If you want to take the pulse of the supply chain sector, then the 2010 DBMA Supply Chain Leaders in Action business forum was the place to be last week.  The SCLA brings together some of the top Fortune 1000 global supply chain leaders and their teams in a learning and sharing environment with thought leaders from academia. If you’re unfamiliar with the SCLA – you can check them out at http://bit.ly/SCLA2010 .

This year’s theme was “Prospering in the New Normal Economy” and  I was struck by the difference in the overall business mood  from last year ‘s forum focus on surviving the recession.  This year, there was a definite sense that we are on our way to sustainable growth.  While still in the process of economic recovery, there clearly are positive signs emerging.  The participants are learning to deal with the “new normal” and what that will mean for the supply chain. 

Some highlights of the forum from my perspective:

  • In adversity, lies opportunity.  Last year we talked about cutting costs, doing more with less and better leveraging capital.  All things that remain critically important.  At the same time, many of the SCLA companies found opportunity in adversity over the past year to become more competitive and rise to the top.  Keynote Dr Walter Kemmsies Chief Economist with Moffat & Nichol sees global re-balancing as the new normal.  Kemmsies spoke on how the  ever-changing world economy will continue to challenge, but also provide opportunity for those who effectively align their supply chain strategies.   
  • Innovating through process improvement continues to be a priority.  I participated in the “Innovating through Collaboration” track and also the “Process Improvement” peer group at the forum.   There is a keen interest in using process to not only drive faster time to value but also deliver innovation.  I listened to examples where process innovation was successfully used to reduce costs, to drive productivity, and to capture new business and market share.  I heard about both practical experience and research-based theory as a means to effectively change the economics of business processes, and find new and better ways to accomplish work.  BPM (Business Process Management) was a topic of interest and for me as a confessed “BPM-aholic” and a recovering Six Sigma Green Belt, I found these process conversations to be more frequent and to resonate more strongly with the supply chain leaders than in past years.
  • Supply chain collaboration creates value.   This is a very collegial forum and there is a lot of sharing of common issues and best practices.  The most popular way to share in the track sessions is through Case Studies presented by the companies themselves and very often their supply chain partners. Sharing across the supply chain along Peer groups is also encouraged. Throughout  both the peer group and track experiences, there was a focus on the customer and an emphasis on collaboration along the supply chain to create value.  Clearly collaboration has served these companies well and helped them grow stronger during the difficult economic times.
  • Sustainability is a meaningful way of doing business. Jack and Amy Thorn of the DBM Association and the SCLA  were ahead of their time.  Since its founding, DBMA sought to recognize those companies that thrive by emphasizing a dual bottom line: profit for the business and “for the world that allows that business to flourish.”  Each year the SCLA give a Circle of Excellence award to a company selected for its contribution in sustainability.  Past winners have been Staples and Chiquita; this year the Hershey Company was honored for conducting business in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner.  As just one  example of steps that can be taken to improve the dual bottom line, Hershey shared that research has led them to use 4.5 million fewer pounds of packaging, demonstrating “the potential harmony between financially and environmentally prudent practices.”

I would be interested in hearing from others as to whether you are seeing the same themes this year as you compete on the basis of your supply chain.  Are the economic factors improving?  Are you collaborating with customer value in mind?  Does process improvement – and BPM – figure significantly in your innovation programs? Is sustainability a priority?  And perhaps most important, what do you consider to be the role of your supply chain in your company’s success?