Each year, Gartner publishes a Supply Chain Top 25 list. As a student of the supply chain, I watch to see who made the list and what market advances they highlight for suppliers and retailers.  Over the years, I  have seen many signs of progress toward a responsive demand driven supply chain. Last week though I experienced it firsthand.

Here’s my personal supply chain story, that reveals some important best practices for retailers.


12-11-2013 2-17-33 PM Happy 2014! Time for fabulous predictions.  Here’s one I predict  you won’t see from any other industry watcher…

Check out a longer version of this post with other awesome predictions at Industry Insights.


Dimensional disruption 

“By 2020, traditional supply chains will no longer exist. Instead all objects will be created at the point of use by 3D replicators.”  – Spacely Sprockets Research

George Jetson has a replicator, so does Jean Luc Picard. Now so can you. “Print Your Own 3-D Objects” describes Candy Fab. Resembling a  high-end industrial fabber, it prints by fusing a layer of sugar grains. The result: geometric confections including dodecahedra, Möbius strips and sugary helices. Okay, not yet for sale and admittedly not very practical. However, high performance additive manufacturing technologies, first developed in laboratories some 30 years ago, are now available for consumers and 3D printing offers “the realistic possibility that anyone, anywhere in the world can produce any object they need on demand.” For a thorough treatment of the subject I recommend  “3-D printing and the future of stuff.”

If you are looking for early signals to confirm that 3D printing has arrived as a force to be reckoned with, you need look no further than my new go-to scientific source, The Big Bang Theory, whose 3D episode was both incredibly funny and insightful. Having said that, it is clear that more traditional industry watchers are interested in 3D printing. In fact, it’s disruptive potential is highlighted by Gartner who predicts that a new digital industrial revolution has begun that threatens to reshape how physical goods are created with 3D printing at the heart of it. On the upside, 3D printing is a means to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing. However, Gartner also warns that 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally by 2018. That prediction is one of 10 ‘Top Predictions for 2014’ made by Gartner.

I spend a good deal of my time these days with enterprise information management technologies that can improve the customer experience and at the same time optimize the supply chain, so I am particularly interested in how 3D printing might impact the retail value chain. In that regard, I definitely agree with Deloitte’s Alison Kenney Paul. In her 2014 “Outlook on Retail,” she points out that retailers will need to keep an eye on the rapid growth of 3D printing applications. Alison predicts:

“Printing customized and on-demand products in-store will revolutionize the customer experience and help retailers improve their inventory and supply chain management. At the same time, as personal 3D printers become affordable, retailers will need to deliver a unique store experience, since a small, but increasing, percentage of customers will be able to print products themselves at home.“

That’s just a leap of faith away from the prediction of a dissapearing supply chain, don’t you think?

Symphony_shutterstock_113959705Each year at this time, supply chain geeks (and I use this term with great regard and affection) eagerly await publication of the annual Top 25 list. I have been following this list since its inception in 2004 by AMR Research, now Gartner, and along the way have drawn some conclusions about the processes and technologies it takes to be the best in orchestrating the supply chain.

Here is my latest article for CMSWire with the key trends I see, as inspired by this year’s leaders, plus one emerging strategy I predict is the new “must have.” Let’s see if you agree.

 My eBook is now available! Thanks to the more than 700 people who have downloaded it so far.  You can get a copy out at Global 360  Better Together  (requires registration) or at Nothing But SharePoint.  

 Appreciate the comments so far…

 “These are first person, real world stories, with no “Geek Speak”. Business Process Management is the next growing stage in SharePoint. Reading Deb’s book will give you the ideas you’ll need to get started in BPM. ”  – Mark Miller (EUSP)


I’ve just completed the sixth and final article in my series on process-enabling SharePoint to create solutions that will help you outperform your Industry.   My premise is that a winning attitude combined with the right  process and technology can make all the difference to your business  in today’s economic climate.   I share some lessons learned from a “rock climber” extraordinaire and what I consider to be “rock star” supply chain leaders.  Odd combination? Well, check out “The Power of Positive Pessimism” and let me know what you think. 

And, while you’re thinking about attitude, I recommend you read “Managing Problems You Can’t Fix” – this blog post will give you a different perspective on finding solutions.

The next article in my SharePoint series appeared today on EUSP

Don’t talk to customers

Guest Author: Deb Miller Global 360 Inc. Companies need to stop talking to customers? Yes! That is, stop wasting your time and your customers’ time talking about items like credit disputes or missing approval documents. Instead, you can automate and streamline key processes like dispute resolution using business process management (BPM) and SharePoint.  You’ll have more quality time then to listen to your customers, and to apply your people and technology resources to engage… [Read more]

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 .

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?