Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE, Chief Executive Officer | January/February 2012 | 22 | 1
Last year, the APICS research department conducted several large-scale surveys of operations and supply chain management professionals to discover their attitudes and opinions on four key topics in the field today. The surveys highlighted the areas of sales and operations planning (S&OP), supply chain strategy, supply chain risk, and supply chain sustainability. We are releasing the analyses and findings of these surveys as APICS folios, and we hope that the entire APICS membership and community will benefit from the results of this important research.
While the New Year is just beginning, we already have slated a new set of surveys to be conducted in 2012. At this time, it’s only fitting to take a look back at the reports of 2011 and explore some of their most notable discoveries.
The management gap. There exists a large gap between upper management and those involved in the day-to-day tasks of running production. Senior management remains focused on high-level ideas, while those on the shop floor center their attention on execution. Essential leadership must come from those in management positions, particularly regarding supply chain and production visibility and S&OP. Transparency of data and decision making at the right levels, contexts, and frameworks is vital.
Strategy and tactics. The traditional focus in operations and supply chain management is on tactics. But there is increasing demand on our professionals for becoming involved in high-level decisions—the strategies necessary for managing S&OP, risk, sustainability, and the supply chain. Many in our field may not fully understand the difference between tactics and strategy; or they may be aware of some functions of strategy but are guilty of not referencing it enough and not executing against it reliably.
Soft skills. On average, performance and opportunities improve when soft skills—such as communications, relationships, and trust—improve. In practice, “soft” means difficult to firmly define or quantify. Production, inventory control, and supply chain and operations management generally demand “hard” skills, but the surrounding contexts and enabling skills are soft. Many professionals struggle with soft skills and the ability to work with unstructured data. For example, in information technology, unstructured data such as photographs and audio files do not neatly align with the structured world of databases.
Strategy as competitive advantage. In hot and emerging strategic areas, such as the four topics explored in the research surveys, increasing the speed to maturity and proficiency delivers an edge in productivity, supply chain performance, business process improvement, and many other areas. Ultimately, the real gain comes in the form of sustained competitive advantage. Competitors may be able to copy products, equipment, and services, but they cannot copy the ability to execute strategy.
The research suggests that the future of supply chain and operations management rests in successful execution of strategy. To become adept at strategy requires flawless implementation, agility, and responsiveness to details. These are the skills that matter to professionals in our field, today and beyond.