Last week, this author had the distinct opportunity to both attend and participate in the 2014 Supply Chain World North America conference sponsored by the Supply Chain Council.  The conference was a combined global member meeting of Supply Chain Council and of the 2014 Annual Conference. This year’s overall theme was The Tuned Supply Chain, From Strategy to Resources.

Supply Chain Council Executive Director Joe Francis kicked off the conference by sharing his observation that media today converses much more in the vernacular of the “supply chain” vs. manufacturing, procurement or logistics.  The fortunes of companies now stem from their end-to-end supply chain capabilities.  He reiterated that demand for supply chain talent is consistently identified as one of the top three issues facing businesses today.  A similar theme was reinforced by Michael Burkett, Research Vice President at Gartner, who observed that supply chain professionals are now thinking more about how the supply chain can be the competitive differentiator for their firms, particularly in the area of bringing more operational and business insights to the table and harvesting more insights from various sources of data.

Among the many highlights last week was a series of presentations from other than manufacturing focused supply chains, which included speakers from media & entertainment, oil exploration and national defense focused supply chains. Theodore Garcia, Executive Vice President, Customer and Alliance Management at FilmTrack addressed how today’s more rapid adoption of digital technology has disrupted media and entertainment focused supply chains. He spoke of one particular example where the late approval of a photo image of a global film movie star added an additional $6 million in unplanned added transportation costs. William Knittle, Global Procurement Director at BP spoke to the importance of managing cross-functional internal and external relationships and of moving BP toward a broader view of procurement capabilities.  Shabana Farooqi and Brian Dunch, senior consultants for PwC addressed efforts for implementing a version of the SCOR Framework (Supply Chain Operations Model Framework) for improved availability and access to much needed medicines for certain countries on the African continent where theft and counterfeits are a significant challenge.  They called for cross-industry special industry group consisting of government agencies, NGO’s, private industry and academia in collaborating on additional efforts to formulate more effective supply chains to improve the delivery of healthcare focused goods and services in developing regions.

Among the many other conference sessions, I especially enjoyed the closing keynote delivered by Steven Melnyk, Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University.  This author has enjoyed many of Professor Melnyk’s presentations which are both insightful and practical, and help in taking a bigger picture focus on supply chain management strategy. This year’s keynote talk addressed the topic of interoperability as the key to harmonizing the supply chain. 

A supply chain in harmony was expressed as being:

  • Supportive of corporate objectives while making achievement of desired business outcomes inevitable
  • A strategic asset to the business
  • Helping in the identification and support of new business opportunities

Especially insightful was Professor Melynk’s differentiation of output-driven, such as reduced costs, vs outcome-driven supply chain strategies.  His observation: too many supply chains are driven by output-driven perspectives. He instead defined five possible supply chain outcome models, each requiring different skill and leadership requirements. According to Melnyk, a supply chain can be either: responsive, security, sustainable, resilient or innovative driven. Each of these outcomes is not mutually exclusive, but rather blended according to market or business needs. As an example, Melnyk ranked the supply chain outcomes of the Apple supply chain as:

  1. Innovative
  2. Security
  3. Responsive

Cost is a necessary output in the context of the above outcomes. When one considers this context, it helps to communicate to senior management and the broader supply chain team the overall purpose and objectives for the supply chain’s contribution to business goal fulfillment.

Finally, this author had the distinct pleasure to moderate a supply chain industry analyst and thought leader panel discussion where we dived into a number of topics related to balancing required supply chain outcomes with technology investments, what’s really behind the quest for supply chain talent management along with competency roadmaps, and a number of other discussion topics posed by our audience and panel members.  Judging from the direct feedback, the panel was well received and very helpful for our audience. I want to again express my sincere thanks to the panelists for their dynamic participation and insights:

Jake Barr, CEO, Blue World Supply Chain Consulting and former P&G supply chain executive

Michael Burkett, Research Vice President, Supply Chain Research, Gartner, Inc.

Brad Householder, Principal, PwC Management Consulting

Steve Melnyk, Professor of Operations Management, Michigan State University


A final thought that came to mind on my flight back from Nashville is that supply chains, both product and services focused, have come a long distance in efforts directed at articulating value to the business. However, much work remains in helping the business to navigate a more dynamic nature of today’s faster pace of business events and technology, networks and organic process frameworks will play a more important role in the next iterations of supply chain management.

Bob Ferrari