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Supply Chain Optimization – careful with those words now…

Abcoautomation has a post up on How Supply Chain Optimization can help you beat your competition. Except that, the sort of optimization that is referred to there is not Optimization. I suppose that I have to start making a distinction between Big “O” optimization and small “o” optimization. However, that is a topic for another day. The topic for today however is two fold – Ernst Haeckel and the effect of Dr. Haeckel’s pithy summation on almost every and anything that we engage in. In very broad and general terms.

Ernst Haeckel, for those of us who are not likely to be avid readers, was a contemporary of Darwin (Yeah, that Darwin) championed a notion in evolutionary theory that can be summed up as, “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny.” I assure you that you’re perfectly within your rights as a blog reader to switch to another page right now. It’s about to get a lot worse.

The following is the clarification of the terms: Ontogeny – the development of the form of the creature and Phylogeny – the location of the creature in the general scheme of evolutionary descent. Dr. Haeckel proposed (hypothetical creatures, drawings etc al), that Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny, which is to say that creatures in development exhibit developmental characteristics associated with creatures situated earlier in its evolutionary descent. This was quite an assertion which however in time turned out to be entirely wrong.

The surprising thing is that while “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny” has little support in the natural world, something quite akin to it can be readily observed in the world of intellectual ideas and their application.

Here’s the content from the above story:

I heard a story one time about a Vice President of Distribution for a very well-known health and beauty aid manufacturer who gave this talk about when he took over as VP.  He asked what is the cash to cash cycle line for a particular brand of shampoo?

What is the time from the point where we spend money on boxes bottles or whatever you need for the shampoo and the manufacturing process to the time you get the money back from Wal-Mart (their end customer). Guess how long that process was?

Really, write it down and make a commitment you might be surprised at the answer. Well despite the fact that I’m not Vanna White, here is the answer. 47 weeks, 47 weeks of time. From the time that they bought bottles of goop, and paint and to the time they got their money back from Wal-Mart.

Now the next question he asked was this of those 47 weeks how much time do you really take to add the value process?

That is to make the product. Surprise again. 90 minutes. So out of the 47 weeks of time they only spent 90 minutes actually producing the product, and the final question how much of the corporate attention was on the 90 minutes?

The Supply Chain as an idea or the very recognition of the idea of a supply chain occurs quite later in the development of the capitalistic economy. So, quite akin to Dr. Haeckel’s formulation, this is a prime exhibit of later forms of organization and complexity recapitulating similar variances of thoughts and problems that were exhibited in earlier forms of organization. So while “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny” was the mantra of an age past, I offer that “Novel forms of organization repeat the same problems exhibited in earlier developmental eras.” Or in other words, “Ontology recapitulates teleological gaps”.

Ontology has to do with the “that which is” and in this case would be the idea of the supply chain or manufacturing or putting things together. Teleology is about the purpose or end driven action that one undertakes day in and day out. So all that the statement above is referring to is the gaps in purpose that often exist in the recapitulation of newer ontologies.

This is precisely what prompted this long winding post – You see in the article above from abcoautomation, there is the suggestion that 47 weeks of lead time can be improved such that the non-value added proportion of this lead time can be reduced. However, that can only be done to a certain point i.e. as far as there is slack capacity to drive down the lead time. However, is there really slack capacity?

My simple point is this – these are problems that has been discovered and addressed in manufacturing – sometime well and sometimes not so well. The supply chain as a newer ontology (vis a vis Manufacturing) seems to recapitulate the same gaps in purpose.

Avoiding this recapitulation and the associated costs of this recapitulation is the only free lunch available – the question is whether you even realize the free lunch offer.

The Living Wage

In my earlier post, I had said that I was working on the idea/concept of a Living Wage. Some eyebrows might have popped at this – if not, this would be a good time to go a popping. After all, what is the connection between a Living Wage and the supply chain?

Take a look at this report for instance: Why is Wal-Mart blocking 35 cents an hour for Bangladeshi workers?

From that article,

Senior sewers are paid 1.7 cents for each pair of Wal-Mart jeans they sew. (Each worker must sew 10 pairs of jeans per hour, or one pair every six minutes—which is 10 percent of an hour. Ten percent of their 17-cent-an-hour wage amounts to 1.7 cents.)

That’s an hourly wage of US$ 0.17 for experienced sewers and the current demand is to raise the wage to US$0.35 (and up to US$ 0.51 by some accounts that I have researched).

The obvious question is : Is an hourly wage of US$0.17 a living wage? Is an hourly wage of US$0.35 or US$0.51 a living wage? If you think that US$0.17 is an absurdly small number, what do you make of US$0.35 or US$0.51? If you’re mortified by the idea that the designer jeans that you’re donning tonight was sewn together in misery, will you be gratified by the notion that they will be paid double that wage if you just bully the capitalist/retailer to forgo that marginal hit to his profits?

Now coming back to stateside, take a look at this site from Penn State that enables you to work out what constitutes a living wage in America, by state, by county – Living Wage Calculator. I live in Newburgh, NY and so I took a look at what constituted a living Wage for Newburgh, NY – A  living wage for Newburgh, NY.

A family with two adults and two children require a wage of $60,274 in order to “live” in Newburgh, NY which works out to a $28.98 hourly wage while the Minimum wage is $7.25 and Poverty Wage is $9.83.  Of course, this calculation does not include any governmental assistance which spans the spectrum of wages from ~ $20,000 to ~ $60,000 depending on family configuration.

The critical issue with the living wage is that is has nothing to do with living or working – it has to do with calculations in Ivory towers. There is no such thing as a living wage (just as there is no such thing as a minimum wage) – the effort to create a living wage is about replacing the antiquated notion of a minimum wage by something more substantial. What the residents and denizens of Ivory Towers and various social justice movements don’t understand is that a Living wage like the Minimum wage before it is a calculation that looks good on paper and might even absolve the bean counters and theoreticians from enjoying their privileged lives. It will do nothing to lift those Bangladeshi garment workers out of poverty and neither will it change the lives of those living stateside.

All that it will accomplish is that the annual wage of CEOs in the millions will then become in the billions, the annual wage of the consultant in the hundred thousands will be in the millions and so on. The poor will still be poor and probably poorer still because for the decade or so (and it will be much faster than that) that it would take to adjust, they will have adopted habits and lifestyles that will leave them worse off.

If you don’t believe what I say, take the hypothetical Bangladeshi worker who, through all the unrest in Bangladesh, doubles (from 17 cents to 35 cents an hour) or triples (from 17 cents to 51 cents an hour) his/her hourly wage. When that dramatic increase in wage happens, what I’d like you to do is tell me what happens to his/her life?

1. Wage – we know this already because it is a given, doubled or tripled.

2. Rent Cost – ?

3. Transportation Cost – ?

4. Food cost – ?

5. Medical cost –?

6. Taxes – ?

7. Entertainment costs – ?

8. Other costs – ?

Do you think items, 2 through 7, increase, decrease or remains the same?

I think that such misguided thinking betrays a mistaken notion of the concept of profit. I think that the most fundamental error that the calculators always make is to think that all that needs to be done is to carve out a portion of profit and return it to labor. And what always happens is that the profit margin remains unchanged or is impacted ever so slightly and everything else is adjusted accordingly.

Profit is notoriously difficult for the Ivory Tower to understand. And the reason is quite easy as well – they’ve never really worked in the real world. For some Profit is a subtraction of numbers and for others it is the recompense for overcoming fear – these two worlds will never meet.

A living wage is a confident calculation about the static nature of human enterprise and economy. And that calculation is wrong. Profit is a dynamic calculation of the nature of human enterprise and economy.

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.

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