These days, a good supply chain planner is hard to find. And for that, globalization is at least partly to blame.
As more and more companies spin complex supply chains across the globe, they're becoming increasingly reliant on a host of specialized software applications to manage these far-flung operations. Trouble is, the supply of people trained to run these apps hasn't kept pace with the growing demand. As a result, supply chain and logistics departments are grappling with a full-blown shortage of software wizards who can run these applications, particularly programs designed for advanced planning and forecasting. (Hint: If you're out of work in the distribution field, developing these skills could make you highly employable.)
A government-backed group in the Netherlands has come up with a novel solution to the problem. The group, the Dutch Institute for Advanced Logistics (DinaLog), is proposing to set up what it calls a "Cross Chain Control Center," or 4C, that would allow companies to pool their resources of supply chain software talent.
As currently envisioned, the 4C center would make use of the latest technology to manage and control the information, product, and financial flows for multiple supply chains. Under the plan, companies would also share the IT talent; in fact, it's possible that rival enterprises would use the same specialist to develop their sales forecasts and handle their distribution planning, according to Jan Fransoo, a professor of operations management and logistics in the School of Industrial Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Fransoo, who is involved in the Dutch government's efforts to establish such a center, described the plan at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' conference in Europe this past spring.
DinaLog has asked for proposals to run a pilot for the Cross Chain Control Center, and it hopes to get the program going later this summer. Companies like Unilever, Hero, and Mexx are reportedly interested in participating. It's envisioned that the center would be involved in supply chain planning activities like matching supply and demand, transport utilization, and intercompany collaboration.
Although the Dutch government is backing this plan as a way to maintain Holland's preeminent role in world trade, the concept could also be applied outside the Netherlands. A supply chain control center could be located in any part of the globe where there's enough talent to staff the operation.
What's intriguing about the 4C concept is that this could very well represent the next stage in the development of information technology for supply chain management. Not so long ago, the biggest barrier to technological advancement was usually access to software. But the advent of cloud computing has changed all that. Today, more and more software vendors are making their tools available over the Internet, allowing access from almost anywhere on almost any device. Now, the biggest obstacle to widespread software deployment has become the shortage of knowledge workers.
The Cross Channel Control Center just might provide the means to share scarce resources. Granted, there are still some details to work out and some questions to be answered. For example, to what extent will company directors—or even government antitrust officials—allow enterprises to share knowledge workers who would be privy to the intimate details of a rival's supply chain? Still, such centers could emerge as a new type of outsourced service that supplants even third-party logistics.