One of the more respected discussion fora (no, that is not an oxymoron, and is the plural of a much-maligned noun) recently trumpeted an uncertain clarion call indicating that the procurement function was "taking over" supply chain management.
Never mind that the claim is not helpful in maintaining our fragile peer relationships within the chain(s); it is also wrong-headed. This should not be surprising, as consultants may have been involved in the background, and some are easily swayed by the wisdom of 26-year-old savants.
Climbing down from the aerie of high dudgeon, we are dismayed that it is apparently amazingly easy to either forget or ignore the core directions of changed relationships within both supply chain and corporate functions as we plunge deeper into the 21st century.
THE EMERGING BIGGER PICTURE ...
We have written, enthusiastically and approvingly, about the evolution away from last-century organizational paradigms. In short, the old model of operations management was often either led or controlled by an old-school executive, whose value was measured in the number of his (less often, her) direct reports and the number of functional departments making up his stable of skills and results. A popular management style was to pit departmental executives against one another in competition for budget money, capital, and positions as heirs-apparent. Performance targets were typically inwardly focused. Not only were they unaligned with one another for collective outcomes, but they were frequently in direct opposition, creating win-lose (or lose-lose) opportunities at almost every turn.
In the new century, we are seeing the beginnings of a sea change. The top executive in a supply chain management environment is no longer yesterday's operational lion tamer, with chair, whip, and pistol at the ready. He (and more often than ever before, she) is a facilitator and a builder, who fosters close positive working relationships within the chain and within the company. The idea is not internal competition; it is collaboration, synchronized execution, common and aligned performance targets, and a focus on enterprise success based on serving customer needs perfectly, even spectacularly.
We are moving away from the adversarial operations management model and toward the positive and integrated supply chain model. The direction is clear, but the pace of change is sometimes tentative. Both models will be around in parallel for some time.
Obviously, though, both models cannot exist side by side within a single organization without introducing very stressful cognitive dissonance and creating an umbrella of dysfunction. Equally obviously, in an age of external collaboration with suppliers and customers, internal collaboration is a must, a prerequisite. So, what are these people thinking when they gleefully salute a takeover within the realm of supply chain management?
THE ROLE OF ENLIGHTENED PROCUREMENT
We've written, too, about the necessity of including sourcing and procurement as part of end-to-end holistic supply chain organizations. It is vital to include, integrate, and synchronize what those folks do in creating profitable customer relationships and creating shareholder value. But "supply" is not "supply chain"—there are more pieces to the puzzle, and this news can stun those who think the universe begins and ends with good procurement practices.
THE REAL ISSUE
The core of our concern is not so much procurement as it is the notion that any functional area is being positioned to "take over" the supply chain. What's next, a palace coup by customer service? Just picture it, a gaggle of troops wearing headsets and camo gear, waving banners with revolutionary slogans, marching and singing like students in "Les Miz."
The idea that any function is superior or should, by virtue of title, rule the supply chain world is shaky on its best day and destructive in the long run. Our most important attribute is the ability to have everyone on the same bus and to not be fighting over who should be driving.
THE SUPPLY CHAIN LEADER
OK, smart guys, who, then, should be in charge of supply chain management? Our answer: no one based on job title, but someone with the right set of attributes. These are fairly simple to state, but very difficult to find. As for those attributes, in our view, the person must be:
It's a tough job, finding a walks-on-water individual who is genuine and authentic to the core. But the supply chain of today—and tomorrow—really demands no less. Not only is the search worth the effort, it could be the difference between being around or sinking beneath the waves as sea changes continue to roll in.