If you have been a regular visitor to Supply Chain Matters, you may have already read my previous four posts providing live commentary from the Council Of Supply Chain Management Professionals 2009 Annual Conference.  In case you had not, here are the links to Post One, Post Two, Post Three, and Post Four.

I’ve been attending this particular conference for many years, as an attendee, presenter, and sponsoring information technology marketing executive. In that context, I will complete my commentary with some overall impressions and thoughts concerning this year’s conference. 

In my opinion, the overall quality of this year’s conference was excellent.  Attendance was lower than in past year’s, but as I pointed out to fellow attendees, most companies seem to be continuing to cut back on attendance. Supply chain innovators and conference supporters, such as Procter and Gamble, having only three attendees, or Hewlett Packard having but two attendees, are clear signs that companies are still restricting conference and educational-related travel. Many attendees I spoke with indicated that they had driven to the conference.

I found most of the presentations to be high quality, and I especially liked the lengthening of presentation sessions to 90 minutes, rather than the previous 60 minutes.  In my particular roundtable session on supply chain risk management, it afforded ample time for peer exchange and interchange on various aspects of the topic. Dan Gilmore noted on his summary on Supply Chain Digest that these 90 minute sessions seemed to drag.   I observed that a small number of sessions I attended did drag in the last few minutes, but I believe it has more to do with making efficient and lively use of the time, so attendees are given time to discuss and inteact on the topic.

Many attendees spoke highly of the first day keynote. Gary Maxwell, Senior Vice President of International Supply Chain for Wal-Mart, spoke to the notion that you don’t have to be “world-class” in different markets, but rather “best-in-market”. The implication was that too often, companies tend to invest too much in automation and process. The overall message has merit and resonates.  But the question left in my mind is whether Wal-Mart has learned from its previous efforts to mandate change among its supplier base. Recall the previous mandates for supplier RFID adoption because of Wal-Mart’s needs in item-level tracking and store efficiency, which have now been set aside  The most recent mandate outlines sustainability tracking, and a recent Newsweek article ranks Wal-Mart as the 39th greenest company. Do mandates help the other 38 companies, such as Nike, Procter and Gamble and others ahead of Wal-Mart to be “best-in-market”?

 I was pleased to see more presentations focused on holistic supply chain process capabilities, touching themes related to managing risk, adaptive analytics, and mapping supply chain goals to the “C-suite” or Wall Street.  CSCMP should continue to emphasize these topics. In both circulating with and hearing presentations from existing senior supply chain managers, I still get a sense that managers are too heads-down in the operations to be able to do “big-picture” thinking.  As companies begin to enter the new and quite different recovery phrase, having a broader strategic sense of direction will become even more imperative. Remaining competitive is not just about distribution center automation or long-term transportation contracting.

Congratulations go out to Intel’s supply chain team for winning the 2009 Supply Chain Innovation Award.  It was well deserved.  Intel early discovered that incremental process improvements were not going to get their supply chain capabilities to competitive standards.  Instead they embarked on a different transformational path, investing in advanced analytical inventory management and other transformational capabilities.  Kudos also go out to runners-up Dresser Rand, Telllabs, and Kraft Foods.

As mentioned in my Part Four commentary, the most pertinent session of the entire conference, at least for me, was the session titled Wall Street’s Perspective on Supply Chain.  If you or your management teams had any doubts as to the critical importance of supply chain in overall business strategy, it was addressed in this session.  It validated that Wall Street does indeed recognize the value of supply chains, either as a generator of cash or value, or as a means of competitive differentiation in specific markets.  How that perception is going to be made and executed is a function of how supply chain managers position their strategies and initiatives.

Hopefully, the 2010 conference will present a better economic climate and will continue to provide opportunities for broader attendance and quality education.

 Bob Ferrari