Supply Chain Risk Management: the Feds are moving in the right direction.

By Steve Geary | 08/31/2018 | 2:45 PM

A competent logistician takes a holistic, not a transactional, view of Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM).  Congress is moving the Department of Defense in that direction.  And that means if you do business with the federal government, get ready to answer the mail.

Supply Chain Risk Management rides on four vectors.  There are strategic risks we logisticians worry about, like foreign market fluctuations or economic dislocations.  There are operational risks, like diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages (DMSMS).  There are physical risks, like the driver shortage, port closures, or weather disruptions.  There are financial risks, like currency fluctuations or price volatility.

President Trump signed the annual defense budget – the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019” – on August 13.  It is over a thousand pages long.  Buried in the bill (Section 881) is a definition of Supply Chain Risk for the Department of Defense.

That section says, “The term ‘supply chain risk’ means the risk that an adversary may sabotage, maliciously introduce unwanted function, or otherwise subvert the design, integrity, manufacturing, production, distribution, installation, operation, or maintenance of a covered system so as to surveil, deny, disrupt, or otherwise degrade the function, use, or operation of such system.”

Congress deserves credit for recognizing supply chain risk as an issue.  That said, what about supply chain risk unrelated to an adversary?  Not all national security threats involve an adversary.  The military definition of national security includes “defense posture capable of successfully resisting hostile or destructive action from within or without, overt or covert.”  What about supply chain risk outside of Defense?  There are some pretty complex supply chains run by the government unrelated to the military; just take a look at the State Department, for example.

Supply Chain Risk Management in a government context isn’t just about adversaries, and it isn’t just about war.  The four vectors of risk – strategic, operational, physical, and financial - are all around us.  While it’s good that Congress is taking notice of supply chain risk, it’s clear they are lawyers focused on transactions, not logisticians managing systems.

Congress deserves credit for what they have done, but they haven’t gone far enough in considering the breadth of supply chain risk.  While it is important that DoD embraces SCRM, like the private sector, SCRM should be a “Whole of Government” evolution, not just DoD. 

Things are moving in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

With uncertainty growing and labor markets tight, think about a different kind of hire.

By Steve Geary | 08/17/2018 | 8:05 AM

The “trade war” talk makes logisticians nervous.  Supply chains can be brittle, and battles – even metaphorical battles – introduce uncertainty.  And with the rhetoric currently flying across the Pacific, uncertainty is certainly getting our attention

You can find candidates trained for this kind of uncertainty.  They come from top schools that graduate global logisticians – often with Masters Degrees – and you might want to think about looking for them as they consider leaving government service: 

Graduates of these schools bring the skills needed to deal with physical conflict and the ensuing uncertainty in the supply chain, not just the metaphorical.  The other thing they bring is leadership skills and operational savviness honed in challenging and diverse conditions, often in complex, chaotic, and austere situations.

There are also solid ROTC programs that develop entry level leaders on campuses across the country.  And let’s not forget the non-commissioned officer pools, who often earn degrees while wearing the uniform.  The point is that if you are looking for leaders in logistics; don’t just think of the traditional college campus. 

Leaders in the military – both uniformed and civilian - know how to make things happen.  Often, they learned how to make things happen when the bullets are flying.  Literally.

They can handle a trade war.


By Steve Geary | 07/23/2018 | 1:47 PM

It’s one thing to read about the macro-economic impact of tariffs.  It’s another when the micro-economic impacts ripple through the pond in the backyard.  Those tariff ripples are now rolling though our logistics networks.

It’s time to pay attention.

Jared is a short order cook at the neighborhood breakfast place four days a week.  On the days when he is not working at the restaurant, Jared works for a lobster wholesaler in Boston.  Jared is riding just one of the ripples flowing through the economy caused by the new tariffs.

In retaliation for the tariffs the US imposed, China has responded with tariffs on an array of American exports.  In particular, China hit American lobster imports with a 25% tariff.  Lobster prices are collapsing.  Those with a strong domestic customer base should surive, but some sort of realignment will take place.

This morning Jared shared that two of his wholesaler’s competitors have closed their doors since the tariffs went into effect.  Jared estimates that the volume at his wholesaler is off about two-thirds since the tariffs hit.  All of these companies were vulnerable, because China exports were a large chunk of their business.

Not every industry is losing.  For domestic steel manufacturers in the Midwest, unlike Jared, it’s a good thing.  Competitive imports are now more expensive, and presumably prices and profits for US steel producers will rise.

The point is that a new factor - higher tariffs - has been injected into the trade equation.  Discernable shifts, large and small, are rippling across the supply chain triggered by these new tariffs.  Some have been imposed by Washington, and some are retaliatory movesby our trading partners.  Across a slew of commodities, market equilibriums are shifting.

Right now, for most of us, it’s a new ripple emerging from the fog.  

What matters to us is that supply chain realignments and adjustments are underway. 

Are you seeing any ripples? Are they big enough to get your attention?  Scan the horizon within your network.  Is there something coming over the horizon worth your attention? Are you prepared to act if that wave becomes a tsunami across your supply chain? 

Trade wars are good, and easy to win.  Really?

By Steve Geary | 07/09/2018 | 5:17 AM

A few months ago we wrote, “There is a storm rolling in.”  Well, it’s here.

We are now in a tariff battle with a long list of countries that includes China, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, and India, among others.  Those six countries are among America’s top 10 trading partners, accounting for over 50% of our foreign trade.

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” according to President Trump

Trade wars are like bar brawls.  Nobody knows who will win.  Things get broken.  Everybody gets hurt.  It takes a long time to clean up.

Economists don’t agree with the President.  An opinion piece published earlier this year in MarketWatch nicely summarizes the opposing viewpoint. 

“It is a standard principle of economics that all individual actors exist within a system, any action taken by one actor will likely result in a response from others.  This means that wise governments, in considering which policies to adopt, must make difficult calculations about how their actions will interact with those of others.  ‘America First’ fails to make these calculations.”

The United States government has just ramped up on uncertainty for US business, and business hates uncertainty.  To paraphrase another senior government official named Donald from over a decade ago, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.  In my judgement, the known unknowns and unknown unknowns are now dominant.

Bring your key suppliers in and ask them how they are going to be impacted.  Call your top customers, and ask them if how they are impacted.  Draw a map of your supply chain, reaching out at least two levels, and see what it tells you.

Then start loading up the warehouse and keep your fingers crossed.

President Trump is Disrupting. Again.

By Steve Geary | 06/27/2018 | 7:18 AM

Everybody in logistics needs to pay attention when the President talks about tariffs. 

We are entering into an era of increasing uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds risk.  Are American businesses ready if the trade wars escalate?  On the flip side, are American businesses ready if tariffs shrink or or trade barriers disappear?  Many are not. 

Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) is "the implementation of strategies to manage both every day and exceptional risks along the supply chain based on continuous risk assessment with the objective of reducing vulnerability and ensuring continuity."

Parse that SCRM definition:  manage based on continuous risk assessment, reduce vulnerability, ensure continuity, and, by implication, execute within the operating budget.

Every logistics leader claims to do SCRM, but let’s get real.    Companies may know where their Tier 1 suppliers are, but what about the next level?  Over the past 25 years, the supply chains have become increasingly global.  This means that every business in America is exposed to global risk.

When a supply chain spans the globe, the risk profile for that supply chain shifts.  According to a study by Zurich Insurance several years ago, fully 30% of supply chain disruptions originate at Tier 2 suppliers.  Almost 10% came from a supplier in Tier 3 or even further down the supply chain.

Do you have contingency plans that extend to Tier 2 and Tier 3?  Does your organization know where they are?

Asked to quantify logistics performance, managers will talk about lead times, fill rates, freight costs, and obsolescence.  Yet, if Risk Management is a key element in logistics, SCRM measures should be at the top of the list, too. 

What about time to recover?  Facility risk indices?  Utilities resilience? 

President Trump, by bringing attention to government trade policy and tariffs is doing us a favor.  The potential for a trade war is a warning bell.  Step back and assess.

Then start paying attention to SCRM. 

Tilting at Windmills

By Steve Geary | 06/11/2018 | 1:18 PM

According to the New York Times earlier this month, “Google, hoping to head off a rebellion by employees upset that the technology they were working on could be used for lethal purposes, will not renew a contract with the Pentagon for artificial intelligence work when a current deal expires next year.”

Maybe I have too much imagination, but I can also envision using this technology to find lost hikers, locate migratory herds, or find illegal logging or mining operations.

The technology “uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images.”  That kind of technology could have broad application in logistics, too.  Mapping is often pretty important in the context of designing and operating logistics networks.  Presumably, the technology under development at Google could be pretty useful in a broader logistics context.

What’s next for the employees at Google?  Are they going to boycott boot manufacturers because soldiers wear boots?  Are they going to stop driving on interstate highways because they were funded by the federal government to allow rapid movement of military forces?  Are Google employees going to stop using the internet because defense research created it?

A dictionary definition of hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.”

The definition must be accurate; I googled it.

A Holistic View of Supply Chain Risk

By Steve Geary | 06/04/2018 | 4:20 PM

Allianz – an international insurance firm headquartered in Europe – publishes an annual “Risk Barometer.” 

According to the report, globally, “Business interruption ranks as the most important global risk for the sixth year in a row (42% of responses), due to its tremendous effect on revenues.”

Drilling down into the Americas specifically, in 2018, the top 10 risks identified in the Americas region are:

  1. Cyber Incidents
  2. Business Interruption
  3. Natural Catastrophes
  4. Market Developments
  5. Fire and Explosion
  6. Changes in Legislation and Regulation
  7. Loss of Reputation and Brand Value
  8. New Technologies
  9. Climate Change and Weather Volatility
  10. Talent Shortage

It’s a good list, and Supply Chain Risk Management weaves through all of it.  Logisticians ship, receive, and store things all over the world, so supply chain leaders have to worry about taking a hit in any one of these dimensions.  At the moment, we’re all riding the uncertainty on the domestic regulatory dimension, while chatter about a trade war looms on the horizon. 

The immediate tends to occupy our attention.  That’s natural. The academics call it selection bias.  We focus on what’s in front of us, and have a tougher time thinking about what might be around the corner.

But hurricane season has officially started, unemployment is under 4% so key positions go unfilled, block chain is disrupting traditional business networks, volcanos are being disagreeable in Hawaii, and the FBI is telling us to reboot our servers because of some insidious Russian virus.  And that’s just off the top of my head.  Take a moment and make a list of the “significant” supply chain management risks for your business.

Take a look at your operation through this holistic lens.  Where are your vulnerabilities?  What are your countermeasures?  Do you have a plan?  Are you even capable of executing the plans you have?

Be honest about it, be a little bit intimidated, and then get to work.

Are Government Supply Chains Really that Bad?

By Steve Geary | 05/19/2018 | 2:09 PM

Gartner’s annual list of the Top 25 Supply Chains is out

Just like every year since 2010, there isn’t a single business focused on the government as a customer listed.  Is it selection bias, or are organizations operating in the government space really that bad?  As far as I can tell, the last supply chain with a government focus to make the list was Lockheed Martin in 2010, coming in at number twenty-five.

Over 95% of the population of the United States gets water from a municipal supply.  That’s a government supply chain.

We have the United States Postal Service, a prodigious capability that operates as an independent agency of the federal government.  The USPS even handles some of Amazon’s Sunday deliveries.  That’s a government supply chain.

And, of course, we have the military industrial complex.  That slice of American commerce includes highly competent companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, United Technologies, L-3 Communications, and BAE Systems.  These are just the biggest; there are lots of others.

I don’t think twice about drinking water out of a tap in any office building in America.  Making that happen requires world class supply chain chops, and those organizations are not on the Gartner list. 

I’ve received mail in towns in truly isolated US locations, simply addressed to me, General Delivery, but I don’t see the USPS on the list.

I’ve eaten fresh coffee cake sent by my wife using the US Mail in combat-zone in Southwest Asia – what the military calls an austere non-permissive environment - while at the same time eating three hot meals a day prepared for me by government contractors.  I don’t see any aspect of that supply chain reflected on the list.

Why are none of the government-centric operations or players on the Gartner list?  Are the supply chain capabilities in the government space really as mediocre as Gartner seems to imply?  Or is there some sort of unintended selection bias taking place?

Speed Kills.  So does lettuce.

By Steve Geary | 05/07/2018 | 2:08 PM

Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) is complicated.   But sometimes, the complexity resolves down to a single event.  And that event can be tragic.

The supply chain for agricultural products in the United States is really complex.  Somehow, that integrated set of capabilities brings fresh lettuce from Yuma, Arizona to my home outside of Boston, Massachusetts.  The supply chain network has a lot of players running an interwoven network that moves fresh produce through echelons from coast to coast.

According to the Washington Post on May 2, “The nationwide food poisoning outbreak from E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce has claimed its first fatality, an unidentified person in California, and the infections have sickened a total of 121 people in 25 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.”

That lettuce is believed to have come from the Yuma area.  There are no simple supply chains.  A head of lettuce may be simple, but the associated supply chain processes are complex.  That complexity brings risk and danger.  Just ask the family in California.

The Defense Acquisition University defines SCRM as “a systematic process for managing supply chain risk by identifying susceptibilities, vulnerabilities and threats throughout DoD’s “supply chain” and developing mitigation strategies to combat those threats whether presented by the supplier, the supplied product and its subcomponents, or the supply chain.”

Supply Chain Risk Management includes more than cyber threats, so it isn’t just an IT problem.  Risk touches all functions in the supply chain, and it needs to be addressed by the operators, too.  The next time somebody tells you that supply chain risk is an IT problem and tries to kick the can down the hall, remember that family in California.

Post Office vs. Amazon – the real reasons USPS is losing money

By Steve Geary | 04/03/2018 | 1:21 PM

Late last year, President Trump took aim at the Post Office and Amazon, tweeting, “Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!

In another tweet, on March 31, the President goes on, “While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars.”

President Trump might be overlooking the real challenges at the United States Postal Service (USPS), and Amazon isn’t on the list.  The President argues that Amazon is getting the better end of the deal in the agreement with the USPS  and insinuates that taxpayers may in effect be subsidizing a private sector company. But, there is a bit more to the story.

FedEx and UPS and a bunch of other companies use the Post Office for last mile delivery.  The Post Office has the most formidable infrastructure in place in the United States designed to deliver everywhere, every day.  Standard delivery covers the map six days a week.  The Post Office delivers some high priority mail packages on Sunday, as well as some Amazon packages. 

That last mile capability is what we call a competitive advantage, and the Post Office is mining it for all it’s worth.  And in reality, the small package segment of the USPS business model is actually a money maker. There is a really important concept in accounting called “contribution margin,” and the President Trump needs to consider it.

The Post Office is losing money, and has for years; largely driven by shifts in the market.  Junk mail – once a cash cow for the Post Office - is tanking.  First class mail – supplanted by email - is tanking.  eBills and ePayments – it’s been months since I last wrote a physical check – have totally reengineered the way we do business. 

However, . Postal Service expenses continue to exceed revenues and they have limited ability to control overhead.  Challenges include a unionized government workforce, high pension and healthcare costs mandated by Congress, regulatory obstacles, and the inability to close underperforming (money-losing) post offices, to name a few.  

The Post Office is significantly constrained in their ability to react appropriately, in a business sense.

Federal Statute establishes the USPS Board of Governors to “direct the exercise of the powers of the Postal Service, direct and control its expenditures, reviews its practices, conduct long-range planning, approve officer compensation, and set policies on all postal matters.”  By law, there should be nine members on the Board of Governors, nominated by the President and subject to Senate confirmation.  These nine select both the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General, for a total of 11 seats. 

At the present time, all nine of the Senate-confirmed seats are vacant with just three nominations pending Senate confirmation.  There are still six more nominations to go, and Congress is still on the hook to confirm the three that have been made.

Good luck with recruiting willing participants for the Board of Governors.  We’d all like to see the President tap his network and recruit some serious players for the board, but there are challenges.  Pay is limited to a rate of no more than $300/day for forty-two days, plus an annual salary of $30,000, or a maximum total annual pay of $42,600.

So, the President’s recent attention on the business acumen of the folks at the Post Office is a little off target.  Post Office profitability challenges are tied to far more issues than Amazon.  In reality, the President and Congress are significantly contributing to the problem. 

Might we respectfully suggest that the President and Congress exercise some leadership and sound business management acumen to fill the void and position the Post Office for success?

Disclosure:  the US Postal Service is a current client with one of my consulting businesses.  You might consider that a conflict of interest or you might believe that gives some credibility to my opinions.  That judgement is in the hands of the readers.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Steve Geary

Steve Geary

Steve Geary is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee's College of Business Administration, and is on the faculty at The Gordon Institute at Tufts University, where he teaches supply chain management. He is the President of the Supply Chain Visions family of companies, and Chief Operating Officer at ROSE Solutions, consultancies that work across the government sector. Steve is a contributing editor at DC Velocity, and editor-at-large for CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Science and Engineering, and Who's Who in Executives and Professionals. In November of 2007, Steve was recognized for "Selfless Service to Our Nation and the People of Iraq" by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.


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