Supply Chain Matters had the opportunity to attend the Gartner Supply Chain Executive conference held in mid-May.  As an AMR Research alumni analyst who specialized in research coverage of supply chain software and network technology, I am fully aware that the roots of this particular conference are deep, extending to the late nineties.  The conference featured many well-known and respected research analysts and its reputation was often that of “must attend” among any who either practiced supply chain leadership or provided technology and services to the supply chain community. While we have admittedly not attended this conference for the past several years, we decided at the last minute to attend this year’s conference.  Overall, the conference provided some highlights and disappointments. We walked away with impression that the conference is not what is used to be in terms of research depth, insights, and analyst personalities, although it still draws a very influential audience.

The opening keynote was a highlight since it reflected on a look back of supply chain management for the prior ten years, and Gartner’s perspective of supply chain requirements and needs for the next ten years. Acknowledged was that the span of control among industry supply chains are indeed wider and that 40 percent of senior supply chain leaders now report to their respective CEO. As we at Supply Chain Matters can certainly attest, Gartner further noted that articles about supply chains have tripled in the Wall Street Journal. That is somewhat of good news, and not so good news aspect since what happens in the supply chain more directly affects business results and overall performance.  Further noted was that the adoption of cloud-based technology within industry supply chain IT environments has increased 40 percent, which is a rather significant development when one considers that supply chain systems are often viewed as mission critical in nature and scope.

Reflecting on the next decade for supply chain management, Gartner’s viewpoint is that industry supply chains will continue to lead in the next decade. However, spaghetti-like networks with silos of conflicting goals, not aligned to singular, over-arching goal remain as an obstacle that needs to be overcome. According to Gartner, too many people are bogged down in trivial tasks. Analysts pointed to talent management as a continuing challenge and top priority for the next three years. Further noted was that universities are not keeping up with changing skill needs.  We are not completely convinced about that conclusion, but colleges and universities that specialize in supply chain management need to do a better job at overcoming cross-curriculum barriers to insure that students are prepared with broader exposures to other required skills. For technology adoption needs, Gartner cited social, mobile, cloud, advanced information analytics and the Internet of everything as the only feasible way to manage supply chains more profitably.

Tom Peters, noted author of the iconic book, In Search of Excellence provided the second day keynote, and candidly, could have well been the opening keynote because of Tom’s unique, direct communication style. He opened with the statement that “there is no more sexier profession than that of supply chain management.” He pointed to the management conundrum of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” as especially pertinent to supply chain professionals and made reference to the “huge, huge, huge issue of supply chain network vulnerability.” Peter’s viewpoint was that supply chains are the focal point of all operations and should be more responsible for sales and marketing goal fulfillment as opposed to reducing costs. His belief is that a supply chain must have formal research and development or center of excellence group, or go home. One quote that especially caught this author’s attention related to the critical importance of managing supply chain risk: “You (the supply chain), can destroy an 80-year-old brand in a matter of a week.” Dwell on that statement the next time Finance questions the overall supply chain budget. Peter’s final words of wisdom were to de-emphasize items, trucks and planes and concentrate on big “S”, services.

Two other sessions we found to be insightful were one titled: The New Realities of Digital Manufacturing delivered by analysts Simon Jacobson and Mike Burkett, and the session: Key Findings from Gartner’s Chief Supply Chain Officer (CSCO) study also delivered by research vice-president Mike Burkett. Both sessions stressed the needs for industry supply chains to think more about product management and its integration to the new era of digital manufacturing technologies. Both the digital and physical worlds of supply chain processes are indeed on the verge of coming together. Among the key highlights of Gartner’s latest CSCO study was data reflecting that new product introduction and sustainability capabilities have been the most often added in the last three years by either direct or dotted-line reporting responsibility. According to the Gartner CSCO study, the top priorities for supply chain centers of excellence are:

  • Standardize and improve processes
  • Performance management and analytics
  • Supply chain strategy
  • Supply chain technology enablement

Yet, talent and change management appears to be lower in priority and Gartner raised the concern of why so low, since both of these competencies are required for the above to succeed. 

Another rather important takeaway from Gartner’s latest CSCO study was the survey reflecting expected levels of investment and expected benefits over the next two years. Without taking thunder away from Gartner, the important takeaway for us was that product launch and portfolio management along with supplier collaboration and flexibility are highlighted as emerging medium and top priorities for investment in the next two years.  That correlates with what we have been hearing and picking-up with our conversations with clients and readers.

In our Part Two posting, we will provide additional comments of some other highlights of the recent Gartner supply chain conference including the annual Top 25 Supply Chains announcements, along with some interesting and noteworthy presence among supply chain technology providers.

Bob Ferrari

© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.