Like Fleetwood Mac say, "Never Break The Chain"

Oct 4, 2013

And perhaps later a bracing midnight dip in the limpid crystal waters the Potomac at the National Harbour resort where TIA2013 will take place. I'll be the one with the car inner-tube floatation device and the natty striped all-in-one woolen swimming togs. When damp they do sag so very fetchingly.

Anyway, as Stan Laurel said, "This is no place for Levity. He's gone to New York".

One of the tracks at the conference is dedicated to the Supply Chain.

Now, at first thought the Supply Chain and its workings isn't what we British hacks call a "guaranteed gut grabber" of a subject but then, looking a more deeply into it it quickly becomes evident that the vital comms stuff, the next generation all-IP network, the devices, the apps, the services etc., would largely be stillborn were it not for the art, science and discipline of Supply Chain Management (SCM). And that's why the subject is to be examined and debated in depth at TIA2013.

The basic concept of the Supply Chain is very straightforward. It is the network created amongst different companies producing, handling and/or distributing a given product or products and it encompasses all the steps that need to be taken to get a product or service from the supplier to the customer. It's a crucial process because companies strive to optimise the supply chain because an efficient supply chain equates to lower costs for the company.

Many people confuse the term logistics with the supply chain - but they are not the same thing. Basically logisitics refers to the distribution process within the company whereas the supply chain includes multiple companies such as suppliers, manufacturers wholesalers and retailers.

The supply chain and its management can sound something of a walk in the park, until the uninitiated try it and discover just how complex it really is - not least because the successes and failures in a supply chain are immediately visible to trading partners and customers alike and are regarded as a yardstick by which a company's efficiency and capability are quickly judged.

So what are today's SCM challenges challenges? Well, there are a few, not the least of which is to assume that SCM technology is the universal nostrum that will instantly bestow the capability to control all supply chain and vendor resources. SCM can do a lot but it can't fix everything in a company all by itself. It is a tool to be used in conjunction with other tools and companies using it must first have a specific level of organised control within the supply chain relationships. SCM technology is at its most effective when the user has the ability to control logistic providers and trading partners.

Another challenge is to understand all the capabilities of suppliers. The awareness of what a supplier can do in times of feast or famine, boom or bust, can greatly increase response time to changes in demand. Thus experienced supply chain managers periodically review lead times, burst capacity, standard capacity and quick-turnaround capabilities with suppliers. Forewarned is forearmed.

Many relatively inexperienced supply chain managers have made the capital mistake of using the past to predict the future and have come a cropper as a result. The fact is that a reliance on past performance to predict future sales is just plain foolish. Clever managers track real sales as they actually happen and this allows the supply chain network to react quickly to any changes.

Similarly, good supply chain managers don't rely solely on sales data. That's not to say that sales figures are works of such vivid imagination that would put the Brothers Grim to shame, but sales people by their very nature do tend to be exuberently optimistic - until the roof falls in on them, (I know because I know a lot of them) and it pays to bear this in mind and pay close attention to real-time inventory levels, cash flow and financial ratings when making critical supply chain decisions. Maintaining and analysing supply chain metrics significantly reduces the possibility of serious errors.

That is why it is vital for supply chain managers to monitor suppliers and customers and to collaborate closely and continuously with them to ensure supply meets demand. Communication is all. And that is the game we are in.

A tour of duty in Washington DC, was, for British diplomats of yore (and maybe even to day for all I know), a "hardship" posting. They got extra pay and allowances for having to leave the gloriously benign climate of Blighty and being required to put up with the rather more rambunctious weather that DC has to offer - in winter and summer alike.

That said, and whatever the weather, TIA2013 will be no hardship, packed as it is with networking and learning opportunities and fascinating and important insights into the Future of the Network. I'm really looking forward to it - and some half smokes, the peppery sausagey speciality of the DC area. And then there's always the blue crabs.... but I'm bringing ointment for them.

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