Daily Archives: May 22, 2008

What is the State of the Discipline in Supply Chain Talent? Part I

AMR recently released its Supply Chain Talent: State of the Discipline report, sponsored by the Supply Chain Council (download link) where they surveyed 198 organizations to assess the state of the supply chain management discipline, identify key requirements to support a demand-driven curriculum, and construct the first functional talent attribute model. From their research they drew some interesting conclusions:

  • No two supply chains are alike
    AMR found that very few companies defined their supply chain in the same way and that almost every leader had different plans of control.
  • Leaders view supply chain management as a business discipline
    AMR found that supply chain management is still very engineering centric and that few companies include manufacturing and NPD (new product development) within the supply chain function (and that this is a differentiator among leading companies).
  • Globalization has created urgency
    AMR states that a general flattening and global broadening of supply chain organizations has boosted the need for a more extensive set of skills and competencies.
  • A common supply chain talent model is the foundation for improvement
    AMR states that for supply chain management professional development to evolve into a more universal body of capabilities, industries and academia need to adopt a shared, modern, comprehensive model that incorporates the growing depth and scope of the discipline.
  • Universities have an opportunity to take a leadership role
    AMR states that schools can lead the way in providing more universal supply chain management skill sets and that truly comprehensive programs would gain strong support from the industry.

These conclusions are interesting for three reasons. First of all, they sound very plausible, and the report does a very good job at convincing you they are right. Second, there is fair amount of truth and insight in these conclusions and in the report. But they aren’t quite right. Here’s why.

  • No two supply chains are alike – but definition is not the problem
    The fact of the matter is that every business needs to differentiate itself, which means that every business has slightly different needs, and this means that every supply chain will be slightly different. This makes the problem harder than just a definitional problem.
  • Leaders should view supply chain management as the business – not just a business discipline
    Many business leaders still think their business is what is within the four walls of their company. That’s just not the case anymore for the vast majority of industrial companies. These days, your business is the supply chain you create, and everything should revolve around the supply chain. Accounting tracks the money that flows through the part of the supply chain directly under your control. Marketing markets the differentiating factors you bring compared to competitors with similar chains. Engineering takes the inputs and designs outputs. HR manages the people that make it all happen. And so on.
  • Globalization is the result of urgency – created by market-driven capitalistic need to beat the other guy in any way possible
    We might sell the strength of our business on “better, faster, cheaper”, but at the end of the day, all that Wall Street (and its hoards of brainless automatons) cares about is profit – which is revenue minus expenses, and once your business can’t get any better / faster locally, globalization is the next logical step. However, AMR is right when they note that this has boosted the need for a more extensive set of skills and competencies, and without these competencies, global supply chains could start to crumble.
  • Talent is the foundation for improvement
    You can have the best damn model in the world, but if no one uses it, it’s useless. A shared, modern, comprehensive model that incorporates the growing depth and scope of the discipline is a great guide, but what we need is people who understand the depth and scope of the discipline and who can not only manage today’s supply chains, but evolve them into tomorrow’s supply chains. Good programs and teachers will be more important than good models, especially in the short term where expertise is about to be in critically short supply.
  • Universities always have the opportunity – but private programs will lead the way
    I had the (dis?)pleasure of teaching in a number of public Universities and of trying to move curriculums forward. To be blunt, a dentist has an easier time pulling teeth than a progressive individual has of moving a program forward where, typically, a third (or more) of the department is nearing (early) retirement and see no reason why they can’t teach the same course they taught last year (and the year before and the year before), and where they believe that, even in areas such as technology, a course should be good relatively unchanged for at least five years. And even if you’re lucky enough to be part of a progressive department who sees the need for regular program enhancement and redesign, the bloated process, the need for approval by committee upon committee, and the internal politics at most publicly funded institutions limit you to progress at a snail’s pace. Considering that very little, if anything, moves faster than supply chain these days, by the time you get a program approved, it’s ancient history. That’s why, in the short term, for-profit private institutions will lead the way.