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Three issues in Supply Chain Management 2.0 – Part 2

As mentioned previously, Michael Lamoureux is hosting this year’s Big Bad Blogger Throwdown at his blog – Sourcing Innovation. Here is the link to the announcement of the cross-posting cornucopia. As recounted in the first part of this series at Three issues in Supply Chain Management 2.0, I listed out my three top issues that I think are important for firms to be cognizant about. They were:
1. Supply Chain Talent
2. Closed loop Supply Chain Management
3. Supply Chain Collaboration

In this post, I will delve into the first of the three issues in a more substantive fashion including trying to answer such heady questions such as Why the issue is important?, Why if a company did nothing about, its apocalypto now? and What if anything a company should do at all? (This is code for “You should really be hiring us Supply Chain bloggers as consultants” or something like that). As I write this, what is perking up from the top of my head like that strand of hair that will just not fall into place no matter the steady grooming in process, is the silly realization that I am acting like a theologian pontificating on sin, fall and redemption – version 2.0, no less. If you didn’t get that last line, never mind, its just my confession. So here we go!

Background:
Just in case, you haven’t read the previous post in this series, here is a brief recap of what is in situ. I inquired into what could be termed SCM 1.0 and SCM 2.0 and the relation that both have with Web 2.0. After that, thanks to the good people at O’Reilly and Chris Alexander, I opined about Design Patterns in Web 2.0 which are recounted below:
1. The Long Tail
2. Data is the Next Intel Inside
3. Users Add Value
4. Network Effects by Default
5. Some Rights Reserved
6. The Perpetual Beta
7. Cooperate, Don’t Control
8. Software above the level of a Single Device

This is how Web 2.0 lives and breathes – the above is the central and structural DNA of the anarchic ecosystem that is spreading through the internet. So how do my issues figure against that Web 2.0 paradigm?


Issue #1: Supply Chain Talent
I think that even if you were to step outside the SCM plantation, you would find that talent is simply one of the most important levers that firms have within their control – finding, grooming and letting thrive being the essential steps. And this is no different inside the plantation as well. A few lines below in this section, you will find my recounting a strange episode that I had with an HR person in a firm (which will go unnamed but definitely identified) that relates to this issue well.
I think we would agree that finding, hiring and retaining the best talent that one can find will go a long way in boosting the SCM function within a firm or even sharpening it to the point that it serves as a competitive tool. In the SCM world, you have very many sources for such talent –
1. Ops (a catch all phrase for those engaged in all SCM and related operations)
2. Consultants (you get consulted, they get paid but they have a broad experience base)
3. Toolers (a catch all phrase for those who develop tools such as SCM software, ERP, optimization models etc)
4. Acads (a catch all phrase for academicians publishing all sorts of related stuff)

As you might observe, an SCM resume ideally should be a multi-flavored one and it is so because the SCM field itself straddles several competencies. Now, say a firm intends to hire someone for a particular SCM function, what is the criteria to use for hiring such a person? Over the last few years, I’ve interviewed several candidates from reputed universities who though being at the graduate level from IE or Business would not cut it on the job. And I kept asking myself what the issue was? Here’s what I zeroed in as the primary reason – the overall skill set tended to be shallow. (Do keep in mind that I was interviewing not for a manager but a level that could be called slightly beneath that). Here was the checklist that I use (Do let me know if I’m being too hard with my requirements):

a) You need to know a programming language if not a few of them. Being MS Excel or MS Access literate is simply insufficient even if you have actually stepped behind the interface and learnt up VBA (Visual Basic for Applications). If you’re at the graduate level, you need to know a programming language – you can take your pick from C++, Java, any of the .NET variants or whatever else.
b) Data in an organization is everywhere but never where you need it to be (alright, that’s an exaggeration but its close to the truth) – You need to know SQL in some shape, way or form. If you really want to take your skillset up a notch – learn the in and outs of a RDBMS (Relational Database Management System) like SQL Server or even MS Access.
c) Continuous Improvement is a fact of the workplace – if you think that the firm doesn’t engage in CI, it may be because it is implicit within the organization or because the higher-ups are slaughtering the cash cow any which way or the firm is growing too fast for anyone to think about CI. So you’ve got to know something about Quality, TQM, Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, PDCA etc.

Note that I’ve said nothing about Supply Chain Management at all, nothing about Inventory Management, Logistics or Sourcing let alone Manufacturing because one or two of these areas is your key competency but without the three areas listed above, that competency cannot be deployed effectively, not in any way that creates value in your supply chain anyway. For example (and I’ve come across this repeatedly in consulting engagement), If you have to request an IT analyst to get you your data so that you can have it run through a supply chain/inventory model you know next to nothing about, not only will the firm have a hard time even making the benchmark, I’ve got an XML layer that can do your job.
Knowing a little bit of Access and Excel Pivot tables, treating the inventory management software as a black box and valuing a TMS or WMS simply because its got the data in one place (at the very least) is SCM 1.0. Knowing one of the core competencies (SCM, Inventory Management, Sourcing, Logistics, Manufacturing etc) and the (a), (b) & (c) listed above equips you to break free from SCM 1.0. But in order to get to SCM 2.0 where you can actually collaborate using some very interesting Web 2.0 technologies requires a leap in talent capabilities that I don’t find being taught in universities today to SCM graduates. Moreover, I find that Human Resources in many firms don’t even know how to hire for the next wave of SCM either.

Like I indicated above, here’s a true story about my interactions with an HR personnel at a unnamed (but identifiable) high flying firm – “Its like you have a red bullseye painted all over.” Out of the blue, I get a call from some unknown party while I am busy at work (Now, I’ve no idea how they got my cell phone number but there you go) requesting a moment of my time. At this time, I don’t know what this call is about at all though I knew the name of the firm. Before long, its a job interview in full swing and I’m flabbergasted to say the least. Now, you’d think that this is because all this is unravelling too fast, extempore and in the hallway of my previous employer. I beg to differ. The interviewer is a talent-something and she’s recruiting for a supply chain position at a level slightly above where I at – I’m interested. The thing is that she didn’t know what this position would actually entail and that’s what I found shocking. What I mean to say is that she didn’t know zip – nada – zilch about what or who or how she would be able to screen someone let alone hire someone.

So the more questions I ask, the more they become questions I have to answer. Like this:
Me: “So what are the typical competencies that you would expect a person to have?”
She: “What do you think a person would need for such a position?”
Me: “Does your firm employ optimization models?”
She: “What kind of optimization models have you used?”
(Actually, I think she meant – “Huh! what is an optimization model?”)

Weird, you say? Wait, there’s more!!
I spent the next half an hour explaining the types of skills that a person in such a position should possess, pretty much along the lines of the above. She confesses that she hasn’t had much success hiring anyone for such a position. I admit that I haven’t been that successful either in doing so. I had the vague suspicion that the aforesaid firm doesn’t hire those requiring visa sponsorship (which I needed) and I asked her about it. She didn’t know much about that either.
All said and done, I saw an ad put out 2 weeks later pretty much for the position I had so elegantly crafted with her. And I knew that it was pointless to send in an application for it as well.
So how do you think that SCM 2.0 is going to take off? Not very well, I am afraid – it will be a series of hiccups and what not before practitioners of Web 2.0 start spilling out in whichever direction and a few SCM vendors will start offering something along those lines. Which is why I think that SCM 2.0 is a great opportunity. Alright, now you tell me what is SCM 2.0?

The fact of the matter is that the way that supply chain firms collaborate and share information is very much as if it is a secret and a secret it is. However, when you see that those firms operating in the Web 2.0 space do take some parts of their hitherto secretive endeavours and open its innards to public scrutiny and therefore use, they’ve been able (so far) to capitalize on a number of new services and offerings that have taken the internet by storm. The question is what would such a rationalization mean in the SCM world – what would be open to the public and what would remain closed?

However, Web 2.0 offers some answers to change the way that one can scour around the world for suitable SCM talent. If you’ve taken to LinkedIn, you would find that you have a space where (in the most general sense) an interaction of the broadest possible social and career networking is made possible. I think there is a possibility of bringing that technology into the SCM space itself, wherein we as employees of various firms create networks wherein the expected criteria for the kinds of jobs that are done is publicly available, job postings as a realized instance of such criteria posted instantaneously and those interested who are moving through the university system or from other job functions can track not only the availability of jobs but also how they fit against such criteria. If you haven’t taken to LinkedIn, perhaps you should try it out.

The real change in this sort of talent concerning web-based interaction is to get the principals (the future employee and those who he/she would be working with) into closer proximity through networking technologies which exist on the web today. Blogging is one such web activity which allows that kind of interaction but blogging is more than just that. Social network sites such as LinkedIn offer some of those features but not all. What is required is a mashup that brings these technologies in a new way.

In the next post, I will look into the remaining two issues on my list – Closed loop Supply Chain Management and Supply Chain Collaboration.

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Category: Supply Chain Management

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2 Responses

  1. RDBMS == SQL Server (grudgingly)
    == Oracle
    == DB2
    == Ingres
    == Informix
    == Postgres
    == MySQL
    etc.

    RDBMS != MS Access

    Just because it supports a crude variant of the SQL 89 standard, does not a true RDBMS make.

    Other than that, great post! 🙂

    The ex-Professor has spoken! 😉

  2. Michael
    Good point about MS Access. For anyone willing to learn about RDBMS, I’d recommend getting MySQL especially since you can get it for free. Go to the following MySQL download site.

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