2022 was the year of supply chain disruption. 2022 was also the year that many people first became aware of the topic of supply chain management. Books and magazine articles were written about supply chain management, and news programs presented stories on how important supply chain management is to the economy.

The term “supply chain management” was first mentioned by a British logistician named Keith Oliver during an interview with Arnold Kransdorff of the Financial Times, on June 4, 1982. The term was quickly embraced by the media and soon thereafter, academia.

According to the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP):

  • Practically every product in the world that reaches the consumer requires the cumulative efforts of multiple organizations. Collectively, these organizations make up the supply chain.
  • Supply chain management is the active management of supply chain activities to maximize customer value and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. Supply chain activities cover everything from product development, sourcing, and production to logistics, as well as the information systems needed to coordinate these activities.

CSCMP also states: “The organizations that make up the supply chain are ‘linked’ together through physical flows and information flows, forming partnerships that add value to the customer experience. Physical flows involve the transformation, movement, and storage of goods and materials. Information flows allow the various supply chain partners to coordinate their long-term plans and to control the day-to-day flow of goods and material up and down the supply chain.”

By the early 2000s, multiple universities had created Master of Supply Chain Management programs. I graduated from the leading Master of Supply Chain Management program at Penn State University in 2009. I went on to earn two additional master’s degrees.

Prior to attending Penn State, I had worked for the retailer Michaels and Dell, managing global supply chain and logistics operations. I enjoyed my time at Penn State University, and I learned a lot of useful information about business. I also learned something else: In my opinion, there is no such thing as a supply chain or supply chain management.

Enable Growth

I have 15 years of global supply chain experience. I have designed and implemented some of the most advanced supply chain and logistics strategies in the world. I’ve led organizations for two companies that were ranked No. 1 in supply chain management by Gartner in Dell and Amazon (Amazon won the award so many times that Gartner created a separate category for the company). I’ve also completed supply chain projects for companies ranked in the Top 25 by Gartner.

A Google search on the topic of supply chain management will return over 1 billion results. Among the results will be many different definitions of supply chain management. I don’t believe the majority of definitions are incorrect. I do, however, believe the definitions are incomplete.

I believe the biggest mistake companies make regarding their supply chain is that they honestly don’t know what the purpose of their supply chain is. Is it to meet customer demand? No. Is it to provide and manage inventory? No.

The purpose of a supply chain is to do one thing: enable growth. Every company listed on the Gartner Top 25 Supply Chain list as well as every company listed on the Fortune 500 all have one thing in common: a desire and a need to grow. What enables a company to grow? A supply chain.

Unfortunately, most companies focus on cutting costs within their supply chains. Whenever a company goes out of business, I review the company’s supply chain. In the majority of cases, the company went out of business because it didn’t have a supply chain capable of enabling growth in its industry or that made it easy for the company to enter new markets or take advantage of new trends.

It’s A Supply Web

My biggest complaint about the term “supply chain management” is that the myriad companies required for manufacturing, fulfilling, shipping, and delivering products to warehouses or directly to customers are not linked together. There isn’t a linear relationship. This is the biggest fallacy in business.

Each company operates independently using its own software and operating models. Manufacturers have suppliers and their suppliers have suppliers that are located globally. The flow of raw materials and finished products is not similar to a chain in any way.

Because of the level of independence across operations globally, it is nearly impossible to manage everything involved in meeting the needs of companies and customers for products. At best, companies can use software to gain visibility across their operations and use data where possible to make better business decisions.