Friday Rant: It's Off to ISM We Go — But for How Much Longer?

Along with hundreds of other practitioners headed to ISM this weekend or next week, I'm going to attend (and speak at) an event that has long been considered the single most important annual corporate gathering for North American procurement managers. Like all large events, such shows are always what you make of them. There's no guarantee of the quality level of the hundreds of presentations taking place in the breakout tracks, nor is there even a certainty of finding information and peers to network with on the targeted areas that matter to you. Because ISM's planning process requires speaking abstracts to be submitted so far in advance, and the individual tracks are created around set topics (e.g., Risk Management, Best Practices in Supply Management, Logistics, Leadership, Management and Talent and Services Procurement), if you're looking for something that falls even slightly outside the accepted topic norm, or is timely, for that matter, chances are you're actually better off searching elsewhere.

Still, to be fair, ISM does produce a variety of great sessions and material, and some of the breakouts I've been to in the past were memorable and truly educational. Yet at this stage in such an annual event's history -- and given what are often highly targeted learning needs -- I can't help but wonder how much longer this format will serve constituents as strongly as possible. Might ISM, for example, work collaboratively with its regional chapter to define smaller events (but for a potential national audience) set up around specific topics of interest?

I could see, for example, a supply chain risk track focused particularly on information management, traceability and audits in the NYC/New Jersey region as particularly interesting to life sciences companies, but also potentially attracting others from outside that chapter area. In the Midwest, where many industrial companies are dependent on SAP, I could see a similar regional event, but with national members invited, focused on getting more from manufacturing, procurement and planning systems -- with a clear procurement business user bent rather than an IT focus. And what about a sizable event in Dallas or Houston focused on energy, oil, plastics and related/derivative commodity price trends and forecasts? This is something that nearly every commodity manager and even CPO or CFO constantly thinks about, especially in the potentially inflationary market that we're facing.

Maybe I'm out of touch with what ISM considers important regarding the focus on more targeted (and timely) efforts and topics rather than having a giant, annual affair that serves as a reaffirmation of the importance of procurement and supply management. I'll be the first to admit I know very little about planning and putting on events, let alone managing such a large constituency in a not-for-profit setting with a highly decentralized membership. But something tells me ISM is interested in taking the pulse of what its members are after and is open to change. I could see a scenario in a decade where when we talk about "going to ISM," we'll need to further designate which major ISM conference we're talking about, rather than simply attending the giant to-do each spring that's become of the International Supply Management Conference.

Jason Busch

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