@ Supply Chain Management

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RapidResponse9 and Response Management

One of my blog friends, Randy Littleson, alerted me to the release of RapidResponse9 – a Response Management tool. In the light of my recent series on Surviving the China Rip Tide: Surviving the China Rip Tide – How to profit from the Supply Chain Bottleneck and Surviving the China Rip Tide – Recommendations???, I think it is quite appropriate to highlight the need (or upcoming need) for Response Management.

So what does Response Management do for you?

Taken from their website,

"In high-volatility, supply-constrained businesses, the new basis of competition is the ability to peer faster than your competitors into the black box of multiple planning and execution processes, running offline scenarios that give collective, rapid visibility to financial and service impact of a short list of viable decision alternatives,’" said supply chain research director Stephen Hochman, in a recent AMR Research article.

Now, regardless of whether this volatility is/has been created by your own supply chain decisions or those of others, in this age of having done globalization or off shoring already, you might very well need such a product or something like it to mitigate some of the risks the firm has exposed itself to with long lead times and global logistics. Moreover, response management is equally applicable for firms that have not packed up shop and shifted to China – when the one of the key differentiators is speed when competing with firms that obtain parts/products from overseas, getting the right product in the right quantity to the customer (especially if they’re high margin products) is going to be a source of relative advantage vis a vis its competitors.

If you’d like to know more about Response Management, there is a white paper on the subject by AMR Research that you can download for free at the Kinaxis website if you sign up.

What can I say – Lead time, lead time, lead time! What an age to live in?

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The process of innovation

Even stodgy bankers are getting into the act!!

As I

Surviving the China Rip Tide – Recommendations??

In the last post – Surviving the China Rip Tide – How to profit from the Supply Chain Bottleneck, I reviewed a report (BCG Report : Surviving the China Rip Tide – How to profit from the Supply Chain Bottleneck) by BCG about certain problems that are cropping up in the China centric supply chain.

In this post, I want to get into the recommendations aspect of that report – What to do about this? The authors of the report advise on how to change this problem into an opportunity. So what kind of opportunities are available? And more importantly, for whom?

First, let me succinctly summarize the current situation:

  1. Long lead-time supply chains originating from china based sourcing.
  2. Port congestion at the point of import i.e. US ports

As the authors contend, this is a problem because the lead-times for sourcing from China through congested port infrastructure either on the West coast or East coast of the US are going up. The authors note that,

A leading discount retailer is building distribution centers near the ports of Savannah, GA and Houston, TX in anticipation of the need to redirect its containers from congested west-coast ports.

I agree because in my past role I have executed a number of studies for supply chain network modeling that identified secondary ports and locating distribution centers in relation to these secondary ports that made sense from a distribution point of view. Their recommendations for companies that have yet to go the global sourcing route are as follows:

Reduce minimum production order quantities and reduce cycle times as quickly and as much as possible

In other words, stop batching already and compete on the basis of speed. Thus, produce to demand or transition to a pull model.

Refrain from sourcing or manufacturing in China until management fully understands the dynamics of supply chains.

Or don’t listen to accountants. :grin: Get a handle on total supply chain costs rather than unit costs.

Create an integrated or semi-integrated information flow within the company’s existing supply chain

Cutting out layers of intermediaries and associated inventories and trying to get as close to the customer as possible is one way to factor not only speed into the producer-customer relationship but also responsiveness. And an information system is an invaluable medium. The question as always is how a firm uses its IT resources over acquiring it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Training within Industry and Toyota

A quick note for today. I came across this rather interesting Lean exercise through a Yahoo group. This presentation, by John Shook, is about Training Within Industry (TWI) and how Toyota adapted and developed these methods.I think it fills in some of the blanks of what constitutes some high level overview of how a continuous improvement based system should look like including the famous P-D-C-A (Plan – Do – Check – Act) methodology.

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Surviving the China Rip Tide – How to profit from the Supply Chain Bottleneck

The only hope for these companies is that all their competitors will make the same mistake.

So assert George Stalk Jr. and Kevin Waddell of the Boston Consulting Group in their report titled Surviving the China Rip Tide – How to profit from the Supply Chain Bottleneck. Alright, I’m laughing a little now. Why? Because I said the same thing nearly a year in a general sense of what is going to happen within the supply chain with the onset of globalization/offshoring/outsourcing. (See here: The intimate supply chain – Part 1) This observation was in the context of those who claimed that it was possible to have global lean supply chains and such.

If I may be so bold as to suggest that SCM 1.0 will have been a failure if the kind of scenarios and phenomena that the above authors suggest come to pass. Why? My reasoning is thus: If the push to a global supply chain was done irrespective or without taking into account the total supply chain cost (instead being driven by some instinctual feeling of lower unit costs and the like), then SCM 1.0 will have been a failure. Over the last year, It was quite commonplace to see supply chain professionals envisioning lower inventories in a global supply chain. That is plainly wrong. In a global supply chain, inventories will rise as firms not only have to work with lower quality products (in the initial stages) but account for the longer lead times of logistics. So what happens when all that globally sourced inventory has to pass through a chokepoint before they get stateside i.e. when the ports are the bottleneck?

Now, back to the report:

But competitors that do not source from China – or that do focus on supply chain speed – will be competing with a different set of economics. The first company to see and correct the strategic error of sourcing from China without an appropriate investment in supply chain dynamics to minimize costs will seal the fate of its competitors.

First things first, I must communicate my position as clearly as possible. I am agnostic as to whether offshoring/outsourcing is better than insourcing/inshoring. I am as pleased at the immense economic opportunity presented to millions overseas as dismayed by the havoc that outsourcing creates stateside. However, the choices before firms are stark as well and this is where Taichi Ohno’s remarks are rather appealing. Do take the time to read this rather insightful piece, Panta Rei: Gemba Keiei, Chapter 6: The blind spot in cost calculation Here is my take on the same – The blind spot in cost calculation… Whatever the competing economics that firms that source globally or source locally have to face, the above described notion of cost must be engaged i.e.

Cost do not exist to be calculated. Costs exist to be reduced.

If you are a sourcing or supply chain professional, there are two chapters in this report you would need to pay special attention to because they present good insights. One isd the The Hidden Costs in Supply Chains and the other is The Dangers of Lengthening Supply Chains. In the analysis presented in The Hidden Costs in Supply Chains, the authors elaborate on the notion of direct, indirect and hidden costs. They expand direct and indirect costs as:

Direct and indirect costs include shipping, nesting and de-nesting of containers at both ends of the ocean pipeline, inventory storage, handling, procurement, insurance and overall financing.

According to the authors,

These costs can eventually add up to as much as 4 to 8 percent of retail shelf costs.

However, they contend that the largest costs i.e. hidden costs

they come from the gross margins that are lost when the product isn’t there for the consumer to purchase. The gross margins of the products in Exhibit 4 can range from 40 to 60 percent of the shelf price.

Moreover they add,

the cost of excess inventory write-downs from having an oversupply of products that consumers don’t want can amount to 10 to 20 percent of sales.

There is one more component of hidden costs that the authors have not taken into account – it’s a behavioral component which is again difficult to quantify but has been uniformly (except perhaps for Lean based manufacturing) the bane of traditional manufacturing and/or sourcing. And yes, this is from Jay Forrester’s book on the topic of industrial dynamics – Industrial Dynamics. Distill it this way, the longer it takes for stuff to move through a supply chain, the longer it is subject to Murphy’s law. Or what has increased in a longer supply chain (such as one from a global sourcing location in China/India) is uncertainty. And uncertainty (be it positive or negative) means dollars in costs. For example, if your shipment arrived 2 days earlier than it was supposed to – what some might desire to call positive uncertainty, perhaps you have to now acquire a truck to dray the shipment at spot rate instead of a contracted rate. Or you have to pay storage costs at the port if truck capacity is strained. Better yet, if you brought the shipment to the production firm or retail outlet, you have to deal with the products within your system earlier than expected. Uncertainty propogates through a system like waves that have been initiated in a narrow channel and as it bounces of the system walls, it creates even more uncertainty. That means dollars spent every which way trying to manage the uncertainty in the system. If I were to succintly describe the overarching purpose of middle management, it is to reduce uncertainty in the system. I hope a clearer picture about the types of costs in the system has been acquired.

Now about the natural behavioral component of management that the authors have missed out. In a system that is susceptible to uncertainty, be it of lead times (compounded in a long supply chain) or bottlenecks, you have to compensate for the uncertainty, at the minimum, using inventory. In the current scenario, a firm sourcing from China requires inventory to cover the logistical lead times but when you throw uncertainty into the mix, inventories have to increase. Thus, if you have a bottleneck in your supply chain right now with the inventory required today, as managers react to the uncertainty of going through a congested port or transportation infrastructure, required inventory (and thus shipped volumes) rises which in turn causes more congestion – do you see the problem? This problem will ripple in both directions i.e. for the producers as well as suppliers. In the analysis presented in The Dangers of Lengthening Supply Chains, the authors simulate the scenario of a supply chain originating closer to the US (Central Europe) with a scenario of a supply chain originating far away (China). They test out the effects of information flow and tightly coupled manufacturing to demand scenarios.

The key takeaway for me from this report is that the rose colored glasses that has so far accompanied the rush to China or other overseas locations is letting some light through. In short, the free lunch is about to get pricey. In the next post, I hope to get into what firms can do other than hoping that their competitors have made or will make the same mistakes of jumping with both feet.

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The facts about blogging and collaboration

Given my previous post – Inviting your input – What do you want to see on this blog? and Michael Lamoureux’s (Sourcing Innovation) comment about collaborating on the eSourcing Wiki, I thought that the best thing for me to do is to lay the background against which I was inviting your (my readers) input.
I’ve been blogging at this site for close to a year now, including transitioning from the old Blogger site to this one. It’s been an eventful year to say the least and the question is how do I make it more so. So here are the facts about blogging somewhere deep down the Long Tail or Long tail – the Wiki.
So here are the basic facts about my blogging history as I see it:
1. Blogging is tough. My original goal was to commit about a half hour everyday to blogging but with a 9 month old son around – that is quite a difficult proposition. Right now, I’m lucky to get about an hour a week to blog.
2. Blogging is parasitic – symbiosis has not happened. Yet! I say that blogging is parasitic because if I dig up the number of times I have reviewed news articles or commented/critiqued the hard work of magazine writers and editors, I’d probably find that such parasiticism looms rather large. I have only kind words for the hosts but if the host dies, the parasites do too. Thus the way forward is to create more original content and that will be at the back of my mind going forward.
3. A few words about the visitors (i.e. You) to the blog: The fact of the matter is that you’re entirely a private person while you surf the web but never before has so much information (at an aggregate level) been made available to a publisher of content i.e. me. In a sense, this is what RFID will do for the supply chain as well even given all the privacy concerns out there.
(a) The split between first time visitors and returning visitors:
First time vs Returning Visitors
(b) Distribution of visit lengths:
Distribution of Visit Lengths
(c) The average visit time:
Average visit time
(d) The depth of the visit:
Depth of visit
Note: These screenshots are from analytics services culled from Google Analytics and Statcounter. I highly recommend these two services to track stuff that happens around your blog or website.
4. Are you planning on making money from blogging? – At least not initially anyway. I’ve always seen blogging as an outlet for my creativity and curiosity and not as a source of revenue. But as you might have seen on my blog (and perhaps even clicked an advertisement), I’ve Google Adsense on my site. I hope to recoup the hosting cost that I’ve paid and that’s pretty much what I hope to cover from those clicks. However, there are quite a few blogs that do make money on a consistent basis but I’m not sure I want to go that way. (If you don’t believe me – take a gander here : How Bloggers make money from Blogs).
5. Post length matters: I’ve no doubts about this. As the above figures illustrate as well as the bounce rates that I experience (roughly 60% – meaning that 60% of the users that land on my site are not finding what they’re looking for), post lengths are important. I know that I tend to be verbose, belaboring things that most people wouldn’t care too much about but its something I plan to improve on – making posts concise and to the point.

I don’t know for sure whether the above represents, comparatively speaking, a good blogger-user community or not but its something that I’m planning to build on. The natural question becomes – what do you build?
Michael Lamoureux made a comment on the previous post that involved contributing to a wiki – any wiki. That’s something I’m going to give serious thought as well because Wiki provides a platform to build on. The other idea is to actually create a platform – something of the order of a WordPress plugin itself that achieves some of that same wiki functionality.
If any of you have a better idea, please feel compelled to share it with me. Then again, I would not want any compulsion to drive away my readers.
Cheers!
Have a great and fruitful weekend!!

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Inviting your input – What do you want to see on this blog?

After my series of posts on three issues in Supply Chain Management (in case you didn’t catch them, they’re here: Three issues in Supply Chain Management 2.0, Three issues in Supply Chain Management 2.0 – Part 2 and Three issues in Supply Chain Management 2.0 – Part 3), I’ve been wondering about the immediate direction this blog should be heading in.
The first thing that came to me is the very kind of Web 2.0 type of technology adapted to Supply Chain Management. Running a close second, is a sort of wikipage or instructions on some of the best practices and methods extant in Supply Chain Management. In the case of the latter, since my familiarity/expertise doesn’t extend over the whole supply chain, it would have to be a joint effort. In fact, it can be a joint effort from scratch to finish – i.e. a sort of Web 2.0 collaboration. But for that one needs a sort of platform not only to collect one’s thoughts but also to display the output. What is such a platform to be? Is there a WordPress plugin that might be a good place to start looking into?
In the spirit of user interaction and collaboration, I’m reaching out to my readers to share what they would like to see on this blog, topics to look into, features that would be useful etc. No holds barred! Send me a note through the Contact page or comments in this post.

About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

@ SCM Clustrmap

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