A Competitive Advantage (in the Supply Chain)

The theme of this year’s Fourth Annual Symposium on Supply Chain Management was Optimizing the Supply Chain: Competitive Advantage through Information Technology, and a competitive advantage is what you would have taken away if you had attended.

Despite a relatively low attendance when compared with other eProcurement conferences1, this is by far one of the better conferences you can attend. Even though attendance was around 95 this year (typical attendence is slightly over 100), you had participants from America to Australia, from academia and industry, and the practitioners in attendance cut across almost every industry. Thus, even though it’s sponsored primarily by PMAC (Purchasing Management Association of Canada), it’s truly an international event – and substantially different from PMAC’s annual meeting, which would be more of a Canadian event.

I know many of you are probably scared off by the dual academic/industrial nature of the event, noticing that it’s also sponsored by the McMaster eBusiness Research Centre, and worried that it will be overrun with academics in their ivory towers who have no clue about, and no interest in, real world problems, but this is not the case with this event. I understand where your concerns are coming from – I attended many academic conferences in my day and was consistently put off by not only the lack of application of much of the work, but the academic indifference toward the lack of application at many such conferences – but these concerns are unfounded. In fact, attending these types of events is even more beneficial then attending purely practitioner events as true innovation comes from the merging of great ideas, great technologies, and great best practices. Academics exist to come up with great ideas and foundations for best technologies and Practitioners exist to build great technologies tailored to best practices, using the best ideas they can find in the process. When the two come together with common goals in a common forum and work together, in my view, that’s when the best innovation occurs.

Furthermore, when you consider the broad range of topics that were covered in this year’s symposium, you quickly see that there’s something for everyone. In addition to papers on supply chain management, global supply chain management, risk management, supply chain design, supply chain integration, and e-Procurement, you also had papers on green initiatives, flexible manufacturing, talent sourcing, value networks, RFID, project management, and supplier management from the perspective of a range of industries including health care, pharmaceuticals, automotive, consulting, and software. In other words, the conference is just as informative as many two day crash courses in supply chain issues, at a fraction of the price.

I learned something in every presentation I went to, even the ones on the topics I knew very well. As a whole, the presentations were very well done. There’s so much to report that, as you probably guessed from my posts on New Technology Strategies and Managing Business Risk, I’m not even going to try to cover the conference in a post or two. Instead, I’m going to do a series of posts over the next few weeks on, or inspired by, the ten most informative or thought provoking presentations that I attended at the conference and apologize in advance to the speakers who get left out. (I could only attend a fixed number of presentations and even an overactive human brain can only process a finite amount of information in a short time period.)

In conclusion, I would strongly encourage you to join the academics who’ve stepped outside of their ivory tower and the innovation-focussed practitioners and attend next year’s event – especially if you reside in Canada or the United States and are only a short flight or two away – as I’m sure you will benefit from the experience. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get to meet a blogger!

1 A large list can be found at Sourcing Innovation.

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