The future: coming soon to a business near you

Image courtesy of Max Klingensmith.

Malcolm Wheatley finds out why manufacturers concerned about the future relevance and resilience of their supply chain management strategies should attend Oracle’s Supply Chain Debate in February 2014.

What will the supply chains of the future look like? How will we manage them? And what role will information technology play in actually helping us to manage them?

One thing is certain: we can only guess at the answers to all three questions.

As ever, the future is unknowable. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be thinking about that future, and its impact on supply chain management. For if, as they say, fortune favours the brave, then it must assuredly also favour the prepared.

Put another way, the future is getting ever closer. And there’s ample case study evidence of companies losing out due to strategic mis-steps in response to those changes in supply chains that we’ve already seen in the last few years.

But how best to prepare? An event to be held in London on February 4, 2014 hopes to offer a way.

Knowledge exchange

Kicked-off by a keynote presentation from Cranfield School of Management professor of supply chain strategy Richard Wilding OBE, the event will see 30 or so attendees engage in ‘round table’ debate and discussion, concluding with networking drinks.

Free to attend, and hosted by Oracle, the event is one of a series of such get-togethers planned for the coming months, each led by an eminent guest speaker from the world of supply chain management.

“Logistics and supply chain management have changed enormously in just a few years, and it’s clear that further change is inevitable,” explains Vikram Singla, business development leader for supply chain applications at Oracle. “The idea behind these events is to better understand where companies’ supply chain strategies are heading, and how companies will have to respond in the context of that change.”

And certainly, he adds, it’s not difficult to see some of the factors that are at work, shaping and influencing that future.

Past performance

Oracle’s event in February is by no means it’s first foray into hosting peer debate on supply chain challenges.

On October 16, 2013 Oracle, in partnership with The Manufacturer, hosted a supply chain thought leadership dinner debate designed to help supply chain managers elevate their concerns on the board room agenda.

This dinner event was introduced by a keynote from Professor Steve Evans, director of the EPSRC centre for Industrial Sustainability.

Professor Evans shared insight into his involvement in the Foresight report Future of Manufacturing and suggested that the sector is on the brink of transformation.

He highlighted experimental ideas being investigated companies like Marks & Spencer to use 3D printing for in store manufacturing – a revolution which could alter the supply chain structure we know today beyond recognition.

Evans observed a historical lack of innovation and forward thinking in supply chain management and urged diner guests to think more creatively about the potential of leveraging social and technology trends to develop new competition models.

After this challenging introduction, guests split into four discussion groups for peer debate covering the following themes:

  • Product innovation: why is it important to revenue growth?
  • Sales and Operations Planning: Getting stated and securing executive buy-in
  • Logistics: Is it time to insource logistics or outsource the supply chain?
  • Superior order fulfilment: why is it critical now?

For a review of discussion and key findings at this dinner debate go to: bit.ly/OracleDinnerDebate

Altered expectations

More than ever, for instance, supply chains – and effective supply  chain management – differentiate businesses competitively.

In the decade just gone, globalisation and low-cost country sourcing have redrawn supply chain networks significantly. In the decade ahead, though, the evidence suggests that there’s likely to be a renewed focus on agile responsiveness, and on meeting customers’ needs through a broader range of fulfilment mechanisms and routes to market than is now the case.

And whether you call it ‘omnichannel’ or not, says Singla, behind the buzzword lies a very real challenge: ensuring that products are available at the point of sale without increasing supply chain costs in the form of additional inventory, higher logistics charges, and the costs of writing-off obsolete or surplus materials or products.

And speaking of costs, adds Singla, several recent studies have highlighted the way in which the costs of supply chains, and supply chain management, have in recent times leapt sharply up the corporate agenda. CFOs, in short, are taking a distinct interest in supply chain costs.

In large part, this began during the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008-2009, of course. Needing to cut costs, companies took a hard look at where many of those costs arose – their supply chains.

But today’s focus is different. Efficiency and effectiveness are still on the agenda, of course, but CFOS – and senior supply chain executives – realise that there are strategic decisions that must be made in order to align corporate strategy, finance, tax efficiency, and operational performance.

And so on. As always, the business world isn’t short of hypotheses about what might happen, and how events might transpire. The important thing, stresses Singla, is for businesses to have considered the eventualities, so as to avoid being behind the curve when the future arrives.

Which is why, he adds, Oracle is delighted to have secured Cranfield School of Management’s Richard Wilding as the inaugural keynote speaker.

Intellectual invigoration

Cranfield’s Supply Chain Research Centre is one of Europe’s largest centres dedicated to research into logistics and supply chain management, and works closely with businesses at the cutting edge of supply chain best practice.

So what will attendees hear from Professor Wilding on February 4th? One thing is sure: given Wilding’s well-deserved reputation as an engaging and
insightful speaker, boredom is unlikely.

In a 45-minute slot, the pace will be lively, and the content sharp and focused. Peppered with real-life examples, it’s likely to give those listening ample food for thought.

His presentation will provide he spark for the more intimate round table debates among small peer groups.

“At Oracle, we’ve an obvious interest in technology,” sums up Singla. “But technology can’t exist, or be developed, in isolation. If businesses are to use technology to maximum effect, then businesses and technology providers alike must drill down to the real meaning behind the buzzwords, and figure out the real use case, and the real benefits. For whatever the future holds, it’s vital to have technology that’s fit-for-purpose, rather than being forced to scrabble to play catch-up.”