The following is a guest posting that is also published on the Supply Chain Expert Community web site.

This author recently had the opportunity to view a promotional webcast featuring Gartner analysts,  that set the framework for the upcoming designation of Gartner’s Top 25 Supply Chains in 2012. Some community readers may have viewed this webcast and had reactions to the messages delivered.  We would like to share ours.

According to Gartner, the overall criteria, among others, for being designated on this prestigious listing are supply chains that are:

  • Predictable and reliable
  • Flexible to changing business conditions
  • Exhibit a profitable response to product demand
  • Exhibit sustainable growth and satisfied customers
  • Move from words on a PowerPoint slide to attitudes and demonstrated practices

Readers might recall last year’s the top ten listing, which included:

  1. Apple
  2. Dell
  3. Procter & Gamble
  4. Research In Motion
  5. Amazon
  6. Cisco
  7. Wal-Mart
  8. McDonalds
  9. Pepsico
  10. Samsung

The year 2011 was very challenging for these supply chains, not only from the perspective of a rapidly changing and dynamic global economy but also major incidents of supply chain disruption. My first reaction was to take note of the listed supply chains and reflect on how many of them had a reported stumble during the year.  I came up with at least four.  Even Apple has had to deal with the challenge of heightened visibility to labor practices. Community readers may come up with the same or a different number.  That triggered a pointed reminder that even the top supply chains are not immune to vulnerabilities. The real criteria are how each responds to such challenges.

Another theme brought forward by the Gartner presenters was the possibility of changed ranking or new names appearing in the 2012 ranking. That brought forward a reminder that no supply can rest in the satisfaction that it has reached the pinnacle of capabilities. The global economy and events move far too quickly, and there will always be next objective to address. One supply chain stumbles and another takes advantage. One supply chain is mandated to reduce costs to the detriment of certain capabilities while another aligns to business needs and business outcomes.  The result is the shifts that we continually observe.

If this listing included mid-market supply chains, those that included the challenge of far more limited resources and higher stakes, perhaps the listing would further reveal how wide the gap in capabilities has become. Many mid-market companies were severely impacted by either the global recession, or the disruptive consequences of the tsunami in Japan, and the floods in Thailand.  Their influence over suppliers was morphed by larger supply chain dominants, perhaps some of those listed in the Top 25. Perhaps they who have successfully overcome these challenges and maintained an objective for responsiveness and resiliency should have recognition as well.

The takeaway from this commentary is that we as a community sometimes place too much emphasis on a singular tenet or goal.  In one year it may be lean, another demand-driven, resilient or agile.  Perhaps the reality is that the top supply chains must have the ability to respond to many challenges, along with multiple objectives. They must have a lens that extends well beyond the current quarter, or current fiscal year.

Finally, Supply Chain Matters would like to provide a helpful suggestion to those of you that have volunteered to be Peer voters for the 2012 Gartner rankings. It might be helpful for all in the supply chain community if your lens of ranking included multi-dimensional, multi-geographical and multi supply chain tried perspectives of the top supply chains. The reality is perhaps that the entire value-chain eco-system of partners really determines which supply chains are top ranked. Perhaps the lens of ranking is really weighted toward attitudes and consistent demonstrated practices in spite of the realities of constant change.

Bob Ferrari