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“Start thinking.” Insights from NDIA’s 30th Annual Logistics Forum.

By Steve Geary | 04/17/2014 | 9:09 PM

I went to the annual National Defense Industrial Association National Logistics Forum this past week.  These sorts of conferences are interesting, because most of the speakers are somewhat reserved in what they have to say, and it’s up to the listener to read between the lines. 

For most of the past decade, defense logisticians have had comparatively free access to resources, and we’ve been free to think big thoughts.  Last year, the Sequester arrived, the shutdown happened, and the budget compression began in earnest.

Still, many were in denial, behaving as if we were living through a passing storm.  Surely the madness would soon end, and budgets restored.  This year, reality has set in.

We’re living in the new normal.  Today, a good program demands careful husbandry of resources.  We must remember to keep it practical and define, no kidding, executable and sustainable initiatives.  The focus is on efficiency and cost-effectiveness.  We are absorbing a reset, in more ways than one.

So, with these as the imperatives, if you are in the defense business, what should you do?

Help the DoD figure out how to deal with persistent, dispersed, and unpredictable threats.  In a time of reduced resources, how do you meet needs in Africa, the Pacific, and eastern Europe? How do you deal with the tyranny of distance?  How can we remain ready to fight with less money to spend on readiness?  How can we continuously deliver little chunks of capability, instead of rolling the dice on big bang step function improvements?  How can we create flexible partnerships, affordably for the taxpayer and profitably for the private sector?

Fundamentally, how do we balance force structure, modernization, and readiness? 

Pragmatism rules.  As one speaker put it, “You can have all the good ideas you want to, but if you can’t implement them it’s wasted thought.”  We’re past the art of the possible, and living in the time of the doable.

To their credit, the DoD seems to have absorbed a critical lesson.  They need industry as a partner, not a punching bag.  As Frank Kendall, the Deputy Secretary of Defense put it, “Industry is very simple.  They respond to the incentives put out there.  We need to give them the right ones.”

Many speakers made reference to a quotation sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, and sometimes to Ernest Rutherford. 

"Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It is time to start thinking."

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About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.



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