'Supply Chain' Past, Present and Future

Sept. 4, 2010
It's been a rough few years for the U.S. and the global economy, with supply chains large and small suffering a big blow. No need to repeat here what we already know ad nauseam about the recession and recovery. The Great Comeback is happening, but not ...

It's been a rough few years for the U.S. and the global economy, with supply chains large and small suffering a big blow. No need to repeat here what we already know ad nauseam about the recession and recovery.

The Great Comeback is happening, but not at the pace that we all want and need. It cannot happen quickly enough for me.

Thinking of the future, I can't help but reflect on the history of my country and how supply chains have changed over the past 200 or so years. (And no, contrary to malicious rumors, I was not there to see the first ones in action.) I also look with promise to what the future of supply chains will bring.

Before the Industrial Revolution, supply chains existed, but of course in a more simplified manner. The farmer to the horse cart to the market to the corn buyer - or the iron ore to the foundry to the metalsmith to the tool buyer - these were supply chains even if that term had not yet been coined.

Then with the advent of mass manufacturing, mechanization, transportation, etc., business began to resemble what we consider today as having true supply chains. And with the inventions of the internal combustion engine, electrical power generation and mass communication technologies, things really exploded and the inter-relationships became more complicated and large scale.

And then standard supply chain models, addressing both the upstream and downstream sides, were developed. These models often produced more questions than answers, but it advanced the concept of a "supply chain" and unifying all diverse activities that swirl around it. Six Sigma and lean supply chains were embraced by most organizations. Efficient, effective processes were the focus, and some amazing advances occurred.

In the 1980s, the term "Supply Chain Management" was conceived to express the need to integrate the key business processes, from end user through original suppliers. Over the next two decades, organizations began to focus more on inventory, customer demands, logistics, supplier relations, benchmarking and other key links in the chain. Outsourcing and global sourcing became more widespread during this time and before long, we were talking about "3PLs" and "4PLs" on a regular basis.

Next came the more enlightened term, "Supply Chain Excellence," which placed a greater focus on technology, real-time information, visibility and collaboration. In fact, I took this to a higher level in several books and presentations with the "Six Levels of Supply Chain Excellence." These still apply today.

So before you tire of this history lesson, I have to ask, where does this leave us now in 2010? I think "supply chain" is positioned as an agent to transform companies for profitable growth. It is no longer merely an element or a process - the supply chain is a global asset that is just as significant as financial and human capital. It is what drives a company to beat its competition in today's global economy. Supply chains are the game changers that will help finally turn the page to economic recovery.

Here's to transforming supply chains for profitable growth!

Tomkpins Associates

About the Author

Jim Tompkins | CEO

Dr. James A. Tompkins is an international authority on leadership, logistics, material handling, outsourcing, and supply chain best practices. As the founder and CEO of Tompkins International, he provides leadership for Tompkins globally.

His 30-plus years as CEO of a consulting / integration firm and his focus on helping companies achieve profitable growth give him an insider’s view into what makes great companies even better. Listen to an interview of Jim Tompkins on the Business Leader Radio show.

As a high-level business advisor, his unique perspective prepares corporations and executives for the future.

To share his knowledge and provide up-to-date information on supply chain and business trends, he developed the GoGoGo! Blogand Global Supply Chain Podcast.

He has written or contributed to more than 30 books and eBooks, including Caught Between the Tiger and the Dragon, Bold Leadership, Logistics and Manufacturing Outsourcing, The Supply Chain Handbook, andNo Boundaries. Jim has been quoted in hundreds of business and industry magazines such as The Journal of Commerce, Supply & Demand Chain Executive, and FORTUNE, and he has spoken at more than 4,000 international engagements.

Jim has served as President of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the Materials Management Society, and the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education, and Purdue has named him a Distinguished Engineering Alum. He has also received more than 50 awards for his service to his profession.

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