Archives for November 2009

High Tech, High Touch, High Hopes

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/25/2009 | 8:35 AM

Visionary author John Naisbitt introduced us to the high tech/high touch concept in his 1982 best-seller, Megatrends.  He revisited the concept in 1999's High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search For Meaning (also issued in paperback in 2001).  There, he identified our two greatest concers as: 1) the application of technology in our daily lives, and 2) how to escape the ravages of technology in our daily lives (going so far as to characterize technology as a "tin god").

So, experts have been telling us for nearly thirty years about the importance of maintaining high touch in communications and relationships as high tech applications grow in routine application in our business and personal lives.  Have we forgotten - are we deliberately ignoring - that vital piece of advice?

Get real for a moment.  How silly is it to talk about “friends” on Facebook when they might be people we’ve never met in the flesh, and our only interactions are electronic?  How inane is it to follow Twitter tweets from  professional golfers, college football players, or D-list celebrities?

I’m  more than a little concerned that we are seeing a generation – OK, a few generations – that see no need for human interaction, when they think that all one needs to know is available on the internet at the click of a mouse.  The implications are staggering.  The commoditization of both business and personal transactions; the confusion of acquiring facts with learning; and the dilution of the quality of personal and organizational relationships.  Consider for a moment the differences - both implied and actual - between electronic reverse auctions in the Purchasing world and collaborative, face-to-face, product development with key supply sources in the universe of intimate business relationships.

We live in lively electronic times.  G3 technology giving way to G4.  Web 2.0 enabling startling levels of communications and interaction.  High tech is fabulous.  It enables communications, problem-solving, analysis, business interactions, and more, all undreamed of a generation or two ago.  But, by itself, it’s only a set of tools, powerful in the right hands and in the right setting, and dangerous if misapplied or in the wrong hands.  I’ll go a step farther and posit: High Tech + High Touch = High Hopes; High Tech + Low Touch = Low Hopes; Low Tech + Low Touch = No Hopes.  This concept is particularly relevant and critical in organized and managed business relationships, in which ultimate success or failure rests on the quality of interaction, and not the speed of the technology involved.

What do you think?  Am I merely getting crotchety in my dotage?  Or, do we need to refocus on the role of high touch in our business lives?  Let me know where you stand – and why – on this question.

Blow, Winds, And Crack Your Cheeks!

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/19/2009 | 8:18 AM

I've been railing, raging like Lear against the storm, for some time about the inevitability of a turnabout in the stampede to Asian off-shoring - and the creation of long-distance, difficult-to-manage, and arm's-length busineess relationships in extended supply chains.  The pressures of escalating transport costs, rising local wage structures, increased inventory holdings, up-front cash requirements, and delivery uncertainties - among other factors - simply had to tip the economic equation sooner or later.  Maybe it's finally happening.

The New Calculus of Offshoring from the October 2009 issue of CFO magazine (also available at www.cfo.com) hits the issues head-on, and reflects a recognition in the financial community that bodes well for a coming-together of traditional antagonists, accountants and supply chain practitioners.  It's more than ironic that the same executives who argued for distant off-shoring a scant few years ago are now touting the competitive advantages of closing down many such operations.

The article cites a cornucopia of challenges in the old off-shoring model, including unsustainable cost savings, weak project management, poor communications, differing work ethics, error rates, costly travel for oversight, overseas wage inflation, inflexibility, and low speed, among others.  It goes on to outline a number of options in sourcing and "shoring" (some a bit tongue-in-cheek).

But, shifting service and manufacturing functions creates mission-critical challenges in business relationships.  Few of the moves are to in-sourced internal operations.  Instead, they require the creation of new relationships with new supply chain partners, with all the risk and uncertainty implied in commitments to less-well-known entities.  Further, sorting out the right (often blended) solution among the options is, in itself, a test of an organization's acuity in the front-end processes of deciding what kinds of relationships with which partners are the right value-adding combinations.

My opinion?  These moves are no longer isolated events; they constitute an emerging trend.  But, they're not yet mega-trends.  This is the time for supply chain leaders (and those who want to be) to get the relationship act together.  Prowess in this arena will be tested over the next couple of years.

At the end of the day, you'll not want to be Lear, lamenting, "The weight of this sad time we must obey . . ."

The Dilettante's Dilemma

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/11/2009 | 2:08 PM

That might not be a completely fair way to begin.  A dilettante is, by definition, a dabbler and a trifler, someone who's not serious..

But, I'm interested in a couple of major - and very different career paths in the world of supply chain management.  At some point, better earlier than later, we all face the question of which way to develop.  A mile wide and an inch deep, or an inch wide and a mile deep?

The mile deep guys ("guys" being a gender-neutral term) often dismiss the inch deep guys as lightweights or dilettantes, no matter how serious the mile-widers really are.  The mile wide gang frequently looks upon the inch wide mob as nerds, or worse.

How to illustrate?  Think of the  mile widers as strategists or conceptual visionaries, while an inch-wider might have spent a quarter-century immersed in the esoterica of LTL rate structures.

It's tough to imagine a happy medium, like a foot wide and two blocks deep, or four blocks wide and a yard deep.  Here's my own take on the issue.

We, in the end, can't function optimally in either supply planning or execution without some infusion of detailed knowledge from the mile deep pocket protector brigade.  But, they are near-useless without the big-picture dudes (and dudettes) who can place the details into a strategic supply-chain-wide context.

The trick to success in this blending of skills, experiences, and visions has two key elements: 1) recognition by the mile-deeps that knowledge doesn't necessarily translate to wisdom; and 2) the inch-deeps' understandings of when, where, and how to integrate several inch wide contributions into complex supply chain solutions.

I suppose that this division of the workaday universe into two classes is a generally abused technique in a variety of  business settings, but I also think it is a vital set of contexts and classifications in the supply chain world.

Not only are there places for both, there is a critical need for both, and one without the other is sub-optimal at best and disastrous at worst.  We need to learn how to appreciate and embrace the positives of each, and leverage each's contributions to supply chain success.

Full disclosure: I'm one of the mile wide sheriffs.  I think I know when to call in the mile deep posse.  But, I could be wrong.  What do you think?  Do the inch wides know when to get the mile wides involved?  And, whether or not to turn over the reins to them?  Do the majority of mile wides comprehend that skimming over the surface can't make up for deep dives using the skliis of the inch wides?

The Road From Chaos And The Road To Hana

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/04/2009 | 7:53 AM

Actually, there are many roads out of Chaos and surrounding villages, which include Confusion and Consternation.  The one that leads to Conformance, aka the shining city on the hill, is called Collaboration.  It is full of twists, turns, and surprises, and takes longer than anyone might imagine to reach its destination.  Two cases quickly come to mind.

One is the 'umble wood pallet, a staple in any distribution center and indispensable for moving products on a more-than-one-at-a-time basis.  Fifty years ago there were no particular universal standards for pallet size and construction.  A food company pioneered the development of a "standard" pallet, which later became known as the GMA pallet.  48"x40", it is today the dominant pallet size in North America, and correlates closely with the 1.2mx1m European pallet.  (There are still other sizes surviving, notably the 42" pallet used in the telecommunications industry.)

The struggle to achieve this relative uniformity across a spectrum of companies and supply chains was tough, and initial resistance to the notion delayed serious collaborative development for several years.

More recently, the marine cargo container ("shipping container"), which has made efficient global supply chain execution possible, and piles of which crowd freight yards and intermodal terminals across the country, has undergone a remarkable journey to get from Chaos to Conformance.  The painful birth and development of the "standard" shipping container is detailed in the soporific, but vitally important book, The Box, by Marc Levinson.

The basic concept originated in 1953, with the first container shipment going from Newark to Houston in 1956.  But, the multiplicity of container sizes (and backers) threatened to shut down the emerging trend by the late '50s.  It took until 1970 for ISO to publish the first complete draft of its standards.  Although considerable progress was being made while standards were still in development, there were still holdouts involving two major shipping lines in the late '60s.

The lesson here is that the relationships required to successfully navigate from Chaos to Conformance can be incredibly more complex, sensitive, and fragile than those involving supply chain partners, or even an end-to-end set of supply chain collaborators.  They tend to be transient, but intense.  They necessarily include governments and labor unions, and they often have international ramifications - and participation.

Many of the participants in the debate and resolution play roles that transcend the usual picture of supply chain relationships, such as seaports, railroads, air cargo carriers, and airports.  Further, the operating entities involved may be bitter competitors in all other aspects of supply chain execution, suspicious of one another, as well as skeptical about new thinking.

In summary, the Collaboration Road from Chaos to Conformance may be a bit like Maui's Road to Hana.  Difficult, and on some days seemingly impossible, full of pitfalls and opportunities to crash, but in the end, the only way to drive there.

What do you think?  Do you have other examples?   Does bar coding look like a candidate from the past?  And, has RFID been on this road?

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 Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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