Executive Memo: Catching Up on the Supply Chain Circuit

Conferences provide market insight for Supply & Demand Chain Executive's editor

April, May and June are busy months on the supply chain conference circuit, and this year, as in the past, I hit the road with notebook in hand, shuttling from one event center and show hall to the next, trying as much to pick up the buzz in the hallways during the breaks as to listen in on the keynotes and presentations going on inside the meeting rooms.

At Ariba's user conference in Orlando, Fla., this year, I was struck both by the number of enterprises that were already into the fourth or fifth year since deploying their e-procurement systems and by the substantial number of companies that were just starting down this path. The former typically had already seen significant returns on their investments in enterprise spend management, but universally they were looking to extend the value that they are deriving from their systems, to squeeze the next level of incremental savings out of their value chains. The quest for lower costs never ends. Conference highlight: keynotes by Willie Deese, senior vice president for global procurement at Merck & Co., and Shelley Stewart, Jr., vice president of supply chain at Tyco International. These guys know supply chain transformation.

At the Logistics & Supply Chain Forum put on by Richmond Events on the Norwegian Dawn, sailing out of New York for two intense days of thought-provoking workshops, roundtables and educational presentations, the buzz level around radio frequency identification (RFID) was muted this year compared to last, and the level of angst about outsourcing and offshoring had declined considerably. My impression: executives have spent the past year educating themselves about these trends, easing anxieties brought on by fears of the unknown. Where was the angst this year? Frankly, it was primarily around the usual issue of finding new ways to drive additional performance gains to keep CEOs, CFOs, shareholders and Wall Street analysts happy. Highlight: the excellent workshop run by Bill Martin, with Rempac Foam, on connecting supply chain strategy to corporate strategy. A wealth of ideas emerged for selling the value of supply chain to corporate management and ensuring that the voice of supply chain is heard when strategic decisions are being made in the enterprise. (See this month's "The Analyst Corner" for more on this topic.) In addition, supply chain gurus Robert Goodman and Michael Dominy, both formerly with the Yankee Group, put on impressive sessions touching on the impact of poor information flows across the extended supply chain ($200-$450 billion in waste annually in North America alone) and on the current state of RFID.

As always, it was a pleasure to run into old acquaintances along the way. Case in point: Col. Joseph L. Walden, a 25-year veteran of the world's largest supply chain (the one run out of the Pentagon). When last I met Col. Walden, a former Supply & Demand Chain Executive "Practitioner of the Year," he was director of the School of Command Preparation within the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Since retiring from the Army last summer, he has been working as director for the Supply Chain Research Institute, a research and consulting organization, and doing consulting work for the Department of Defense and the railroad industry. In addition, he has finished a new book, Velocity Management in Logistics And Distribution: Lessons from the Military to Secure the Speed of Business (due out in July from CRC Press), about supply chains, risk management and supply chain security. "So much for slowing down in retirement," Col. Walden told me. Hey, can't keep a good supply chain practitioner down, right?

Been to a particularly good conference recently? Heard a speaker that especially impressed you? Please send your tips on the best supply chain events to me at [email protected]. I'll look forward to hearing from you.