Nobody Said it Would Be Easy

It started as a casual discussion over lunch in Las Vegas. Over a club sandwich in Caesar’s Palace, at the conclusion of an S&OP IE event, Charlie Chase and I began to talk. Charlie was a published author. He had written a first book on Demand-driven Forecasting, and for some reason (that escapes me now), I wanted to write a book. I had been turned down by two publishers. They thought that that the topic of “supply chain” was too boring to drive readership. I was asking Charlie for advice.

We left lunch agreeing to write a book together, and the rest is history. One year ago, we started the research. A year later, the book will publish in December 2012.

Supply chain management is now three decades old. It is still evolving. While the term “supply chain” was used in logistics and warfare for decades prior, 2012 is the 30th Anniversary of the use of the term supply chain management in commercial manufacturing. In writing the book, it was important to hear the voice of the first generation of supply chain professionals. This was where we started. These interviews took us five months. It takes a long time to set up and conduct phone interviews with 75 supply chain pioneers. Sadly, three are now deceased. The book is a retrospective of these thirty years.

Over the three decades, supply chain processes have changed greatly. Technology has been a major driver. Connectivity, business analytics and ecommerce increased the pace of fulfillment and the customers’ expectations. Social technologies are increasing the speed of the metronome. While “clicks” (the world of the Internet) are sexier than “bricks” (the world of fulfillment), companies cannot move forward without effective and efficient operations. Like the annealing of steel, the processes were challenged and refined by many forces. This included the evolution of global markets and increasing business complexity. Many companies failed first, before they could go forward. The greatest moves forward for supply chain management came not from success, but from failure. Material event after material event created a boardroom understanding of why Bricks Matter. The book is a synopsis of this journey. As shown in figure 1, the title of the book comes from the understanding of three elements of supply chain management: the best use of physical assets, the evolution of the global supply chain team into BRIC countries and the harnessing of the evolution of supply chain management processes.

Figure 1. Bricks Matter

bricks matter

For manufacturers, retailers and distributors, supply chain is business. The book is a compilation of stories, quotes and anecdotes. The stories are rich. In telling them, we tried to make it anything but mundane. To understand the evolution we analyzed 25 years of financial data. We wanted to understand why supply chain matters today, and how companies need to prepare for the next decade. We tell the story of these 30 years of evolution by blending the pioneers stories with the financial data to support the stories. The book is dedicated to these first generation supply chain pioneers. The book is 411 pages. Plan to read it over several days. The stories are rich and the chapters are deep.

The book also gives insights to supply chain teams on the evolution of processes for 2020. To run the race for Supply Chain 2020, these teams have to have the right stuff. They have to have the right balance between flexibility and strength, they have to be balanced in their approach between go-to-market strategies and fulfillment activities, and they have to have a clear understanding of supply chain strategy. This requires a multi-year road map and a cross-functional understanding.

It also requires understanding the future of technologies. The road before us will be quite different than the road that got us here. The world of Big Data, the Internet of Things, new forms of Predictive Analytics and the evolution of Digital Manufacturing offers great promise. The adoption of new technologies is part of winning the race for Supply Chain 2020.

We finished the book in June 2012. It took us six months to write the book and three months to get approvals. It is ironic that the greatest lessons learned in the history of supply chain management came from failure; but, no corporate communications department at any Fortune 500 company makes these stories easy to tell. While everyone will tell me that writing a book is HARD WORK, after working with 70 companies for approval for factual accuracy, I now have a different appreciation for what these words mean.

We firmly believe that Bricks Matter. Behind every shipment, there is an order. It is satisfied by a manufacturing and logistics process. The customer’s expectation is that the order will be perfect. Getting it right requires the alignment of the organization from the customer’s customer to the supplier’s supplier. It is different in each industry and the required capabilities vary by the size of the company. The supply chain team makes it happen.

It sounds easier than it is. The supply chain organization is the unsung hero that finally gets a voice in the book Bricks Matter. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon now.

Lora Cecere, Founder of Supply Chain Insights and co-author of the book Bricks Matter


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