If you live in the Northeast, you probably assumed this headline referred to Noah, the Biblical ark builder. After this spring's record rainstorms, residents of the region can be forgiven if they're predisposed to think of floods, arks and animals paired two by two.
But this column is about the "other" Noah. Noah Webster. The guy who compiled the first dictionary of the American version of the English language.
Though Webster died in 1843, his dictionary lives on, updated and expanded each year by a team of his "professional descendants." Just last month, Merriam-Webster released the 2006 edition, which features a number of new entries. Terms making their debut this year include the Seinfeld TV series-inspired "unibrow" (defined as "a single continuous brow resulting from the growing together of eyebrows") as well as "mouse potato" (a person who can't seem to pull himself away from his computer), "spyware," "gastric bypass," "supersize" and "drama queen."
Notably absent (at least for those of us who maintain a near myopic focus on logistics) was a comprehensive definition of a very important term: "supply chain."Where is it, Noah? Can we get a little help here?
We certainly need it. Though the term has been around for at least a decade, a common definition continues to elude us. I've said for years that if you were to stop 10 logistics professionals on the street and ask them to define the term "supply chain," you'd get at least nine, and probably 10, different answers.
My theory was borne out earlier this year when DC VELOCITY's staff began work on our 2006 Rainmakers Report. As part of the project, we asked each of the movers and shakers featured in that article how they defined the term. The result? You guessed it. We asked 11 people and got 11 different answers. One even went so far as to speculate that given the wide variations in company practices, it may not be possible to come up with a single, unified definition.
He may be right, but still, that's an unsettling notion for those of us who toil in the supply chain vineyards each day. So in yet another attempt to push the profession toward a consensus, I offer the following characterization of this thing we call the supply chain: It is, quite simply, everything involved in carrying out the steps necessary to bring a product from its earliest conception, say, the raw cotton that is harvested to make denim jeans, to the hands of its end user.
I've been wrestling with the definition since 1995, when I was pitching a plan to launch a supply chainfocused magazine to executives at a large publishing corporation. Well, given that logistics professionals themselves can't agree on a common definition, you can imagine what it was like to explain to a bunch of MBAs what a supply chain was. After months of interminable meetings, the answer dawned on me. I had to boil it all down into the simplest possible terms.
What I came up with was the following: "A supply chain is everything that has to do with planning, sourcing, making, and moving a product from the raw materials stage to the end user." In its simplest form, I told the executives, it all comes done to four words: "Plan, Source, Make, Move."
A couple of years later, I happened to glance at the letterhead of a new association called the Supply Chain Council. Under their name, they had added the words, "Plan, Source, Make, Deliver." Far from taking offense at their use (and revision) of my original definition, I took it as a hopeful sign that the industry might someday be able to agree on at least that simple four-part concept.
Well, it's now roughly a decade later, and it still hasn't happened. So, to you professional sons and daughters of Noah Webster, can we get a little help here? Your 2007 edition is just around the corner. How about throwing us a lifeline?