Regular Supply Chain Matters readers who follow my postings will note that when I’m invited to attend conferences, I often try to observe and capture the overall mood or state of supply chain professionals.  The overall mood, the business challenges, and the sense of optimism are all important for all of us to reflect upon.

The attendees here at Sterling Customer Connection 2010 are a mixed, most likely evenly divided among IT, process and supply chain functional management.  My observations may therefore not have total scientific accuracy but you may be interested in one blogger’s insights.

Overall, compared to previous conferences, the mood of attendees seems much more upbeat than that of 2009. There is a sense that the days of dark gloom are behind and teams can now focus on what really needs to get done across supply chain processes.  As noted in my earlier dispatch, conference attendance in excess of 500 is evidence that companies are more willing to invest in education, training and networking.  It also implies that companies also want to insure that their partner technology vendors hear and respond to current business challenges.

The reality of supply chain business process challenges remains and consistently echoed in many of the customer presentations and networking sessions.  Doing more with less, insuring more agility and speed across supply chain business processes, and responding to challenges unknown remain top of mind.  There is clearly increased velocity of business. Compounding these challenges, many companies continue to require supply chain teams to deliver additional cost savings.

Hostess Brands continues to move from a decentralized to a more centralized supply chain management model.  The company’s predominant direct-store delivery model must manage over 50,000 customers and 6,000 routes to customers on an almost daily basis.  When a prime customer such as Wal-Mart, representing a rather significant revenue stream, demands electronic item and price synchronization in 6 weeks, the business must respond.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, their IT teams have to control a network of over 110,000 trading partners and 765,000 inbound messages per week, with very little time to manage exceptions or data errors. On boarding of new suppliers has to be quick and seamless.

Best Buy must compete with an emerging new group of niche specialty retailers and emerging commerce platforms.  Manufacturers can be online retailers. Private branded products continue to expand but at the same time, broaden the information integrations needs of the Best Buy supply chain.

The overall state of global supply chains is complex and demanding, and I believe a ‘can-do” attitude prevails.  All of you should be applauded for your stamina and accomplishments.

However, thinking out of the box, a more leveraged use of technology will be rather important in navigating into this next post-recessionary era.  My take-away from these past few days is that the bond of Sterling and its partner network is listening and responding to customer needs for supply chain agility.

Bob Ferrari