Abject Normality

I was talking with my brother-in-law about one of the Rugby League Challenge Cup matches and he used a wonderful phrase about the performance of one of the teams – abject normality. His view was that there had been much tinkering but to get a significant improvement something major needed to be done.

The same goes for the supply chain. Not long ago you could order a product and, at some indeterminant point in the future, the postie would arrive and you wouldn’t be in, so you would collect it from the sorting office at the weekend - if it was open.

From the viewpoint of those trying to run that supply chain, small miracles occurred at all sorts of points in the process. The available information from the systems running the supply chain was very limited, consequently paper-based reporting was normal. Let’s call this, for the moment, the ‘analogue’ situation.

If we look at the current or potential situation of a supply chain today, then it is very different. We place orders, we specify required delivery time and we want updates on progress towards the delivery. As a supply chain manager, I view details on performance of people, equipment, bottlenecks, orders etc. and I show it real-time on pretty graphs that my stupid superiors can understand. Let’s call this, for the moment, the ‘digital’ situation.

The ‘digital’ supply chain is the move away from abject normality. The ‘digital’ supply chain uses underlying web-based technologies to enable the capture of all the data to display on those pretty graphs. The ‘digital’ supply chain allows communication with all the people involved, either internal or external.

The ‘digital’ supply chain is a nonsense. What is available to those people who want to run a supply chain, that is not abjectly normal, is clever software, clever equipment and clever people to make it all run. In that, not much has changed. It is just that all the elements in a 21st century supply chain have more capability than they have ever had. And the people to make it all work together and generate knowledge from the data, are much smarter too.

Abject normality is boring. Digital and Analogue are wrong terms. Supply Chain is either appropriate for the job or not. And too many companies have an inappropriate supply chain for the ‘Digital’ age.

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