If you read this column with any regularity, you've heard us beat the drum before. The era of the functional silo is over, you've heard us preach. Optimizing the supply chain calls for nothing less than smashing the silos and building a single, enterprise-wide chain that stretches from source to customer. There's no shortage of evidence that this approach works. Some of the most successful companies in the nation cite a customer-focused supply chain integration program as a key to both top- and bottom-line improvements.
And now, apparently, the array of trade groups and associations that serve the profession are taking note as well. A number of disparate organizations, each of which focuses on a particular aspect of the wideranging world of logistics, have announced that they are joining together in a unified effort to help Americans in times of crisis. That coalition, which includes groups as varied as the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC), the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA), and the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA), will soon launch the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). (See related news story on page 11.)
Created in response to last year's hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the ALAN network is designed to assist relief agencies in providing humanitarian aid following a disaster. Participants will lend their supply chain expertise and donate goods and services for disaster response.
Through ALAN, organizers will be able to call on the combined resources of thousands of companies across the country. Participants will help out in two ways: first, by helping develop the supply chain processes needed for disaster response before the next hurricane, flood or tornado hits; and second, by assisting relief agencies in the collection, routing and delivery of much-needed supplies in the aftermath of a disaster.
In the initial announcement, which took place at CSCMP's 2006 Annual Conference in October, Mark Richards, a long-time CSCMP member and one of the founding members of the initiative, explained that ALAN's mission is to bring parties together for the common good. Added Rick Blasgen, president and CEO of CSCMP, "We're the rail, truck, air, logistics, warehousing, material handling and supply chain services that can mobilize quickly to help deliver critical aid and supplies in the event of a disaster."
Bob Shaunnessey, executive director of WERC, reports that many of WERC's members were actively involved in charitable relief efforts when hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf States in 2005. That spirit of giving is being taken to the next level by this more formal, cooperative initiative, he observes.
MHIA's CEO, John Nofsinger, agrees. "ALAN was founded by the associations that make the supply chain efficiently operate on a daily basis.When a disaster strikes, we believe that it is our unique responsibility to utilize these same resources and expertise to help ensure that the necessary aid gets where it is needed as quickly as possible."
But ALAN represents more than just a humanitarian relief effort. The willingness of the various logistics associations— be they transportation based, material handling based, or warehousing and distribution center based—to cooperate in this way points to something more. In a larger sense, the founding of ALAN indicates a newfound willingness among these associations—and we would hope, by default, their members—to work together in daily operations as well. The world of logistics, for so long mired in a silo-based mentality, has broken out. The profession is coming together.
In the end, we are quickly learning, supply chain excellence is all about working together—because together, we win.