The Higher Purpose of Supply Chain Management
My wife’s phone rang as we were driving home from the restaurant. I turned off the music and the kids had gone quiet as she answered the phone. It was a distraught mother at the other end of the line. She was nervous and was calling about her toddler’s fever that would not go down. My wife talked to her in a calm voice, told her what she needs to do for the night to keep the fever under control, and advised the mother to bring her toddler to the clinic the next morning. With her nervousness abating, the mother profusely thanked her and hung up. As a parent of young children myself, I can very much appreciate the difference a physician, like my wife, makes in the community. As we reached home, I retired into my study and picked up the Ken Follett thriller where I left off. I was trying to read, but the thought kept running through my head. Yes, both my wife and I are career-minded professionals. We both are in our professions to be successful, make money, and enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer. But is there a higher purpose to what we do? There certainly is a higher purpose to what my wife is doing. One wellness visit, one infection cured, one disease diagnosed at a time, she is making a difference. The results are very tangible. But what about supply chain management professionals like me? Is there a higher purpose to what we do as executives, consultants, planners, or technology providers? As I pondered upon this topic, the answer turned out to be a resounding yes. Here are few examples of how supply chain management professionals make a difference in the world:
- We deliver products that save lives: Some of the organizations my company partners with to solve their supply chain problems manufacture lifesaving drugs for rare diseases. The men and women in these organizations make decisions every day to plan, make, and deliver drugs to those in need.
There are times when they run into challenges such as a bioreactor contamination or a customs clearance hold up. Then they need to respond rapidly and decide how to allocate the short supply of medication to ensure the patient’s needs are met, all in the context of the regulatory environment that life sciences companies operate under. A drug not delivered on time or an order misplaced could be life or death for a patient. Yes, we in supply chain make life saving decisions very frequently. Perhaps, not unlike a physician.
- We deliver smiles and surprises: Do you know of a child or a loved one who waits until last minute to ask Santa for her wishes? If you are like most people, the answer in all likelihood is yes. How do you think Santa is able to deliver the goods with just a day or two lead time? The supply chain professionals are the elves behind the scenes ensuring the orders get delivered, one parcel at a time. Think of the order processing, picking, packing, and shipping that is involved behind the scenes while ensuring the orders get to the right place at the right time in the right quantity. Yes, Santa has a big job delivering, but there is a complex machinery called supply chain management that is behind the scenes, delivering surprises and smiles to millions!
- We keep the earth clean: By understanding the consumption behaviors and demand signals, we process the right amount of materials and produce the right quantity of the product when needed (Just in Time, anyone?). By doing this, we save energy and water. We lower carbon emissions by helping optimize transportation, one truckload and one route at a time. We minimize wastage by reducing obsolete or unused inventory and maximizing shelf life of the product. This in turn reduces the burden on the world’s landfills. We make the environment more sustainable by conserving the natural resources for many more generations to come.
- We are the gears that turn the economic wheel: Supply chain professionals across industries plan and execute to effectively utilize the manufacturing and distribution assets, to efficiently procure by ensuring global visibility of procurement needs, and to maximize productivity of the people involved while minimizing the organizational stress in the face of rising complexity and volatility. These are men and women who turn their company’s supply chains into the efficient operations that contribute to the broader economic activity and wealth creation.
I was jolted out of my thoughts as my eight-year-old walked into my study. “Dad…. You need to help me with this homework assignment”, he said as he placed a sheet titled “Jobs we do” in front of me. The instructions said to complete the questionnaire with a parent’s help. He read the first question: “What is your profession?” I said, “Supply chain management”, and he noted my answer on his paper. Then came the next question: “Explain what people do in your profession”. I took a pause and answered, with a twinkle in my eye and pride in my voice, “We make the world a better place one production order, one shipment, and one delivery at a time!”