Bringing Supply Chain Issues to the World Stage

In case you missed it, supply chain issues have graduated to another level. Last week, supply chain risks and strategies to abate them earned a place on the global stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told world leaders and influencers about the Obama administration's “National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.” This was the main take-away:

    The Department of Homeland Security is committed to facilitating legitimate trade and travel, while preventing terrorists from exploiting supply chains, protecting transportation systems from attacks and disruptions, and increasing the resilience of global supply chains.

Media reports indicate that the US has six months to come up with “specific potential contingency plans” and devise a strategy to address worst-case scenario possibilities — one that enables a quick response from government and industry when potential disasters cut off access to vital commodities.

And, a hefty report, based on a discussions that came out of the 2011 Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters and a follow-up survey of supply chain experts, provides high-level talk about new models for addressing supply chain and transportation risks.

The study's recommendations for governments and businesses certainly are not earth-shattering for anyone who has any sort of supply chain experience or a stake in supply chain efficiency. Here are the report's five main recommendations:

  1. Improve international and interagency compatibility of resilience standards and programmes
  2. More explicitly assess supply chain and transport risks as part of procurement, management and governance processes
  3. Develop trusted networks of suppliers, customers, competitors and government focused on risk management
  4. Improve network risk visibility, through two-way information sharing and collaborative development of standardized risk assessment and quantification tools
  5. Improve pre- and post-event communication on systemic disruptions and balance security and facilitation to bring a more balanced public and private sector discussion.

Now, I'd say it's about time the supply chain got this kind of attention. Folks in the everyday supply chain trenches know this stuff matters, and matters in a big way. Thought leaders, governments, bankers, and corporate types also need to recognize how serious the job is of moving goods around effectively, efficiently, and safely, and put some more teeth into their promises of upscaling global logistics and trade.

But seriously: This is the best our super-smart world leaders with a laundry list of titles and academic degrees can come up with? “Develop trusted networks of suppliers, customers, competitors” and “improve network risk visibility through two-way information sharing.” This sounds like something out of a report I read in 1997 when I first started covering supply chain issues.

And, while I get it that Napolitano should be discussing a US-centric strategy, since she represents the US, isn't all this language reminiscent of 2001 and post-9/11 measures that were put in place. Look at how well that worked. Remember the 2010 cargo plane ink-cartridge-bomb plot?

Supply chain security and risk abatement deserve the attention of our world's greatest thinkers. But, all the same, I think we'd all be better off if we put a few dozen supply chain professionals in a Davos-like environment and rely on their expertise to direct global policies on supply chain risk management.

6 comments on “Bringing Supply Chain Issues to the World Stage

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    January 31, 2012

    Jenn–kudos for bringing this to our attention! While I've seen a number of supply chain sites and pubs refer to Davos, I've been unclear as to the importance of the forum. A VIP list indeed, and you are correct, with the best and brightest gathered in one place you'd think there would be some real advancement in regard to supply chain practices. I hope more EBN readers weigh in on what could have been achieved and keep driving home the importance of the supply chain.

  2. prabhakar_deosthali
    January 31, 2012

    As we have seen last year , the major causes of Supply chain disruption at the international level  have been because of the natural disasters ( The earthquakes, Tsunamis and floods) where the disruption was just unavoidable. 

    How are these high level goverment committees going to resolve this issue?  I fail to understand.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    February 2, 2012

    @Barbara – Maybe we can get the EBN community to nominate a few savvy supply chain fprofessional to speak at next year's main event. I'm only half-kidding. Think there are amazing folks out there that we can all learn a thing or two from.

  4. Jennifer Baljko
    February 2, 2012

    Prabhakar – Yeah, right. While we have gotten better at warning people about potential disasters (tsunamis, hurricanes, etc), Mother Nature's mightier than we are, and despite best technology and planning, we never which way she'll turn.

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 2, 2012

    Jenn–sometimes it amazes me how simple the supply chain can be–moving something from point a to point b; and yet so complex. I think many of the supply chain gurus we look to are great at the conceptual level, but once you get to executuion (in the trenches) a simple transaction becomes…well, a matter of national security.

  6. Jennifer Baljko
    February 5, 2012

    Right, since the issues supply chain experts deal with every day sometimes reach that level of complexity, they should be more involved in conversations with politicos and Wall St about how to best execute plans. We could only hope that more supply chain experts will want to add that to their to-do list…

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