A couple of stories recently posted on DC VELOCITY's Web site have reminded me once again what a vital role logistics plays and has always played in the course of history. Most often, the things we write about here are the kinds of things that can improve business performance—like ways to move goods, materials, and information through supply chains more efficiently.
I often cite Don Schneider, the former president and CEO of Schneider National, who believed that excellence in logistics was crucial not only to business success but to the nation's prosperity. The long debate over how to improve our logistics infrastructure revolves around the idea that our economic well being depends in large part on how well connected we are to farms and factories around the globe.
But logistics can also be crucial to survival itself, especially in the most trying of times and places—disaster and war.
Senior Editor Mark Solomon recently reported on the experiences of John T. "Jock" Menzies when he visited Haiti in his role as president of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). ALAN was created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a way to connect businesses willing to contribute logistics resources to disaster relief with the agencies and organizations that need support. With much of Haiti's already inadequate logistics infrastructure in ruins, logistical problems were among the most serious impediments to relief efforts after the January earthquake. Menzies told Solomon that supply chain operations have improved since the nightmarish early days after the earthquake but much remains to be done. The Haitian operation was one of the first real tests for ALAN. Menzies believes the organization did a good job, but he says the experience has led him to think about how to do better when the inevitable next disaster hits.
On the other side of the world, U.S. troops and their allies continue the long struggle in Afghanistan. Editor at Large Steve Geary, who often works as a consultant for the Department of Defense, recently wrote about a Marine initiative to reduce requirements for fuel and other resources. It is much more than a sustainability effort, although that's important. It is an effort to shrink what the military calls the logistics tail—the logistical support needed by troops in the field. Military leaders from Alexander to Napoleon to Patton have had to contend with vulnerable supply lines. Now, technology in development may reduce the military's reliance on convoys that can be easy prey for adversaries.
The Marines' initiative and the continuing Haitian relief efforts suggest again that it may not be too much to see the logistics profession as something special.