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Tesla Reports Q4 and 2016 Financial Performance with Most Eyes Affixed on the Model 3 Supply Chain

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Electric-automobile and solar power producer Tesla reported fourth quarter and full year 2016 results this week but it seemed that most eyes are focused on the ramp-up of the new Model 3 volume ramp-up production and supporting supply chain strategies. Tesla_Flag

On the financial front, the company reported mixed results. Q4 automotive revenues were reported down by 7 percent on a quarter on quarter basis while total year revenues increased 69 percent from the year-earlier period. Q4 gross margin in automotive nearly doubled from the year-earlier quarter while full year gross profit for automotive increased 74 percent.

Equity analysts remained concerned about Tesla’s current and anticipated cash-burn rate, particularly since the new Model 3’s ramp-up will require added capital spending. The Wall Street Journal today observed that total liabilities now stand at nearly $18 billion, compared with $7 billion a year ago. Total cash on-hand amounts to $3.4 billion with speculation that the company must raise additional capital. A further development is the pending departure in April of the firm’s current CFO Jason Wheeler who will be replaced by Deepak Ahuya, Tesla’s initial CFO for more than 7 years.

In this week’s letter to stockholders, Elon Musk, Chairman and CEO indicated that in the past quarter, combined net orders for the Model S and Model X increased 49 percent compared to the same period in 2015.  Vehicle production increased by 77 percent over the year-earlier period. I

In January, Tesla reported that it produced a total of 83,922 vehicles which was at the low-end of its mid-year forecast for producing between 80,000-90,000 vehicles in 2016. During the final quarter, the auto maker produced 24,882 vehicles, many of which were delayed until December because of a what have been described as short-term production challenges starting in late October and extending to early December. Like the rest of the auto industry, Tesla remains challenged by a gap of finished goods produced vs. vehicles actually delivered and signed for by customers. In the final quarter, the gap between vehicles produced and vehicles delivered was 2682 vehicles, which will be counted in the new fiscal year as revenue.

Yet, the company still has a long way to go to meet its milestone of producing upwards of 500,000 vehicles on an annual basis by 2018.

We previously alerted our readers to a published report that Tesla began pilot production of the new Model 3 vehicle earlier this month, to coincide with this week’s report to shareholders. In this week’s letter to shareholders, Musk declares that Model 3 product development, supply chain and manufacturing are on-track to support volume deliveries in the second-half of this year, while installation of manufacturing equipment is underway at both the Fremont California and the Nevada based Gigafactory. The company expects to invest somewhere between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in capital expenditures ahead of the start of Model 3 production and by our lens, there is little tolerance for missteps in engineering and process design.

Upwards of 400,000 paid deposit reservations are believed to have been made so that prospective Tesla customers can be assured of a Model 3 delivery slot. Tesla executives however refuse to cite any number related to Model 3 deposits.

Musk previously informed shareholders of plans to begin Model 3 volume production by July of this year but cautioned that the company could miss that date if suppliers do not meet deadlines. In this latest letter to shareholders, there is a statement indicating that all Model 3-related sourcing is on plan to support the start of production in July.

During the Q&A phase of management’s briefing to equity analysts regarding the latest financial results, there were multiple questions related to further background for the Model 3 ramp-up. Musk re-iterated that the goal for the Model 3 is to have production rates of 5000 per week by the end of this calendar year and that current supplier parts orders begin to ramp to increased volume cadence from July through September. He reiterated that the auto maker has refocused most of Tesla’s engineering, including design engineering into designing the factory. “I think in the future, the factory will be a more important product than the car itself.” Also stated: “I’ve said this before, but our goal is to be the best manufacturer on Earth. This is our real goal. I don’t know if we will succeed, but I think we’re making good progress in that direction.”

Responding to a question on the difference in the Model 3’s design, executives indicated that the amount of complexities in the overall design and vehicle complexities to assemble the newer, lower priced but higher volume model have been dramatically reduced, while the amount of operations that involve more judgment from production operators have been dramatically reduced, or almost eliminated. The Model 3 was described as designed for manufacturability.

A further acknowledgement was learning from the previous Model X production ramp-up where complex design changes hampered ramp-up, bottleneck and cost efficiency milestones, which we have pointed out in prior blog postings related to Tesla.

Another difference noted by Musk is that in earlier models, it was rather difficult to recruit established automotive tier-one suppliers for long-term supply contracts because Tesla was viewed as a start-up with financial risks. For the Model 3, component and subsystem supply contracts have been established with some tier-one suppliers and there is now renewed confidence in supplier capabilities to meet design, quality, and volume commitments.

Supply Chain Matters has previously praised Tesla’s vision, innovative thinking and its can-do perspectives concerning supply chain and distribution. Many eyes are now focused on Tesla’s next critical milestone, that being the ability to operate as a high volume, disciplined manufacturer of industry-leading and technology-laden innovate automobiles.  As many of our readers are well aware, Tesla is now embarking on a full-blown supply chain segmentation strategy, one that differentiates capabilities of full-featured, higher-priced vehicles from that of the high-volume, lower-priced Model 3.

The year 2017 will be the crucial test.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


Report Indicating Tesla Model 3 Pilot Build About to Begin

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After Founder and CEO Elon Musk declared last May an intent to revolutionize Tesla Motors production activities to coincide with the availability of the new dramatically lower cost Model 3, a report now indicates that the electric auto maker is planning to start pilot production this month at its Fremont California production facility.

The Reuters report syndicated by global business network CNBC, cites sources as indicating that Tesla has informed suppliers that test build of the new Model 3 sedans will initiate on February 20.  While the sources did not know of how many sedans were planned for this initial pilot build, it would likely be a small number to test the new assembly and test needs.

The February date happens to precede by two days, Tesla’s scheduled shareholders meeting. Speculation is that the initiation of test build would provide added optics for reservation customers as well as shareholders.

Upwards of 375,000 paid deposit reservations have been already made by prospective Tesla customers. Musk previously informed shareholders of plans to begin Model 3 volume production by July of this year but cautioned that the company could miss that date if suppliers do not meet deadlines.

According to the report, sources indicate that the Model 3 timeline is indeed considered to be extremely aggressive, especially since engineers are still making last-minute design changes to the vehicle. This has been a common pattern for Tesla, one in the mold of Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs, where last-minute design changes drove suppliers and contract manufacturers crazy in periods of critical production volume ramp-up.  Tesla suffered some effects of this process with the prior Model X, whose revolutionary gull-wing doors and seating designs had to be re-visited because of volume production yield challenges.

At last year’s annual meeting of shareholders, Founder and CEO Elon Musk indicated that Tesla will “completely re-think the factory process.” Musk repeatedly raised the notions of “physics-first principles” and made the point that his team now realizes that where the greatest potential lies is in designing and building the factory.  He challenged Tesla engineering teams to the principles of “you build the machines that build the machine.” In other words, the context is in thinking that the factory is the product, and that you design a factory with similar principles as in designing an advanced computer with many interlinking operating needs. Further acknowledged was that the Model X design was over complicated, perhaps too much to accommodate production volume needs. Going forward with the development of the new Model 3, Musk indicated that a tighter integration loop among product design and manufacturing would be fostered.

This latest report raises the question of whether Musk can fulfill his promise for producing 500,000 cars annual by 2018. That currently represents 4-5 times 2016 production levels, which missed their annual goal as well.

From our lens, the other open question is whether Tesla’s unique new vehicle distribution and customer delivery model can also ramp-up to such levels. Increasingly, at the close of each quarter, Tesla reports thousands of vehicles still in-transit to awaiting customers.

Readers may well have their own views but it would seem to this blog that Tesla’s better efforts should be directed at taking the time to get all production and distribution processes highly synchronized in high volume dimensions across the entire supply chain. Rather than communicate whether suppliers can meet deadlines, communicate the readiness of the entire supply chain machine to meet production and distribution milestones.

The optics can come later.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


2017 Industry Specific Predictions- Automotive Supply Chains Residing in North America

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Thus far, we have posted deep-dives on the first nine of our 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains. We trust that our Supply Chain Matters readers are garnering insights from these prediction sand they have been helpful for setting objectives and work agendas in the coming year.

We have one prediction remaining which for this year is our final Prediction Ten, which for each year, dives into what we foresee as unique industry-specific supply chain challenges or environments for the coming year. This year’s industry-specific challenges were especially challenging in that we contemplated adding a lot of industries, more so than prior years. In the end, we will hone in on those industries that merit additional monitoring and updates in the coming months.

As Editor, I has also decided for the purposes of brevity and reader interest, to present each industry in a separate Supply Chain Matters blog posting. We will be posting these industry-specific predictions in a faster cadence.

We begin, to perhaps no one’s surprise, with the North America based Automotive sector.

 

Automotive Supply Chains Residing Across North America ford-f150_450

We cite unique challenges for automotive supply chains residing across North America for two specific reasons. One relates to the ongoing industry dynamics related to accommodating product demand mix with inventory and capacity levels. The other with the potential impact of the new Trump Administration policies related to both North America and global trade that has certain automakers in the cross-hairs of direct Presidential criticism, and of U.S. Congressional efforts directed at U.S. corporate tax reform policies.

Sales Trending

Record low gasoline prices in the first-half of the year boosted U.S. light vehicle auto sales to hit a record high of 17.6 million vehicles in 2016. That number was only slightly larger than the 17.5 million vehicles sold in 2015. Strong sales momentum in December reflecting 1.7 million vehicles sold during the last month had pushed the seasonally adjusted annual selling pace momentum to 18.4 million vehicles.

Of the total vehicles sold in the U.S. during 2016, 60 percent were classified as higher-margin light trucks. Promotional discounts heavily influenced sales of sedans and compacts, with the growth in demand for pricier pick-up trucks and SUV’s generally boosting auto maker profit margins.  That helped to fund innovation efforts directed at autonomous vehicle technologies and efforts to meet stricter emission standards in future years. At the end of the year, the industry-wide average of new vehicle unsold inventories was the equivalent of three months, while the average of U.S. big-three automakers averaged upwards of 100 days of unsold inventories.

Looking to 2017, some auto dealers were uncertain if the sales momentum would last, given the current length post-recession sales cycle and the growing credit burden of U.S. and North American consumers in outstanding auto loans. Finished goods inventory levels for certain auto and truck models trended higher in the final quarter and some U.S. based OEM’s elected to curtail factory output levels and lower inventories in late December and January. Factory headcount cutbacks were further being exercised.

The challenge for automotive product management, supply chain management, sales and operations planning teams in 2017 will therefore be effectively managing model and volume mix sales and production output and overall inventory levels while maintaining or exceeding line-of-business goals related to product margins and profitability. To cite just one-example, the traditionally largest selling sedan in the U.S. market has been the Toyota Camry. As we publish this prediction in early February, Toyota reported a 25 percent decline in Camry demand while the smaller RAV 4 SUV outsold the Camry in January.

A singular planning framework can sometimes be a daunting challenge for automotive producers with independent product business groups. The problem can come-down to unaligned business processes and a lack of consistent data and information standards. In October, we featured a Supply Chain Matters commentary reporting on how Ford Motor was addressing such challenges in an effort towards a singular, global S&OP planning framework.

From the longer-term perspective, consumer affinity towards ride-sharing services, higher tech electronics and autonomous vehicle capabilities and IoT enabled vehicle services weighs heavy on future model product planning. The open question is how long will most North American consumers favor trucks and all forms of SUV’s vs more fuel-efficient smaller cars and traditional sedans. It usually comes down to the average cost of gasoline and on the continuation of promotional buying incentives. It’s a constant back and forth among product management and supply chain teams shepherded by longer-term goal setting from sales and operations planning teams.

Tesla the Disruptor

There remains the presence of industry disruptor Tesla Motors, which has successfully captured consumer brand loyalty through leveraged advanced technology in alternative energy powered vehicle models. Tesla has broken the mold in the notions of a vertically integrated supply chain, and is now, with the acquisition of Solar City, rebranding the company to be one of alternative energy. Thus, far has the bulk of its supply chain strategy anchored in the U.S. but that may have to change to accommodate two evident challenges. In order to support required broader annual global sales growth and especially for the over 300,000 booked orders for the Model 3, production volumes need to expand significantly the strategy to source and construct the huge lithium-ion gigafactory in the U.S. may well turn out to be a brilliant decision in the light of increased U.S. protectionism forces. If the U.S. Congress adopts corporate tax reform that exempts exports and taxes imports, Tesla may well find itself in a strategic advantage with other alternative energy powered vehicles who sell in the United States and globally.

Global Sourcing Dynamics

Automotive executives, both global and domestic, with U.S. and North America production and supply chain presence had their primary attention focused on incoming U.S. President Trump and his vow to stop job losses at U.S. automotive factories in favor of job gains within other countries. In January, The Wall Street Journal observed: “Few industries have spent as much time in Mr. trump’s crosshairs as the U.S. auto sector.” Trump stunningly defeated his rival by winning key U.S. Midwest states whose populations have a high dependency on automotive industry and services focused employment.

Mr. Trump’s statements on trade, border or import taxes have rattled auto executives. The President has signaled intent to re-negotiate trade policies within the existing North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and to impose added tariffs or a border tax on automotive imports from Canada, China, Mexico, and other countries.  Mr. Trump specifically targeted Ford, General Motors, and Toyota for prior decisions to source new auto production manufacturing in Mexico. Auto executives have been packaging strategy announcements to invest more in U.S. based manufacturing.

The strategic stakes are high in that the entire industry has become globally integrated in production and supply chain component and finished goods flow. Mexico was especially being positioned as a North American product hub for lower margin vehicles and as a lower cost manufacturing hub for thousands of automotive component parts.

The larger concerns rest with the imposition of a border or import tax in conjunction with overall corporate tax reform. Such added costs may well tip the balance in landed costs significantly impacting existing margins and overall profitability. Imposing anywhere from a 20 percent to as much as a 40 percent tax on imports to the U.S. could force consumers to pay thousands more for new vehicles and similarly double-digit increases for auto component and aftermarket parts. Each could have a profound impact on future product demand and as we all know, it is quite difficult to predict the outcome of a political process.

As we pen our industry-specific predictions, such proposals remain a matter of speculation and a focus on intense lobbying efforts directed at the U.S. Congress. Where such efforts lead to will ebb and flow during the year, but a certainty is that automotive supply chains will have their teams quite involved in all levels of supply chain sourcing analysis and in supplier contingency planning. Supply chains that have a high product value-added profile dependency for importing component and finished goods parts into the U.S. will especially be challenged.

Further, there is the reality that automotive supply chains must continue to be globally focused to remain competitive and thus countries such as Mexico will continue to play a pivotal role in supply chain strategy. Bottom-line, the environment will be dynamic, and automotive supply chain teams will have little option but to serve as strategic advisors and counselors to line-of-business and product management teams.

This concludes our 2017 prediction related specially to automotive. In our next posting, related to Prediction Ten, we will dive into Commercial Aerospace manufacturers and respective supply chains.

Readers are reminded to review all our prior 2017 predictions postings.  And a final reminder, all ten of our 2017 predictions will be available in a full research report which we expect to be available for downloading by February 10th.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


Product and Quality Management Take on More Difficult Dimensions

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Our ongoing Supply Chain Matters commentaries regarding certain product design flaws, quality conformance shortfalls and subsequent efforts at covering-up such flaws have drawn similar takeaways, but it now appears that the stakes are growing far higher.

In the case of the diesel engine emissions manipulation scandal involving Volkswagen, the financial, legal and brand impact implications remain ongoing. A company noted for a somewhat tops-down management style and an engineering-driven culture and among one of the two top global producers is learning some tough lessons because of this scandal. Financially, the global tally is now exceeding $20 billion in product recall, legal settlement, and other costs with potentially more remaining.

Last week, in response to U.S. Justice Department investigative efforts, VW admitted guilt in the manipulation of auto emissions standards along with efforts to cover-up such activities. Six individual VW executives were criminally indicted because of the emissions cheating case. One was once responsible for ensuring that vehicles complied with U.S. emissions standards. Five others had senior leadership roles in the product development organization in Germany.

In its plea agreement, VW admitted that its supervisors and employees agreed to deceive regulators and customers regarding the actual emissions performance of engines. According to published reports, the indictment states that some of the supervisors encouraged employees to create software to evade emissions standards.

A published report by both the New York Times, Reuters, and global business network CNBC, cites content taken directly from the U.S. Justice Department indictment. Noted is man identified as “Supervisor B,” who overruled nervous subordinates and allegedly instructed them to develop the overriding software program to defeat emissions readings. According to the court documents, this supervisor instructed the subordinates to not get caught.

Further noted in this report is a statement from the federal indictment indicating: “In 2012, for example, senior executives rebuffed a group of Volkswagen engineers who had discovered the illegal software. The engineers were told to destroy the documents they had prepared showing how the software worked.”

The whole affair represents the first time that the U.S. Justice Department has elected to pursue responsible individual employees as well as companies themselves in such criminal investigation cases and the admission of guilt.

Also last week, a U.S federal grand jury indicted three former Takata Corp. executives, charging them with conspiring to provide auto makers with misleading test reports on rupture-prone air bag inflators at the center of unprecedented products recalls involving upwards of 42 million vehicles involving multiple brands. These executives held senior positions overseeing air bag product management and engineering at the Japan based supplier. Takata itself separately pleaded guilty to criminal wire fraud and agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve a two-year long U.S. Justice Department probe of the supplier’s handling of air bags that risk rupturing and spraying shrapnel in vehicle cabins. The safety problem is linked to 11 deaths and 184 injuries in the U.S. alone. According to court documents, a senior Takata executive at one point directed a junior engineer to remove data showing ruptures during testing from a report later given to an auto maker

Product and quality management professionals with on-the-job experience in regulated industry environments have likely encountered certain situations of organizational tendencies to cover-up potential product, process, or software design flaws. Such tendencies can sometimes come from verbal directives from above to “make the problem go-away.” Often, pressures to make operational and financial performance milestones can motivate such actions.

Yet, with each passing year, the scope and implications of such actions have grown to unprecedented dimensions. And now, these latest actions point to executives and individuals collectively being held criminally accountable for their specific actions.

We need to be clear, we are not at-all dismissing any of these actions and behavior.

Instead, we observe that product and quality management professionals have now been placed in a more precarious role.

Accommodate pressures to make problems go away so that business goals and performance bonuses are met, or stand on principled legal grounds to do the right thing for customers, corporate and individual legal protections. The challenge becomes ever more magnified as increasingly specifications, process performance activities and management actions are stored in digital files and available for internal or external review.

Such actions represent a slippery slope, one that probably does not get adequate attention in employee and management leadership training, but surely will in the coming months.

The notions of “make the problem go-away’ needs to be supplanted by “we all need to do the right thing” for customers and employees. It starts with corporate leadership, culture, ethics and resolve.

Unfortunately, in today’s global business climate of intense pressures for results, the challenge appears to be more elusive, and individual careers and reputations may well suffer the consequences.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


Deep Dive on 2017 Prediction Four: Increased Anti-Trade Geopolitical Forces Provide Added Global Sourcing Challenges

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The following Supply Chain Matters blog is part of our ongoing series of deep dives into each of our previously unveiled ten 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains.

At the start of the New Year, our parent, the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group along with our Supply Chain Matters blog as a broadcast medium, provide a series of predictions for the coming year. These predictions are shared in the spirit of assisting industry specific and global supply chain cross-functional teams in helping to set management objectives for the year ahead. Our further goal is helping our readers and clients to prepare supply chain management and line-of-business teams in establishing impactful programs, initiatives, and educational agendas.

The context for these predictions includes a broad cross-functional umbrella of supply chain strategy, planning, execution, product lifecycle management, procurement, manufacturing, transportation, logistics and customer service management.

In an earlier Supply Chain Matters blog postings, we provided deep dives related to:

Prediction One- Subdued World Economic Outlook and Heighted Uncertainty to Test Industry Supply Chain Agility.

Prediction Two- A Challenging Year in Procurement

Prediction Three- A Supply Chain Talent Perfect Storm

In this deep-dive series posting, we drill down on Prediction Four.

 

2017 Prediction Four: Increased Anti-Trade Geopolitical Forces Will Provide Added Sourcing Challenges for Industry Supply Chains

In our predictions concerning 2016, we stated that major developments surrounding global trade policies would occupy the attention of many industry supply chain organizations during the year. Our context was the potential adoption of major global trade agreement such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), China’s competing One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (T-TIP).  Geopolitical events turned quite negative in terms of expanded global trade and thus the attention of industry supply chains never materialized.

For 2017, our prediction remains that major developments surrounding global trade policies will occupy the attention of many industry supply chain organizations during the year, but now from a far different and perhaps opposite perspective.

Across the globe, growing gaps in income inequality and rising political discontent against elements of domestic and international status quo are fueling a growing backlash towards global trade and unfettered open markets. With heightened global tensions now turning toward more anti-trade and possibly more protectionist rhetoric among developed nations, industry supply chains must now be prepared to deal with potential near and longer term implications that such policies will bring about.

A global environment that begins to turn hostile toward open global trade policies could result in increased import tariffs and added protectionist measures among trading nations, particularly China and the United States. According to the IMF’s October 2016 World Economic Outlook: “In short, turning back the clock on trade can only deepen and prolong the world economy’s doldrums.”

As we pen this prediction in early January, the World Bank declared that political and policy uncertainty in China, Europe, and the United States and in other major global economies are at unprecedented levels. There are fears that the Administration of Donald Trump could trigger a trade war with China and Mexico with threats to impose higher import tariffs for components and products entering the United States. The bank cautions that such a trade war may offset any gains from corporate tax cuts for U.S. businesses.

Further as we pen this prediction, proposals being floated by the Republican Party dominated U.S. Congress that are being directed at corporate tax reform feature border adjustment concepts. Essentially, the concept is applying taxes based on where a product is sold rather than where it is made or where the producer’s operations or executives are based. Imports would not be deducted as a cost of doing business, while exports would be exempted from taxes. The Wall Street Journal and other business media have already raised awareness as to the potential impact on industries that sell most their products domestically while sourcing most production externally in lower cost manufacturing regions. Examples are toys, consumer electronics, apparel and footwear and other products. Such concepts, if enacted, will place a far different financial perspective related to lower-cost production sourcing.

We anticipate that industry supply chain network models will undergo continuous analysis and scrutiny in the coming year as respective supply chain teams assess various changing landed cost and tax factors among product management models. That will likely require a lot of analytical modeling to ascertain impacts to product margins and line-of-business financial metrics.  They could further impact today’s contract manufacturing services model in the notions of where bill-of-material components originate from and where final products are shipped to.

Global trade issues indeed percolate in the coming year and they will likely be complex and confusing to sort out in terms of which will ultimately come to fruition. We concur with the IMF and the World Bank assessments that the Trump Administration could well be part of the epicenter of anti-trade disruption rhetoric to fulfill the political promise of Make America Great Again, and that may well include heightened trade tensions involving China or other lower-cost manufacturing nations.

Global trade advisory firms and consultants will be quite busy in 2017 in advising clients of potential implications of more protectionist trade policies or the heightened risk factors for certain global markets.

As noted in Prediction One, the ability to analyze and share important information, and to educate the business and C-Suite executives on supply chain impacts and/or risk tradeoffs of changed trade policies that potentially impact existing global and product innovation sourcing will be an important differentiator and competency throughout 2017. Collaboration among product sourcing, product development and supply chain strategy teams is essential. Organizations should further consider the value of organizing centralized, dedicated sourcing strategy and impact teams responsible for ad-hoc analysis while fostering a common foundation of analysis data and information. In essence, the task may be more of multiple scenario based analysis predicated on different input and output factors.

Our takeaway is that an assumed static global sourcing strategy could prove to be rather risky in 2017.  Technology supporting more analytically focused analysis and decision-making will likely play a very important role in the coming year.

This concludes our Prediction Four drill-down. In our next posting of this series, we will dive into Prediction Five that predicts continued turbulence across global transportation networks.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


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