Archives for November 2014

Is There More Than Gobble, Gobble?

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/28/2014 | 9:45 AM

Of course there is.  And this is the time at which we usually wax eloquent, mundane, or, worst, maudlin about all nthe standard things for whih to be thankful.  Not that we should not treasure family, friends, health, prosperity, and the rest. But, having acknowledged the standards, it might be appropriate to recognize an everyday things.

So, today - and on all the days - let us give thanks for this wonderful supply chain management profession that we have chosen  - or which has chosen us.  I suppose that there are many other rewarding fields of endeavor - to each his or her own.

But our universe is one of challenge, change, advancing technology, breakthrough concepts, and unequalled collaboration with peers.  At the end of the day, at the end of the quarter, at the end of a career, we have made a difference.  How much of a difference?  That is a matter of choice and commitment.  But the opportunity to select among options ranging from doing a job to transforming an enterprise is there for the taking.

So, thinking about it today, consider how fortunate we are to be in places in which we can give back, give forward, and give opportunities to others.

Watch Your Language - There Are Women And Children In The Room!

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/20/2014 | 11:03 AM

Once upon a time in a land far away, I spent inordinate time on the road chasing and doing business. We received instructive language examples regularly in one locale. In a favored watering hole and ptomaine ptalace, at the end of a long and wrong day, we asked our server for a cup of hemlock. Brow furrowed, she allowed that she would have to check with the bartender to see if they had any in stock. It was neither the time nor place for a teachable moment regarding Socrates' untimely departure.

On another day, we inquired as to what the soup of the day might be. Little Lucinda brightened considerably as she proudly announced that the soup of the day was that perennial favorite, "du jour". You can't make this stuff up.

So, with Lucinda in mind, a reminder to know the right terms, and what they mean, is important in many dimensions, not least avoiding the appearance of being on the cusp of being, as is said in some parts, "ate up by the dumbs". The caution is to use only those terms, no matter how popular they might be with others, that you, yourself, understand. A corollary is to be sure you are aware of the subtleties of terms you understand a little.

So, do yourself a favor with a brief self-check. Do you know what IoT means? Does the Internet of Things mean simply machines that can communicate, or is there more to the story? Is it only machines, or do chips and sensors count, too?  What are the contemporary concrete examples of IoT at work?  What might the IoT mean to supply chain planning and processing?

You do know that the ubiquitous cloud is not a fluffy white thing up in the sky, of course. Right? So what is it, really, and how does it or they work? Is there more than one cloud?  Who owns it or them?  Are there specific supply chain ramifications, or is the phenomenon a general condition?

And what, by the way is this SaaS thing that seems to have gained momentum as the cloud looms larger? What are the varieties of SaaS arrangements? If cloud-based, are there vulnerabilities you need to protect against?

Then, there is convergence. What is that all about? Is it merely a broadening of a 3PL's portfolio of products and services? Or is it a game-changing differentiator that will separate the stars from the bit players?

3D printing is all the rage, it seems, but what is it? How does it work? Is it a latest version of simple additive manufacturing? How does it change, if at all, what we do in supply chains?

Next comes visibility, and the list grows regularly.  Flowcasting is beginning to enter the vocabulary.  What is that?  Is there reakky an effective DRP at the store level?  Or, is this something that is less than it appears to be, but with consulting muscle behind it?

The point is that all these are not just terms to throw around in order to appear to be wise, or current, or ahead of the wave. We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our customers to know what is behind the words, and how they relate to what we do, and how well we do it.

That's my soup du jour. What are you having?

The Wasting Disease - A Slow Decline With A Sure End Game

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/13/2014 | 8:10 AM

Comes now the latest moves that will - this time for sure - save the foundering US Postal Service. For those who might have been napping, the USPS is not a Federal agency; the fabled Post Office of yore is no more. That little spritz of rain this morning was only Ben Franklin weeping.

But, cutting the beast free is not what one might think. The"independent" entity still falls under the management of the US Congress, which determines what it can and cannot do in the completion of its appointed rounds. And, processes, precedents, and pension plans left over from its prior existence stay, like so many abscesses and tumors, with it.

It doesn't matter what anyone says, in an age of fewer and fewer letters, the letter carriers union wields daunting influence. However many sins, both venial and mortal, employees may be guilty of, with photographic or electronic evidence, discipline and dismissal are extraordinarily difficult, and are, in rare instances of success, easily overcome in appeal.

I have been, nostalgia triumphing over good sense, hopeful that a defined role in reverse logistics processes could offer some hope. Today, apologists, dreamers, and those willing to overlook sure signs of terminal illness wax eloquently about great parcel volumes shifting away from the major commercial players (international, domestic, regional, and local) into USPS parcel handling systems. And, UPS is already using USPS resources for last mile small parcel delivery. USPS is also doing Sunday parcel deliveries. Amazingly, a new proposition would have USPS grocery delivery.

Is the future really all that bright? I think it is doomed to failure, for several reasons, one probably an incurable illness that is not and will not respond to any treatment available to us today. In short, success could be the death knell for USPS.

Here's the deal. The pension albatross won't go away, even as the service claims to have run at an operating profit if the pension burden were removed. If that is true, why are they going to the wall with add-ons to parcel business? Why not fix the pension problem? Oh, wait, Congress won't let them? What else might Congress prohibit?

One must ask, additionally, if USPS systems are up to the challenge. Are their systems user/customer friendly, providing location and status information? Or, are they inwardly focused, more directed toward cost control and squeezing more work out of a demotivated, disinterested, and hostile workforce?

The once-proud service can't handle the parcel work that it has now, certainly not to the satisfaction of individual customers or package recipients. It cannot confidently promise delivery dates. It can't "handle with care" anything it touches. If a smaller parcel won't fit in a mailbox, the solution is simple; don't take it to the door, but, instead, smash it until it does fit in the box.

Its latest triumph of bureaucracy over simple execution blossomed here in beautiful dowentown Ohio, where the USPS totally lost track of the whereabouts of a grieving widower's urn containing his recently departed spouse's ashes.  Where was the parcel?  When might it be expected to arrive?  All mysteries sufficient to challenge Sherlock Holmes, never mind  the inquiring minds of USPS managers.  Their best response was a shrug worthy of a Gallic civil servant.

And we want more of this? Remember, this is the band of geniuses that charges individual customers the premium rate to send letters, but gives staggering rate bargains to businesses that clog up the system with untold quantities of unsolicited low-to-no value catalogs and advertising flyers. The resulting carbon footprint makes Bigfoot look dainty. These visionaries are the ones who ignored the innovative solutions developed by UPS and FedEx until the creativity train had left the station, then came up with a marginally profitable and less-reliable competitive option.

And, we want them to handle food, too? These dedicated servants who will throw mail into the nearest ravine if they aren't feeling up to delivering today? Or toss a few items into the street if the ravine is too far, and they are annoyed with an intended recipient?

Like a late-night TV infomercial:  But, wait!  There's more!  These now-legendary paradigm-busting visionaries have come up with a scheme to cut costs, now that the proposed suspension of Saturday deliveries has generated more heat than the kitchen could withstand.  They want to consolidate (i.e., close) a few processing centers, imagining that perhaps a day's delay in delivery might result.  Some industry insiders think the number is more like four days.  Do these wizards think that added delay on top of already uncertain delivery is an irresistible lure to added business?  What university that we've never heard of nurtures such savants in its MBA program?

Actually, the only hope I see is for them to start over, to escape that gloom of night that has infected their world. Clean house; completely replace the workforce. Change all the rules for performance, reward, and retirement to make them consistent with the real world. Swap out the Federal legacy systems in favor of business systems. Get competitive in processes and pricing - or get out.

But, those all require the approval of Congress. The clock is ticking, but how much time before the end?  Who knows, but this would seem to make a case for euthanasia.

The Magpie Syndrome

By Art van Bodegraven | 11/06/2014 | 8:01 AM

We, in the supply chain management realm, are like most of our peers in other fields. We cannot resist an attraction to whatever is new and shiny, and will drop whatever we are doing to pick up the latest thing, and put it in a place of honor in our crowded nest of a lifetime's collection of marbles, coins, bits of foil, buttons, ribbons, and string.

For me, many of the can't wait to have items are somewhere in the popular music spectrum. Take, for example, Hozier. Please do; I am serious. How Ireland manages, out of its relatively tiny population, to produce a steady stream of geniuses in a variety of fields. Hozier is brilliant, musically gifted, with lyrics of depth and clarity that would shame most who think they are poets. I hope he is not a one-hit wonder; we need more of his intelligence and compelling messages.

But, if I focus on Hozier, I cannot spend much time on other worthy, perhaps even more worthy artists. In the supply chain, we find it all too convenient to get all Google-eyed over the Internet of Things, or application shifts to cloud residence. That's cool, but we also have plenty of everyday challenges that have been with us for quite a while, and either won't go away or will re-appear next year.

Here is a mere sampling of what we must deal with, and sooner rather than later. Recurring West Coast port congestion. Cost consequences of parcel carriers' shifts to dimensional weight-based pricing. The national embarrassment of decades of failure to invest in physical infrastructure maintenance. Impacts of stagnating local economies on our supply chain capacities and capabilities. Possibilities for the USPS to be brought to its knees by success in the wake of parcel volume transfers away from the Big Two carriers. Escalating prices and dwindling supplies of aleeady-scarce exotic materials. Probabilities that energy and fuel prices will not rest comfortably at current transient low levels. Labor and skills shortages that are not being addressed in comprehensive and sustainable programs. Increased competition for resources from other industries - and nations. Unstoppable wage progressions, driven by shortages, labor actions, and minimum wage pressures.

So, what's it going to be, magpie? Patching the roof or planting flowers? Shoring up a strong foundation or adding to the beer can collection?

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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