Going to Battle in a Connected Supply Chain

It is spring 1944 in London and across the rolling green hills of southern England, everywhere there are men, machines and equipment being stockpiled for the great amphibious assault on the Normandy beaches, forever after known as D-Day. There are officers and men from many countries – including GIs, sailors, airmen, mechanics, cooks, medics and many others. There are ships, planes and guns of every description, along with tanks, landing craft, artillery, ammunition and so much more. It takes a massive assortment of people and materials all coming together at the right time and place to launch a successful battle.

I was just reading about this assault in a book titled “Top Secret” right after touring the massive show floor at ProMat 2013 in Chicago. There were vendors, machines and equipment of every description at the show. There were all kinds of forklifts, conveyors, robotics, cranes, racking, and automated picking machines. There were also imaging equipment, packaging machines, safety equipment, labeling machines, tapes, castors and wheels, packaging materials, software solutions of every kind and consultants to help pull it all together.

As I thought about the book and the show, it struck me that going to battle in war and in the supply chain business have a lot in common. They both take a lot of people with special skills and a lot of machines, equipment and materials all coming together at the right time and place to ensure success. That realization made ProMat’s theme this year – “Where Supply Chain Solutions Connect” – seem so apropos. Unless you can connect all of the many pieces that go into today’s global supply chains on a timely, accurate basis, you won’t win the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of your customers.

Another one of the revelations of the book is the extreme amount of planning that must go into preparation for a great battle like D-Day. In fact, the author, Ralph Ingersol, was one of those planners. But the book goes on to discuss all of the things that go wrong once you begin to execute the plan, or as General George Patton once put it, “no plan ever survives the onset of battle.” Therein lies the conundrum – you cannot launch a battle with any hope of success without meticulous planning, but once the battle begins, your execution capabilities must be flexible, robust and timely or your plans will go for naught.

Doesn’t this sound like your supply chain?

Without proper planning for customer demand, production schedules, pricing, promotions and replenishment, you are going into the supply chain battle unarmed.

You won’t know what your customers want or how you will satisfy that demand. Likewise, without flexible, robust execution systems for warehouse, workforce and transportation management, you cannot consistently fulfill that demand, and therefore, can’t hope to see your plans realized. In short, you can’t succeed without excellent planning and execution working together.

That’s where today’s integrated supply chain management solutions come in. They combine profoundly smart planning systems with extremely sharp execution capabilities to make sure you are fully prepared for your supply chain battles. These combined systems help you connect all of the myriad pieces I saw on the ProMat show floor into one smoothly functioning competitive machine.

Don’t get me wrong – there are no easy answers in war or supply chains. Things will go wrong. Situations will change. The enemy, or competitors, will make unexpected moves. But if you have a connected supply chain, with advanced planning and execution systems working together, you can negotiate the changing battlefield with an excellent chance of success.

  3 Comments   Comment

  1. “you cannot launch a battle with any hope of success without meticulous planning, but once the battle begins, your execution capabilities must be flexible, robust and timely or your plans will go for naught. ”

    Sounds exactly like the supply chain! You have to prepare for and account for every detail you can possibly imagine, but know that all of that planning could be flipped on its head in a moment”s notice. Plan for everything, expect everything and be ready to shift gears without warning.

    Reply
  2. “you cannot launch a battle with any hope of success without meticulous planning, but once the battle begins, your execution capabilities must be flexible, robust and timely or your plans will go for naught. ”

    Sounds exactly like the supply chain! You have to prepare for and account for every detail you can possibly imagine, but know that all of that planning could be flipped on its head in a moment”s notice. Plan for everything, expect everything and be ready to shift gears without warning.

    Reply
  3. “you cannot launch a battle with any hope of success without meticulous planning, but once the battle begins, your execution capabilities must be flexible, robust and timely or your plans will go for naught. ”

    Sounds exactly like the supply chain! You have to prepare for and account for every detail you can possibly imagine, but know that all of that planning could be flipped on its head in a moment”s notice. Plan for everything, expect everything and be ready to shift gears without warning.

    Reply

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