Who Put The Supply In Supply Chain Management, and Why?

This is an essay by Art van Bodegraven, managing principal of Van Bodegraven Associates and founding principal of Discovery Executive Services. 

Spend Matters recently brought attention to that very question: Who put supply in supply chain networks? The question is a fair one, and yet it may lead to the follow-up question of how it is that this attention suddenly becomes necessary.

Look, it is wonderful that the sourcing and procurement employees from the supply tent are peeking through the flaps of the supply chain management tent. The relationship between the two worlds has been reminiscent of members of Congress linking arms to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

But, this isn’t summer camp. So, we will be more interested in behaviors and outcomes than in appearances. Will the end game be nothing more than sitting ’round the campfire singing about the brotherhood of man, then lighting candles to float out on the gently lapping waters of beautiful Lake Platitude on a starlit night?

It can’t be. We all have too much at stake. Despite the thought of some on the supply side that new-century commerce begins and ends with their efforts, a reality is that we, all of us in the supply chain, should be captive to the demands of customers and not governed by parochial interests.

Yesterday and today

In early days, debate raged as to whether we needed to call our new discipline “supply chain management,” “demand chain management,” “value chain management,” or something else. We’d say that “everybody knew” that supply chain management really began with demand signals and synchronization. Apparently not.

To be clear, supply chains cannot be successful without stellar performance in supply networks. But supply networks, in my opinion, are not of much use if not fully integrated with all elements of supply chain management in meeting shifting, sometimes exploding or collapsing, the escalating, diminishing, erratic, or lumpy real-time demand.

This integration and synchronization is not mere convenience or lip service. It has to be real and constant. It is not merely better communications; it is a melding of functions into one cohesive planning and operating whole.

When we – and many organizations already have – reach that point, the “who” in “who put” won’t be important. We’ll all have had a hand in turning concepts and good feelings into reality and results.

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