Reading Into a Supply Chain Tagline

Last week, C.H. Robinson (a Talking Logistics sponsor) announced the launch of a new global tagline, Accelerate Your Advantage®, “that allows shippers to advance their goals, outpace competitors, and achieve a faster, more efficient supply chain.”

I normally don’t comment on those types of announcements, but the tagline raised two important questions for me: Why is acceleration important? and What defines a supply chain advantage?

Acceleration is an increase in velocity over time, and the biggest challenge supply chain and logistics professionals face today is keeping up with accelerating change.

Dealing with change has always been the norm in supply chain management (SCM), which is why “exception management” is such a popular term in the field, and why SCM software vendors list it as a key capability of their solutions. What’s different today, however, is the accelerating pace of change – in technology, regulations, business models, supplier networks, global risks, and so on – and many existing processes and technologies can’t keep up anymore, especially decision-making processes.

Charles Fine from MIT, in his book Clockspeed: Winning Industry Control in the Age of Temporary Advantage (Perseus Books, 1998), introduced the concept of industry clockspeeds — how “each industry has its own evolutionary life cycle (or ‘clockspeed’), measured by the rate at which it introduces new products, processes, and organizational structures.” Here’s an excerpt from the book description:

In business today, all advantage is temporary. In order to survive — let alone thrive — companies must be able to anticipate and adapt to change, or face rapid, brutal extinction.

Just as geneticists study the fruit fly to gain insight into the evolutionary paths of all animals, managers in any industry can learn from the industrial fruit flies — such as Internet services, personal computers, and multimedia entertainment — which evolve through new generations at breakneck speed. Applying the lessons of the fruit flies to industries as diverse as bicycles, pharmaceuticals, and semiconductors, Fine illustrates how competitive advantage is lost or gained by how well a company manages dynamic web of relationships that run throughout its chain of suppliers, distributors, and alliance partners [emphasis mine].

Therefore, to use Fine’s terminology, the reason that acceleration matters is that the clockspeeds of every industry are getting faster every year. And while the clockspeed of automotive companies are still much slower than the clockspeed of high tech companies, they are both much faster today than in 1998 when Fine published his book, and they’ll arguably be much faster five years from now too.

Which brings me to the other question: What defines a supply chain advantage?

I believe the answer is found by asking another question, which supply chain executive Tony Martins discussed in a Talking Logistics episode last year: Are you working in a Company of Yesterday or a Company of Tomorrow?

I believe that what defines a supply chain advantage is the same as what defines a Company of Tomorrow:

Makes smarter decisions faster. This is why business intelligence and analytics are in the spotlight today. But technology can only get you so far. Companies also need to transform their workplace structures and decision-making processes because they are too fragmented and slow today. For related commentary, see Is the Traditional S&OP Process Outdated and Heading to Extinction?

Has more timely, accurate, and complete supply chain visibility than competitors. The goal is to move from being a reactive organization to being a proactive one, aided by the use of predictive technologies. For related commentary, see There’s No Silver Bullet for Supply Chain Visibility.

Makes supply chain risk management part of its DNA. In other words, they reach the point where thinking and talking about risk (and taking proactive action to mitigate it) is as common and instinctual as talking and thinking about cost and service. For related commentary, see Rethinking Supply Chain Risk Management, Many Companies Falling Short on Supply Chain Risk Management, and Why Supply Chain Mapping Matters.

Moves away from “What’s in it for me?” business relationships to “What’s in it for WE?” In other words, companies need to start walking the talk on collaboration and explore Vested relationships with their business partners. For related commentary, watch Getting to We: A Conversation with Kate Vitasek and Jeanette Nyden.

There are other attributes that define a Company of Tomorrow, but those are the ones that rise to the top for me.

I am not a marketing or brand person, but I imagine a lot of work and discussion goes into creating a tagline. If sparking ideas and conversation is the sign of a successful tagline, then it seems like C.H. Robinson has hit the mark, at least with me.