For a long time, those of us who are involved in supply chain management (or who write about it) have understood how interconnected we all are. But now, that awareness appears to be spreading beyond business journals to the broader public consciousness.
A recent example of what I mean came at this year's graduation ceremony at Hamilton College in New York. The speaker was journalist Bill Moyers, and in the course of his speech, he discussed an ordinary breakfast roll.
"[I]f you're like me, you have a thousand and more times repeated the ordinary experience of eating bread without a thought for the process that brings it to your table," said Moyers. Yet, he pointed out, that process we take for granted represents an intricate system of reciprocity and exchange. "I depend for bread on hundreds of people I don't know and will never meet. If they fail me, I go hungry. If I offer them nothing of value in exchange for their loaf, I betray them. The people who grow the wheat, process and store the grain, and transport it from farm to city; who bake it, package it, and market it—these people and I are bound together in an intricate reciprocal bargain. We exchange value."
I was thinking about his point while working on a story for this issue on the truck driver's role in the supply chain. What bothers many drivers, particularly owner-operators, is a concern that they're unfairly burdened with costs that rightfully belong elsewhere. That is, they are not getting their fair share of the value they helped create.
To be sure, optimizing a supply chain often requires sub-optimizing parts of the chain. That's OK within an organization, where one department might have to absorb added inventory expenses in order to save on overall transportation costs. But these types of tradeoffs take on another dimension when it comes to external supply chain relationships.
Here's the dilemma, then. Each business has its own interests as its chief responsibility. DCs cannot justify adding workers solely to relieve truckers from long waits, for instance, even if that would improve the operation of the overall system. While there's much discussion about how to ensure that the nation's logistics network keeps up with economic growth, individual business interests do not necessarily align with achieving that overarching goal.
Perhaps the market will work it all out in the long run. Our market economy has been pretty successful over time. That hope doesn't do much, though, for the driver whose work shift runs out while waiting to unload.