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Glimpsing the Future


Friday November 20, 2015

The future of supply chain is bright, yet complex. This isn’t surprising to anyone reading Supply Chain Management Now. But, how do professionals prepare and succeed? Last Thursday, APICS hosted at its corporate offices the “Beyond the Horizon Roundtable Forum,” in which participants discussed the key issues of talent and leadership; integrated solutions; and risk, complexity, and sustainability.

For more than two years, the APICS Supply Chain Council (SCC) has partnered with Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Supply Chain Management to identify and examine the capabilities necessary for strategic supply chain success. The project, “Supply Chain Management: Beyond the Horizon,” also involves MSU’s Executive Development Programs and the Eli Broad College of Business.

Talent and leadership

The supply chain talent pipeline is scant, participants said over and over again. They are especially challenged when they seek professionals in suburban and rural areas or for organizations that manufacture products that might not seem exciting. Further, supply chain positions can seem especially unattractive to women and young people just starting in their careers.

One participant suggested that it is up to company leaders to create a “powerful value proposition for recruitment and retention.” This might encompass a wide variety of benefits, including flexible hours, volunteer opportunities, and telecommuting. It also could include education and certification programs. Lastly, it might be attractive for employees and interns to participate in rotation programs that give them a more holistic view of the supply chain. Some successful rotation programs even incorporate leadership development.

Millennials might view their careers differently than previous generations. One participant suggested that millennials want to be able to make an impact. Therefore, involving them in more areas of the organization enables them to have more opportunities to make an impact.

Integrated solutions

Consider the following definition of integration of suppliers, internal supply chains, and customer systems from the APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge Framework: “The integration of supply chain elements is the essence of an effective supply network. Collaborative planning and sharing of information and data is critical to synchronized, efficient flow of material to the end user of the supply chain.”

The value of integration is clear; yet the process still ranks as a top challenge for supply chain and operations management professionals as they work internally and with supply chain partners. Forum participants emphasized that integration needs to be cross functional, cross continental, and cross channel in order to be effective. Two big factors to evaluate when seeking supply chain integration are transparency and trust. Surprisingly, forum participants said companies can rely too heavily on price alone when they are evaluating current and potential supply chain partners.

“An enlightened customer understands the value of the relationship,” said one forum participant. “He or she understands that integration, not price, is the route to value.” 

Data—both structured and unstructured—remain the key factor in integration discussions. Although technology upgrades can be costly, so can a lack of data organization. 

Risk, complexity, and sustainability

Risk is everywhere throughout supply chains, and forum participants agreed that the best way to assess and manage risk is using software. Some participants use separate risk management tools, while others built the capability directly into their enterprise resources planning systems.

“You never know exactly what problem you’re going to encounter until you encounter it,” one participant said. “You can’t be completely prepared for everything, but the act of preparing for one disruption can make you more able to respond to any other issues that surface.”

As far as complexity goes, the forum’s participants presented diverse challenges. Some described channel complexity, others explained the complexity that comes with a decentralized organizational structure, and still others said their organizations’ complexities come from frequently introducing new products. Externally, complexity can be magnified by emerging markets, ethics, regulations, differing time zones, and more.

The group offered a variety of ways to manage complexity, including data visibility and information gathering, strategic sourcing, and supply chain collaboration starting at the initial design stages of a product.

A common definition of sustainability among participant organizations was the triple bottom line—people, planet, and profit. Although customers or retailers often are driving sustainability within organizations, one participant noted, “When it comes to using non-renewable resources, sustainability can be a requirement by the reality of working with a finite supply of materials.”

Learning more

Last week’s roundtable forum is just one aspect of the overall “Supply Chain Management: Beyond the Horizon” project. Ongoing reports can be accessed in APICS magazine and webinars are available on the APICS website. Additionally, professionals are encouraged to participate in the research by responding to the survey at Your contribution is vital to our ongoing efforts.