Daily Archives: July 17, 2006

(Sourcing) Innovation Always Matters

Last Thursday in Global Sourcing: Does Innovation Matter?, Jason Busch of SpendMatters responded to my invitation in my post Is Low Cost Country Sourcing to China Really Innovative? of the previous Wednesday to comment on my take that “the hurdles and landmines of manufacturing in — and exporting from — China will ultimately catch up with the low labor rates that make the region so attractive in the first place“. The gist of his response was:

(1) It’s irrelevant whether a Spend Management activity is “innovative”, all that matters is the cold facts should speak for themselves and the savings or efficiencies gained from the activity should outweigh the risk it introduces.

(2) Companies contemplating China outsourcing still have much to gain, particularly with respect to supply base localization efforts in China aimed at building local manufacturing capability to penetrate the Asian markets.

(3) Low cost country sourcing, which has essentially been around since the concept of “trade” began, is not about a place or country, but the process of being able to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities as they arise in Asia, South/Central America, Eastern Europe, and maybe even Africa.

(4) Companies newly embarking on low cost country sourcing will find China to be nearer to the end then the beginning of the opportunities curve, with the implication that those countries actively using China for low cost country sourcing already still have the most to gain.

With respect to Jason’s first point, I have to agree that the cold hard facts should speak for themselves but disagree as to Jason’s statement that “innovation is irrelevant”. Innovation should be at the heart of every activity you undertake, and fundamentally, any new action you undertake is probably innovative to you. What is debatable is the degree of innovation. After all, innovation, which can simply be defined as “ahead of the times”, is all relative – to what you do and what your competitors do. Sometimes it will even be undertaking an initiative that generated a known failure for your competitor or an initiative that everyone thinks was past it’s prime ten years ago. Being innovative is not just inventing new tricks, its finding new ways to do apply old tricks, and knowing when to do so to reap the rewards.

With respect to Jason’s second point, I agree that the possibility exists, but firmly believe that it is not a cold hard truth. Not all companies will be equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that exist and navigate their way around the quagmires of wage inflation, skilled employee retention, energy crisis, and over-extended infrastructures. Furthermore, freight costs are increasing around the globe, not just to, from, and in North America and parts of China can still be quite distant from other parts of Asia. (After all, it is the largest country in Asia, excluding Russia, and the third largest country in the world.)

Moving on to Jason’s third point, although the concept of sourcing from low cost countries can be traced back thousands of years, low cost country sourcing has taken on a whole new meaning in the past thirty to forty years. Traditionally, you sourced products globally that you could not produce, or produce in sufficient quantities, locally. Generally, exceptions were only made when it was prohibitively expensive to produce the products locally. After all, before the rise of fast ocean liners and air-freight, it took a long, long, long time to get product from Europe and Asia to North America, and the risks of catastrophe (storms sinking ships, piracy, etc.) were much, much greater. And it is only recently that the leaders in global sourcing have evolved the concept from sourcing from a region to sourcing from an opportunity, a concept I fully agree with – after all, it is a very innovative transformation of the concept of low cost country sourcing.

And with respect to Jason’s final point, I agree fully. For many companies, China will soon be on the way out as new opportunities make their way in.

The puck has been returned.