best of both farming (mining what you are good at) and hunting (finding new ways) cultures.


The day 2 general session featured on interesting panel on understanding millennials. The moderator for that panel was selected by a competition from CSCMP, involving a video application and ginning up votes via social media.


I admit to entering the competion, with a good video and lousy vote chasing. The winner was Felisa Higgins of Penn State, and she was a good choice, with an outsized personality and lots of energy.


The panel consisted of Chieh Huang, CEO of etailer Boxed; Seema Bansal, founder of on-line florist Venus ET Fleur; and consultant Eric Tormuende. It was an impressive and articulate group.


That said, I am not sure what the takeaways were. Among the few nuggets, Tormuende said there is really much difference among millennials – some do want to keg of beer, the ping pong tables, dogs in the office, etc. but not all. The recommendaton was to be starkly clear what the environment in your company is like and what types of employees will thrive.


Bansal said millennials really want their voice to be heard and to work in a collaborative environment, with all employees having brush in the painting of the corporate canvas. Think that is spot on.

Huang cited some tensions between an older VP of distrbution and millennials who pushed what he thought were some crazy ideas. Huang told him he may be right - but also that these same guys might just get done things you need in weeks instead of the 6-12 months and a systems integrator required in the traditonal way.


So I give the panel a A for effort but a B- for insight - but hope we see more of this type of new CSCMP thinking next year.


Which leads to the surprise in Wednesday's closing general session. Incoming CSCMP board chair Michelle Meyer - interestingly from Gartner - laid out some rather soberng facts. CSCMP membership and conference attendance peaked in 1998. Then, there were more than 14,000 members - now there are just 6000+.


Conference attendance was about 7000 then - but now is probably about 2500. This is not sustainable, Meyer said, in a very different message from those we are used to seeing from new board chairs. In fairness, I will note CSCMP is far from the only organization facing such challenges in this new era.


But in an age of the internet, social media, different priorities and more, CSCMP needs a new business model, Meyer said. Quickly. She has formed a new committee to identify what changes are needed, to be led by Elijah Ray of Sunland Logistics.


Wow - this is really big news. And I completely agree. The organization and conference are getting stale - but like all of us the myelin pathway discussed above is very hard to get off even when things are not going great


I have my own ideas on what the conference needs, which I will share in coming weeks. But changes - big or small - I think will be welcome by most.


So, all told a good two and a half days in Anaheim - but I am excited about the potential for change for the better.

I will happily be back for CSCMP 2020 in Orlando. Can't wait to see the changes.

Breakout session summaries next week in this coulmn, including a couple of very good sessions.

Did you go to CSCMP 2019? If not, why not? If yes, what are your thoughts on the conference? How can the conference and CSCMP improve? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

What's your opinion on the trade wars? Long term impact or minor blip in the end? What did you think? Let us know your thought at the Feedback section below.

Your Comments/Feedback

John Hill

Director, St. Onge
Posted on: Sep, 23 2019
What did you have for breakfast Friday, Dan?  Good summary comments as were your on-floor videos from the event!  You pulled few punches.  I have a call into Elijah.



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