Since its publication, Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat has been hailed as one of the most important chronicles of the emergence of globalization. He argues that technological advances and the dismantling of trade barriers have allowed nations like China and India to make major inroads into worldwide manufacturing and services, and that trend is accelerating. Competition can now appear from anywhere in the world.
Friedman, who is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, sees this development as inevitable, and it's one he applauds. But he argues that it creates enormous challenges for nations, companies and individuals alike.
He takes only a couple of pages to make his first reference to the supply chain. Friedman sees supply chain management as one of the great causes of flattening (along with such familiar concepts as outsourcing and the growth of global logistics powerhouses), enabling dramatic shifts in economic power. He even suggests that global supply chains promote world peace—arguing that nations with intimately connected supply chains are less likely to go to war.
Friedman is not naïve, of course, and he understands that there are plenty of forces that could disrupt the continued emergence of globalization. In particular, he writes at some length about al Qaeda as a sort of cancerous supply chain in and of itself.
More mundane impediments can be found in the inner workings of many international supply chains. Long supply chains mean more opportunity for things to go awry, as we report in the story that begins on page 47 of this issue. And it appears we have a ways to go when it comes to managing global supply chains. Beth Enslow, author of Aberdeen Group's new report on best practices in international logistics, likens the current state of international logistics management to what domestic logistics management was like 30 years ago. But she does anticipate that will change rapidly as ever more sophisticated trade, transportation and management tools emerge.
Still, the talk about the inevitability of globalization begs the question about what nations may do in response to some of the severe and acknowledged downsides of globalization, such as loss of jobs.
Whatever may come, it does seem clear that the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in distribution, ransportation and logistics have grown exponentially. Keeping up and staying employed have now become inseparable.