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Where’s the Innovation?

Jennifer Baljko's latest blog got me thinking about supply chain innovation. (See: Fending Off the Budget-Planning Monster.)

Her question, “How can they lower supply and materials costs while keeping supplier and customer relationships intact?” is about supply chain. Her comment, “The approaches, however, don't strike me as particularly novel,” is about innovation. She can't see it, and, for the most part, neither can I.

I think back ten or twenty years when {complink 1544|Dell Inc.} gained fame for its revolutionary cash-to-cash cycle supply chain, when {complink 2376|Hewlett-Packard Co.} was innovating with supplier relationship models and when Wal-Mart revolutionized retail with its methods and systems.

Maybe I missed it, but where are the new concepts like those of Charles H. Fine at MIT in his book Clockspeed or Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School, in his book Innovator’s Dilemma ?

I remember reading about human generations where one generation is innovative, disrupting the status quo, while the next generation is pragmatic, taking the innovations of the previous generation and making them work. Is that what’s going on? I don’t know!

So where is the true innovation in the supply chain? Which companies are the Dells and Wal-Marts? What are the breakthrough ideas that underlie progress? Which companies? Which people? What ideas?

I am tired of hearing about relationships using the term “strategic” because we can’t articulate what we are really trying to say. Can anyone lead me out of darkness and show me today’s true supply chain innovation?

7 comments on “Where’s the Innovation?

  1. Jay_Bond
    February 11, 2011

    Great Point. I wish I had an answer that would make sense. It seems like nobody wants to be the first company to take a risk and think outside the box. Innovation sometimes comes from the least likely of candidates. There needs to be some CEO and supply chain manager out there willing to step up and show some initiative. 

  2. saranyatil
    February 12, 2011

    Innovations just need not be technically, developing simple improved supply chain process by making availability of all the parts without adding many inventory in the chain for eg FedEx made an innovation just by improving logistics for which the customers were ready to pay. any thing simple can also make huge differences.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    February 13, 2011

    Ken,

    That's exactly what seems to have happened – a decade ago, everyone and their mother seemed to have at least some sort of novel-sounding supply chain idea (altogether brilliant or a twist on a old practice that  passed for new). Now, the conversation and initiative seems to have stagnated. It could be like you said – this generation is pragmatically implementing past ideas, and in times of economic hardship, that may be all they can do. Or, maybe those last-generation ideas weren't sustainable and didn't work like expected, which now has created a chilling effect for others to champion a project (Would anyone admit to that? Probably not. But, I'm sure not all announced supply chain programs got high marks). It's possible, too, that people have just tired of the buzz or forums that once existed where people collectively brainstormed and expressed opinions – theoretical, if not actionable – have faded into memory. The other side of that  same coin is that we (me, you and others reading this) may have become too jaded; our expectations for innovation are too high, and we're not appreciating the slow-and-steady progress that rarely makes hadlines. Admittedly, it takes a lot to wow me these days. As a journalist hardened by hearing too many false promises, I know I'm a cynic sometimes.

    Speaking of which, I'll be at the Mobile World Congress this week, the huge monster mobile/telecom show in Barcelona. Top execs from Cisco, Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, Qualcomm, RIM, and other well-known companies will have their time on stage. I'll be listening pretty closely for that next big idea that may well get the electronics supply chain fired up again. I'm waiting to be wowed.

  4. Mr. Roques
    February 13, 2011

    How can we think of supply chains when talking about companies such as Google? Or when talking about internet companies that don't really deliver a product.

    Cloud computing is making every company reconsider the way they work, it must, somehow, relate to supply chains.

  5. Ariella
    February 14, 2011

    Perhaps a company can try out different forms of innovation.  Currently, Wal-mart is promoting itself as an innovator in terms of making healthy foods more affordable for its customers.  That may all be marketing, but it does also translate into reorganizations of the store and the  endorement of Michelle Obama. According to http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2011/02/the-reasons-for-walmarts-healthy-foods-initiative/70904/ there are a number of innovations involved.

     

  6. Ariella
    February 15, 2011

    On technological innovation, I just saw “Innovation Transforms Data Warehousing.”

  7. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 16, 2011

    We cannot expect an innovation to happen every now and then. Innovation requires creativity and out-of-box thinking and there is no guarantee of success. For whatever innovations we might have seen , those may be only the success stories. Behind them there could be hundred other innovative ideas which may have failed and hence got unnoticed. If some management student takes this as his research project then many of these failed ideas can be brought back to work by analyzing the reasons of their failures.

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