This independent supply chain management industry analyst recently had the opportunity to both attend and participate in the Bristlecone Pulse 2017 conference. The conference venue was the campus of MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts and that provided conference attendees the opportunity to hear presentations not only from various supply chain leaders, but multiple supply chain thought leadership topics from resident MIT faculty members.

This was from my view, one incredible conference of supply chain management thought leadership, one that likely provided attendees a lot of strategies and topics to consider regarding their respective organizational transformational leadership efforts.

Irfan Khan, President and CEO of Bristlecone opened this year’s session with sharing Bristlecone’s view of the four key focal areas for supply chain management organizations. They included:

  • End-to-end supply chain visibility.
  • Benchmarked supply chains as a reference point for transformation.
  • Networked vs. pipelined supply chains.
  • Real-time adjustments in data and information.

Khan was joined by Vice President, Operations, North America, Naresh Hingorani to announce the unveiling of Bristlecone’s Anti-Fragility Index, a supply chain management benchmarking model that can serve as a measure of an organization’s resilience and differentiation with peer groups. The model consists of 8 broad dimensions of capabilities with 24 underlying metrics of performance that can be benchmarked.

Among the MIT faculty presentations, Professor David Simchi-Levi addressed three emerging trends:

  • Digitization of internal and external supply chain data.
  • Analytics- both prescriptive and predictive.
  • Automation- Cloud-driven scalability of advanced business rules.

Professor Levi leads the Alliance for Business Analytics at MIT. Levi outlined three ongoing consultations with noted supply chain management organizations that are demonstrating the power of predictive and prescriptive analytics. The examples and the shared learning were eye-popping.

Dr. Abel Sanchez, Executive Director, MIT Geospatial Data Center addressed the topic of Connected Intelligence, specifically how new digital transformation education models are underway in many venues of private and public education.  Highlighted was MIT’s new Micromaster Admission Program, the new Udacity model of education, along with ad-hoc Bootcamps focused of short-interval, specific technical education. One observation shared was that the state of corporate education is best described as terrible. Another sobering statement:

Only 20 percent of today’s workforce will have the skills needed for 60 percent of jobs that will exist in the next ten years.

The takeaway was that education and corporate re-training itself needs to re-think and transform to different models that allow the workforce to continually renew in faster cycles through self-education and expert knowledge-sharing. Interesting enough, many of the industry and company focused presentations highlighted people skill challenges within their individual organizational initiatives.

Michael Casey, Senior Adviser of Blockchain Research at the MIT Media Lab declared that Blockchain is not just a new technology, but also a new social mechanism that helps organizations to connect with anyone, everywhere. As Supply Chain Matters noted in a prior venue addressing blockchain business cases for supply chain management, Casey reiterated specific use cases in smart contracts, unique cryptographic identity, registry of assets and trusted replication of important information. Another thought provoking concept brought forward was our community’s constant use of the term “supply chain” when, many industries and companies have moved toward supply and demand fulfillment networks or ecosystems of partners. The notion was that Blockchain’s greatest potential is in assuring trust of data, information and identity in the network.

Professor Yossi Sheffi, Director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and author of two books on resilient supply chains titled his talk: How the Best Companies Manage the Unexpected. As Professor Sheffi addressed many of the black swan and other disruptive events that have impacted industries and individual companies, this blog Editor could not help but recall writing blogs on each of these events as they occurred, particularly the notions that the real-impacts did not present themselves until after information percolated up and across various levels of the supply chain. One interesting conclusion shared by Professor Sheffi is the notion that extra inventory may be justified. He observed the new concept of “Emergency Stock” vs, traditional “Safety Stock”, which can be appropriate for certain industries such as pharmaceutical and drug. Another wisdom shared was the essence of supply chain resilience which was described as interchangeability in replicated processes, global-based production, and systems. Professor Sheffi’s final observation shared with this audience was that the biggest supply chain disruption has not happened yet.

Let that sink in, for a few moments.

This author was honored to close out the first day serving as summary speaker and moderator for the panel: Disruptions in the Digital Era.  My panelists included Bristlecone customers: 

Bill Pollard, Vice President of Supply Chain, Del Monte Foods

Kristine Mauro, Vice President, North America Integrated Planning, Kellogg Company

Mark Schreck, Senior Supply Chain Project Manager, Swagelok

Each of the panelists shared insightful thoughts regarding individual organizational challenges related to supply chain transformational efforts within their organizations. Regarding a question as to where each of the panelists views various elements of organizational change management, senior management’s full understanding of the implications of transformation on required skills and technological capabilities was a common theme shared. As was new ideas and technology to reduce workloads, better of leveraging analytics and available information, along with actively seeking out the smaller, manageable opportunities that can springboard into broader transformational initiatives.

I want to again take the opportunity via this medium to thank each of the panelists and other Pulse 2017 presenters for their contributions and sharing.

Bob Ferrari

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