Archives for January 2014

A Rare Voice Stilled

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/30/2014 | 8:24 AM

Pete Seeger died this week.  Natural causes did in a most un-natural man.  Pete marched at the forefront of the folk music revival in the '60s and at the head of numerous demonstrations promoting social justice.  He hob-nobbed with Communists, as did so many artists and entertainers in the day, until most of them discovered that the real Reds were not at all interested in social justice and that Soviet life was only marginally preferable to death by an overdose of listening to the intelligentsia.

The enemy was not capitalism, but its excesses and abuses, not the United States, but fascism - whether it was Spanish, German, or the guiding principle of the House Un-American Activites Committee (HUAC).

I disagreed, often vehemently, with almost everything Pete had to say, and knew that he had at long last lost it when he hooked up with the Occupy Wall Street hooligans.  Pete, himself, had some misgivings about that, in retrospect.

But the voice he spoke and sang with was true, honest, and worth hearing, whether one agreed or not.  Some essential truths were to be found in his body of work.

We need to treasure those supply chain voices that don't always resonate with our biases, or the conventional wisdom.  It's all too easy to dismiss those who come out of what we suspect is left field as nut cases.  There are, even on a bad day, kernels of truths that we - now or later - have to deal with.

Some of the voices are right, and go on to amass fortrunes.  Some are content merely to be right.  Others are prematurely right, and may or may not live to see their visions become reality.  Some are dead wrong, and fail in very public ways.

The subject may be the cost and availability of oil, the ultimate folly of fossil fuel depoendence, the rise of off-shored manufacture, the lurching return of jobs to a less-skilled workforce at home, the role of technology (software and hardware) in supply chain planning and execution, the currency or obsolescence of prevailing business models and supply chain concepts, make-or-break packaging advances, talent shorfalls, and on and on.

We are surrounded by voices speaking out.  Our challenge is to dismiss nothing, but accept a likely few for continuing attention and action.  To seek nuggets that are useful, could be true, are worth keeping options open for. 

We now know that Fred Smith deserved a better grade in school for his concepts.  Jeff Bezos has been right.  Will he always and forever be?  Natural gas is taking the pressure off conventional oil.  But, what's next? And, when will it arrive?  Is slow steaming irrelevant in a re-shored/near-shored model?  Will octocopters have a shelf life similar to Octomom's?  Whither robotics, and how will they impact talent and skills needs in supply chain execution?

All this poses yet another level of challenge for supply chain leaders.  But, without the voices from off the well-trod path, we'd still be doing mail order with actual mail, and delivering goods via Railway Express.  We'd be content with allowing six to eight weeks to fill and ship orders, and nod understandingly when learning that an operation would be out of service for ninety days.

Good night, Irene . . .

Fatal Attraction

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/23/2014 | 1:05 PM

Whoa!  Hold up a minute, Bub, and put aside conjuring up images of Glenn Close gettin' nekkid and poppin' a conejo into the cookware.  We are really talking today about unhealthy preoccupation with, in someone's mind, operating cost savings.

Don't take it the wrong way.  As supply chain professionals, we have a mandate to manage resources, including money, judiciously.  What we shouldn't have is a knee-jerk dive into a cost-paring contest every time the boss says we need to: stop the bleeding, cut back on expenses, get aggressive about doing whatever it takes to meet "the numbers", or slash everything by "x" per cent.

Despite the importance of prudent management and fiscval responsibility, we also need to be able to distinguish between:

    - yesterday's money (that's long gone)

    - today's money (that may or may not be needed to satisfy other mission-critical needs or preserve gains in the marketplace)

    - tomorrow's money (which could be the investment necessary to buy the Golden Goose that pays for itself in golden eggs over and over again through the years).

Sadly, too many bosses of the financial persuasion see every expenditure as today's money, opportunities to cut back.  They can unwittingly fail to invest in goose futures, and sacrifice the future for transient and sometimes illusory performance today. 

Or, they can go into double-speak denial about the cost of keeping customers, of elevating operational performance and customer satisfaction, of bringing product to market in the right way, at the right time, with the right support, to the right customer set.  And, they cannot turn away from the momentary rush of capturing "savings" from the money that, intelligently deployed, can make all the difference in a company's longevity and success.

Such are not the leaders who will take an organization to the Promised Land; they are the leaders who will make the walls to the Emerald City impenetrable.  Celebrating victory, they might dine on the fabled goose for one evening, without even considering the possibility of eggs for a lifetime.  And, the enterprise goes from satiation to starvation in a twinkling.

Reality bites, doesn't it?


Dap Transcends The Home Improvement Milieu

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/18/2014 | 7:17 AM

If you ain't groovin' to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, you ain't groovin, as I was reminded by their appearance on CBS this morning.  I'll skip the usual tutorial, but for those who've not been paying attention, Sharon and the band are leading a funk-soul revival that would make you think they'd invented it in the first place.

What draws me to Sharon, all the electricity and talent aside, is her back story, the most dramatic part of which is nearly brand-new.  Now, fans know that the group's latest album was delayed in release.  2013 brough with it a diagnosis of Stage II pancreatic cancer, otherwise known as a death sentence.  Ms. Jones underwent the gold standard of treatment, a Whipple procedure.  That is a fantastic journey all by itself, and only a very small minority of cases are eligible for it.  Then came the chemotherapy regimen.  Some illnesses carry the side benefit of quick weight loss; chemo brings quick hair loss.

Fast forward: the album is out (Give The People What They Want), the gang is ready to tour, and Sharon is on top of her game, a formidable presence.  We now share bald heads, Whipple scars, and survival.  What the future holds is never a sure bet; for most pancreatic cancer survivors, the future is tomorrow morning.  But, we also share the notion that there is a future.  Between now and then, our commandment is to live life on our own terms.

What the life lessons involved might mean in a supply chain setting may not be obvious, but seem clear enough to me.  Every supply chain will suffer setbacks, even catastrophes, at some point.  Our commandment is to not collapse, to keep on keeping on, and to 24/7 do our best to cope, execute, and overcome.

It helps if we have recognized at some point that disaster is always a possibility, and have prepared ourselves (and our business partners) for that reality.  Plans help.  Plans to prevent, plans to mitigate, plans to survive, plans to recover.  And, yes plans for orderly and gracious departure if recovery turns out to not be an option.

Attitude is vital, going in, coming out, or going down.  And communications are critical, communications about possibilities, probabilities, certainties, next steps, and transitions.

Not every catastrophe is permanent, and not every illness is fatal - but some are, and we need to be able to recognize which are which.

Meanwhile, welcome to my little club, Sharon.  And, welcome to the world of supply chain management.  It's our professionals who do the planning and heavy lifting that supports tours and productions.  Hold your shining head high, and don't forget to thank the driver.

Baristas, Barristers, And Things That Go Bump In The Night

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/11/2014 | 7:53 AM

Coming out of the cave, now that the polar vortex has passed . . . While sequestered with Dr. Phil reruns and the worst soap opera in broadcast history on Oprah's very own cable network, I briefly contemplated career alternatives.

The work life of a professional barista seemed more than moderately interesting. Lots of activity, high levels of social interaction, association with the cachet of a strong brand, all the java one's bladder and blood pressure could handle - what's not to love? Plus, the job appears to be more demanding and more interesting than assembling an Egg McMuffin. Then I discovered that a Starbucks barista is reported to average something like $8.80 per hour, including tips and profit sharing. Welcome to the New Economy and shovel-ready jobs.

CNN's HLN channel got me to thinking about a life in The Law - the Atticus Finch kind, not the Javert version. There is the lure of better-than-living wage, the draw of doing good, and the ego pay of being at center stage. But, despite the possibility of big bucks, marketplace demand is falling, and the permanent debt load of the student loans require to obtain the right education from the right university is another reality of the New Economy that makes the fearless tremble.

There are all kinds of interesting career choices that fall between those extremes, too numerous to explore here. We face a similar range of options in the supply chain world. But there are some important differences.

Admittedly, a fortune can be spent (invested) in acquiring degrees at Bachelor, Master, even Doctoral levels. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of supply chain jobs do not require university degrees. (Some employers and their HR minions might not agree, especially when the talent supply is plentiful. The "requirement" tends to loosen considerably in tight labor markets, I suspect.)

There are, also admittedly, entry level jobs. More good news. The informed young person can choose to enter the field, rather than simply falling into whatever jobs might be available in the market. Further, those supply chain entry level jobs can provide the foundation for continued career growth - again, to the advantage of the informed individual, who can see farther ahead than the coming weekend. Some growth might come from longer tenure and increased proficiency in the initial job, which typically leads to increased earnings. More growth might come from organizational advancement, into related jobs, into supervision, whatever is a good fit for the individual's talents and objectives.

And, in between, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of jobs of all different kinds are part of the supply chain universe. Some technical, some analytic, some in communications, some in sales, and on and on. Some may be unique to the supply chain; some may be the application of general skills in a supply chain environment.

Truth? It is not easy to walk into any of these, even the entry level positions, with only a high school diploma and a good attitude. But, the preparation that will give one person an advantage over others can be relatively brief and very inexpensive. Associate degrees, certifications, introductory training, exposure/awareness in basic concepts, et cetera.

Most communities or regions have a wide range of resources available to help make this happen. universities, for sure. Community colleges with a variety of programs at different levels and in different functional areas. Independent for-profit programs and institutions, some in vocational education, some in multi-level training and education. Service organizations with no-to-low cost programs for disadvantaged and displaced individuals.

So, there is no shortage of learning opportunities, and the financial barriers to obtaining education are not impossible to overcome. The keys seem to be clustered around publicity and promotion - communicating the realm of the possible, and the promise of the future to motivated people who are getting ready to start out in real life.

That thing that goes bump in the night? One most earnestly hopes that it is not a forklift, driven by someone less-trained and less-prepared running into a row of pallet rack.

Another Slow Death? We May Only Hope . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/02/2014 | 11:17 AM

In a coincidental follow-up to last week's blog, I discovered yet another strong argument for assassination with deadly poisons. Perhaps I was more crotchety than usual, as I contemplated wordplay possibilities involving "Londonderry Air" and "London Derrière".

The precipitating event was the 100th anniversary of Danny Boy, thought to be by most an Irish anthem, but actually a pop song written by an Englishman. Londonderry is, of course, a principal city of the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland, and it's "Air" provides the music for Danny Boy. Ulster, for those who do not remember the troubled conflicts, is anathema to the people of Ireland.

All that aside, we too often forget the value of customer service in supply chain success - or failure. One of our leading communications and entertainment service providers has not only forgotten, but may have never known about that linkage. The company will remain nameless, but it's spokesmodel is Coach Bill Cowher.

We began with a complete services bundle, naively believing their marketing claims, which were so audacious they gave lies a good name. After a series of failed attempts to purchase specific added services, aided by grossly incompetent service people and accompanied by service outages without compensation, we dropped cable.

Later, when phone service would mysteriously disappear from time to time, and service responses reached heights of indifference on a good day, we decided that landline communications were not necessary in this century, and dropped that.

Comes now the ultimate insult. Internet service went out first thing Monday, and the disembodied voice at the service number's message instructed a modem reboot. Of course, that did not work, and getting through to a human being was at least a full time job, nothing to be attempted by anyone not incarcerated and with nothing else to do. Tuesday's call revived one of the walking dead, who took me through over an hour of diagnostics and tests, all of which had to be decided from the original Hindi, only to conclude that we had no internet connection. Brilliant!

Scheduling a service visit was a death spiral. Tuesday was not possible. Wednesday was a holiday. But, the end of the day on Thursday was possible.

Mind you, not only could we not get on Facebook, but I could neither receive nor respond to any business communications. You'll not be shocked to learn that the company did not care. Thursday came with no call to confirm the usual useless four-hour appointment window. Our call revealed that the service was now scheduled for Saturday.

This level of mistreatment is possible when the company involved has monopoly power. But - surprise - these services are no longer monopolies. None of them. And, competitors are hungry, and will price aggressively and provide genuine, cheerful, capable service. So, we'll fire these imbeciles from their ISP role, as well.

What happens next? The technician will arrive Saturday (maybe), but no one will be home. The new provider will install the replacement service on Tuesday. For the interim, I'll be hanging out at the neighborhood Starbucks, working from their wi-fi.

And, if enough people follow our lead, these geniuses in New York will come to understand that cutting costs with: marginal service delivery, off-shored tech support, understaffed service folks, and indifferent-to-hostile customer service functionaries costs a fortune, and mortgages the future.

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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