The most exciting thing about working for Manhattan Associates is the opportunity to positively impact the evolution of a client's business through supply chain improvement and innovation. As part of this experience, I am also in the position to have some impact internally on the evolution of the next generation of supply chain software by bridging R&D with the latest marketplace demands in Australia.
Coming up in a week is Manhattan's annual Momentum Conference, from May 2nd to May 5th. The theme is "Platform Thinking," which is nothing new from a general business management perspective. The use of platforms in the automotive vehicle production space dramatically changed the auto industry beginning in the late 20th Century, a practice defined as a "shared set of common design, engineering, and production efforts, as well as major components over a number of outwardly distinct models and even types of automobiles, often from different, but related marques."
So the question is: Why does this deserve attention now in the supply chain software space? When one examines all of the various touchpoints and activities in an end-to-end supply chain, the sheer scope and scale can be overwhelming. It is thus no surprise that many supply chain disciplines developed early on as responsibilities in smaller, manageable silos--manufacturing, procurement, transportation, warehousing, and POS fulfillment are the primary examples, and each can be further broken down into related activities. It is upon this market landscape that supply chain software has evolved as a wide range of offerings and solutions geared towards particular silos with some peripheral overlap. Manhattan Associates began this way with its WMS and has since developed a full suite of supply chain execution-oriented applications through acquisition, organic R&D efforts, and partnerships on a common platform.
I believe that "platform thinking" is about further removing the barriers in making significant gains in supply chain improvement and innovation. Where a variety of solutions have been available from a number of vendors for almost every primary supply chain activity in the past, the solutions and the decisions behind them have been disjointed from the standpoint of both business processes and the underlying system architecture. Many companies have had to make an amalgam of solutions work as their approach to managing human, financial and physical architecture in the supply chain evolved in advance of technology.
A perfect example of this evolution is a large company that internalises its supply chain functions and people into one business group (human / organisational), takes the next step to establish this group as a profit center which sells its supply chain services to the rest of the company's units (financial), and then begins to organize its assets around this framework (physical). This group will likely come together initially with disparate tools and systems around such services as transportation management, warehouse management, and ocean freight management. The ability to provide such a group with a suite of proven supply chain execution solutions on one platform clearly becomes an advantage in terms of overall deployment speed, quality and cost, as well as in post-implementation support and future upgrades. Integration with a single ERP system that spans the entire company's business units would also work from the same platform. End users, including internal customers, external customers and supply chain partners become linked together via a single networked interface. As a result, the platform solution becomes an enabler towards further strengthening relational (collaboration) and innovational (new ideas) supply chain architecture.
Momentum as an "Intersection"
I recently finished reading "The Medici Effect," an excellent book that explains how to create opportunities at the "intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures." For all those who attend Momentum 2010, it will indeed be an intersection worth taking advantage of towards taking your supply chains to the next level. Manhatta provides its own top 10 reasons for attending, but the truth is that an event that blends fellow Manhattan customers from around the world, product experts, technology partners and industry analysts all in one location is ripe for generating new insights and ideas into general supply chain practices as well as each attendee's own personal supply chain challenges.
Thinking Beyond Momentum
One of the things that blogs do for readers, and which Twitter does even better, is point us towards intersections. The list of individuals I have had the honor of sharing ideas with over the past few years via this blog has been fantastic and far more rewarding than I imagined at the start of my writing. With the advent of Twitter, the speed with which intersections are presented as increased tremendously. Recently, I came across another blogger who is an entrepreneur and, in my view, an intersection specialist--Valdis Krebs of The Network Thinker. Mr. Krebs has worked with IBM, with which Manhattan Associates is a key partner in deploying its Supply Chain Intelligence solution.
Once a company has deployed platform thinking from an informational architecture perspective, Mr. Krebs' work in network analysis seems perfect for the next leap in relational architecture, leading to as Mr. Krebs describes on his blog:
"...a focus on patterns of connectivity and self-organizing behavior in economic and social networks and how these new structures lead to resilience, adaptability, agility, transparency, and innovation."
These are all attributes that any supply chain professional aspires to internalise within their organisation, but this can only be done if we see the important linkages between our field and at first unrelated fields such as social network analysis in addition to driving existing skill sets and capabilities forward.
Imagine now if we take this network analysis approach devised by Mr. Krebs and apply it to not only our internal supply chain organisations and networks, but to industry wide supply chain networks in seeking a mutually beneficial reduction in total costs. In the article"Keeping Trucks Full, Coming and Going," New York Times writer Ken Belson examines one group executing upon such a goal:
"Some of the country’s largest retailers, manufacturers and trucking companies are working on a solution, sharing information about their trucking routes in hopes of matching empty trucks with goods that need to be shipped.
"Known as Empty Miles, the program is the brainchild of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association, or VICS, a nonprofit group that tries to make the supply chain in consumer goods industries more efficient.
"For decades, companies have tried to eliminate empty truck miles in an ad hoc fashion. One company would hear about another company that shipped along the same route. One manager would call his counterpart and work out a deal. Then, about two years ago, VICS members representing a swath of corporate America bore down on the problem. Diesel fuel was near record highs; the economy was slowing. Running empty trucks was more and more the difference between profits and losses; running fewer trucks was a way to reduce emissions and help meet corporate sustainability goals.
""The economy is demanding that these trucks run with things in them," said Joe Andraski, the president and chief executive of VICS, which is based in Lawrenceville, N.J."
As Mr. Krebs network analysis tools would show, a critical mass of participants in such a program would drive the overall benefits. His tools could also provide critical information to participants where the service is providing the most benefit, towards which industry counterparts are shared routes most beneficial, as well as a number of other patterns important to supply chain decision-making. Please take a look at his post on "overlapping networks."
All-in-all, there is much to look forward to in the supply chain space that makes working in this industry, and across borders, an exceptional experience. I look forward to sharing more of this experience into the future both on the blog and via Twitter. Cheers!