Leaving last fall's CLM (now, officially, CSCMP) conference, I was struck by the number of educational sessions that focused on the world of internal logistics, or as some would say, the world of material handling. For an organization that has traditionally focused on research, technology, best practices and other matters relating to the external, or transportation-based, side of logistics, that's a noteworthy shift.
It all dates back to the mid 1990s, when the momentum of supply chain management theory and practice began to build. The theory held that businesses could no longer manage transportation, procurement, material handling and other segments of the business as stand-alone functions, that they would need to coordinate and integrate all those once separate activities into a seamless process.
It was less than a decade ago that the term "supply chain management" first appeared in the title of a CLM conference session. It was even more recently that executives began handing out business cards with the words "supply chain" in their titles. Since that time, the internal and external worlds of logistics have slowly but surely been converging. The functional lines that had separated them have blurred. The two worlds have been melding into one integrated logistics function.
For some time, progress toward that goal of integrated logistics felt almost glacial in pace. When I left Philadelphia after the 2004 CLM conference, however, I couldn't shake the notion that the ice was actually starting to give way and that we were on the brink of true functional integration.
Based on what I saw (and sensed) less than a month ago at this year's ProMat Show in Chicago, we've finally broken through the ice. The signs were everywhere:
It was not like the old days when all the shows and conferences seem neatly confined to their respective niches. No, it felt much more like a group of professionals who were uniting, coming together with a single integrated focus: the customer.