3 Reasons Why Supply Chain Management is NOT Boring

April 29, 2015

This guest post was written by David Weaver, a self-described “Inventory & Supply Chain Devotee” and proprietor of the excellent Inventory and Supply Chain Optimization Blog.

The word “boring” can be simply defined as not interesting. Synonyms include dull, tiresome, tedious and unexciting. After reading that definition, how would you feel if someone called you “boring?”…

I bet the thoughts you just had are similar to what I think when somebody tells me that supply chain management is boring. I get a bit offended. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to have the word “boring” associated with supply chain processes, and this image issue is a leading factor in the current talent gap that the industry is experiencing.

However, if supply chain topics were really as boring as many people make them out to be, our Inventory & Supply Chain blog, for example would probably not even exist. There would be no need to watch for trends, discuss challenges and exchange ideas on best practice solutions. The truth is, the logistics and supply chain operating environment is in a constant state of flux. The managers behind these processes are always looking for new ways to get products more efficiently to the evermore demanding market. There is no time to be bored! Simply put, describing supply chain management as boring is a misnomer, and I will use the following three examples to prove my point.

1. Two words: Amazon Prime

When you wanted to rent a movie 20 years ago, you had to get dressed, drive to the local Blockbuster, become a member, pick a movie from the shelf, drive home, and hope that the person before you remembered to rewind the VHS so you could finally start watching the movie. Today, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services allow for instant viewing of movies and television series on your preferred connected device (and Blockbuster is out of business). This is a perfect representation of supply meeting the growing demand of our “I want it now” culture.

Aside from streaming, Amazon Prime allows users to order a vast array of household appliances, books, and much more, and receive these orders on the following day. This is where the more “traditional” logistics processes come into play – the warehousing, picking, packing and delivering of items. It is impossible to dismiss the impact these advancements in order processing and delivery have had on our lives.

If you ever want to see just how lively, exciting and fascinating logistics and supply chain processes can be (all antonyms of boring), I encourage you to visit an Amazon warehouse. The company decided to open its doors for tours at six of its locations in The United States. I was lucky enough to be able to tour an Amazon warehouse in Berlin, Germany. The view I had standing in Hall 6 looking all the way across to Hall 1, with millions upon millions of articles in between, left me astounded at the fact that my last order of a tiny battery set was able to be delivered within 24 hours. Not boring!

2. The metrics

My current infatuation with supply chain metrics and their importance to business success can be credited to my recent reading of the book “Supply Chain Metrics That Matter,” by Lora Cecere. I know, the term “metrics” may seem like a turn-off at first, but the fact is, companies are measuring various supply chain performance indicators on a regular basis. These include:

  • Operating margins
  • On-time delivery
  • Inventory turnover
  • Cycle time
  • Fill rate
  • Perfect order rate
  • …plus many more ratios and figures

When accounted for individually, certain metrics may, on the surface, show excellent progress. However, as Lora presents in her book, these metrics are interrelated, not just within the supply chain division, but across the entire organization. Before setting a goal of reducing inventory by a certain percentage, supply chain managers must understand the impact this will have on the other metrics and business functions. Cutting inventory to free up cash may seem like a good idea until, during the execution phase, customer service starts to suffer and the perfect-order-rate goes down the drain.

This balancing act is not easy, and due to the cross-functional nature of discovering the metrics that truly matter for an organization, it is safe to say that dull moments are hard to come by in the life of a supply chain manager. Working together in a constructive manner with sales, finance and operations can provide supply chain managers with more knowledge on the inner workings of an organization, above and beyond the goal to cut inventory and free-up cash. There is always something new to learn. Finding and understanding the metrics that matter will help lead to an efficiently run supply chain, which in turn can have a major impact on the bottom line of a business! Can this be stressful and challenging? Absolutely, but at least it is not boring.

3. The rapid pace of innovation

As mentioned in the introduction, supply chain managers do not have time to be bored. A quick look at the following list of trending topics in the industry will help prove my point:

  • 3D Printing brings the sexy back to Cleveland’s manufacturing sector
  • How Cloud Enables And Supports The Lean Warehouse
  • What driverless cars could mean for logistics
  • Real-time Smart Factory Business Intelligence Takes Hold

Stakeholders across the supply chain operation must be asking themselves the following questions: Can 3D printing bring the sexy back to my supply chain and manufacturing processes? Will transferring my ERP system to the cloud create a more lean and efficient warehouse? Will driverless trucks impact logistics processes in the future? Are smart factories really the future, and if so, what can I do today to prepare for this transition?

When all is said and done, the goal is to find a way to use these innovations to improve the metrics that matter and ensure a successful end-to-end distribution of goods. Again, not something that is classified as boring in my book.

Final words

Are certain aspects of supply chain management tedious, and at times (dare I say it) boring? Yes. I would be hard pressed to find an industry where that is not the case. Certain parts of every job are bound to be tedious at one point or another. It is, however, unfair to slap the “boring” label on such a fast-paced, innovative industry that impacts our lives and the bottom line of organizations on a daily basis. Supply chain managers are moving from the dark corners of warehouses to the executive table at a faster rate than ever, and now is the time to get involved in this innovative and growing field!

What aspects of supply chain management do you find most interesting and exciting?

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This article was originally published on the Inventory & Supply Chain Optimization Blog. Click here to visit the website. Follow David Weaver on Twitter @Weaver_davidw for more supply chain & social media updates.

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