Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Buyer Beware... of Anchoring!

Sitting tonight watching the news and the topic was the "after Christmas sales".  The story, of course, made me think of transportation but let me digress and tell you what I saw.

The reporter interviewed a young lady at a Chicago mall who was just thrilled with her new purchase.  I paraphrase and here is how the conversation went:
Girl: "I went into a store and the boots were 'regular $900'. I got 50% off, then I got xx% for something I did, then another xx% for opening a credit card... " (you get the idea) "I got a $900 pair of boots for $125!"
Reporter:  "Wow, you did great.  You must be real happy"
Girl: {giggling}: "Yes, I am a very happy girl"
Of course, somewhere there is a merchandiser who popped the champagne bottle and wasn't just giggling but was laughing out loud.  They had anchored the girl and anchored her good.

What never crossed the girl's mind, nor the reporter's mind apparently, is the fact that the boots may have only been worth $5.00.  How do they know?  Why was $125 a "deal?  The answer is simply that they have no idea whether it was a deal or not except in the relative terms to the "retail" price of $900.  The retailer and their all powerful merchandisers had anchored the discussion.  The consumer, the girl in this case, was set up by the merchandiser because they were able to get her to reference her thoughts around the $900.  Anything less than that was a "deal" and certainly $125 was a "steal".

It never occurred to her that the boots were probably made in a factory in Vietnam and cost the company selling them about $5.00 to make.

How does this relate to transportation you ask?  I say: beware of industry "anchoring".   It is that time of year now when the transportation industry executives and the so called "independent" analysts will come out with predictions on what will happen with rates for next year.  They will say "be ready for capacity crunches" and "be ready for at least 5% increases" and they are doing nothing more than, as an industry, anchoring, as a group,  the entire transportation buying community.  By establishing these expectations as "the truth" and giving buyers reasonable cover with what appears to be scholarly articles to reference, the industry establishes "greater than 5%" as the anchor.  Anything less than that appears to be a "deal" and occurs due to the great procurement skill of a buyer somewhere.

I can see the conversations in board rooms now:
Executive: "Mrs. Logistician,  how did you do this year"?
Mrs. Logistician: "Great!  The industry was going to go up over 5% and we were able to hold the increases at our company to 3%"
Executive: " That is great Mrs. Logistician.  You beat the market!  Fantastic!
Mrs. Logistician gets a great bonus and off she goes to Maui for vacation..
Or.. the conversation could end with the Executive asking this:
Executive: "Mrs. Logistician.  How do you know 5% is the right expectation?  The macro economic conditions don't seem to warrant it and with the changes in freight, the lower freight demand, and the fact that we are a very large shipper lead me to believe that you should have actually experienced a rate decrease this year. Shouldn't you have?"
Mrs. Logistician: Gulp!  She wonders if she will ever get to go to Maui!
What the executive did not do is she did not fall for the industry anchoring.  The executive built her expectations from the ground up.  She ignored the arbitrary industry expectation of 5% and started at 0 and then applied good macro and micro economic analysis to build her own expectation.  And, her own was far lower than where the industry tried to anchor her.

The critical lesson here for both the girl buying the boots and the transportation procurement professional is do not fall for anchoring.  Do not allow the industry to set the expectation.  Ignore these predictions and build, from the ground up, what the status and situation is for your own company, your own freight with its own characteristics  what your current pricing situation is etc. etc.  From that you should be able to develop what a very good expectation is for this year, for your situation and many of you will find it is dramatically below what where the industry will try to anchor you.

Holiday Sales Disappoint - Leading to Inventory Issues?

First, Merry Christmas and my wishes for a very happy holiday season.  Regardless of what you celebrate at this time of the year the messages all are the same: Happiness to all of you and your families!

Unfortunately, it was not a happy retailing holiday season.  As ABC and others are reporting, holiday sales have disappointed and have actually had the lowest year over year increase since 2008.  That is a haunting statistic yet not one my readers would be surprised about.  The impact on transportation can be summed up in two words: Excess Inventory.

Normally, after the holiday season the transportation industry prays for an "inventory restocking" cycle. However given the dismal sales, and the fact inventories were already elevated (as measured by the inventory to sales ratio), my estimation is the restocking cycle will not even be noticeable.   Transportation rates will remain somewhat depressed and my predictions of the transportation industry continue to hold:  
  1. Rates are somewhat elevated (relative to the true capacity and demand picture) and the buyer who holds their ground should be able to negotiate good contracted rates.
  2. The buyer needs not "fear" the capacity issue (which has been discussed since about 1980) until deep into 2013 at the earliest. 
  3. Great rates favor those who do their homework, understand these macro trends, and are prepared to discuss them at "the table".
Going into last year, FTR predicted a potential for a 10% increase in rates which was very far off the mark.  I saw some "panic buying" (i.e, shippers accepting large increases using this prediction as justification). Going into this year we continue to hear "this is the year of the capacity crunch" and while shipping conditions are "benign", "shippers can expect to see increases in 2013" (again, have heard that since 1980).  However, the macro economic data, along with the data around the digitization and miniaturization of products, leads me to believe demand is being pulled faster than capacity and shipping conditions will favor the shipper for the vast majority of 2013.

Update 12/26/2012 10:15AM: More reports of slow holiday sales: "This Was Definitely Not A Merry Christmas for Retail" - Business Insider

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And A Third Set of Predictions....

I bring you yet another set of predictions concerning supply chain for 2013.  Adrian has a fantastic track record for seeing into the future so I would pay attention to this.  I will not give the excruciating details as you really should go over to the posting "Supply Chain and Logistics Predictions for 2013" at Logistics Viewpoints.  Here is the summary:

  1. Big Data, Social Media, Cloud Computing, and Mobile Technologies will continue to dominate the headlines
  2. User Interfaces for Supply Chain Apps Will Get a Social Makeover.
  3. “Siri” Comes to Enterprise Apps.
  4. The Robots Keep Coming.
  5. Continued Focus by Retailers and Service Providers on Innovating the Final Mile.
  6. Further Blurring of the Lines Between 3PLs, Tech Providers, and Consultants
  7.  Increased Adoption of Alternative Fuel Vehicles.
  8. More Programs and Partnerships to Address the Talent Shortage Problem
The themes continue to remain similar except Adrian clearly has a social bent to his ideas which I highlighted in an earlier post.  I can't imagine any of these predictions being too far off the mark. 

Yet, Even More Supply Chain Predictions

It is that time of year again when the supply chain (and other) predictions come out.  The really smart people keep them broad enough so, like a fortune teller, they cannot possibly be wrong which is why I do not necessarily believe in this type of crystal ball.  However, as I said in my previous post on the IDC predictions, it is good to get all this into one area so as you build your 3-5 year strategies, you can incorporate these broad directional ideas.

Today, we get a guest column on from Mark Woodward who is the CEO of E2Open, entitled: 5 Supply Chain Predictions for 2013, The Year of The Network. Given he is a CEO of supply chain technology firm, you can expect his predictions to be both centered around technology and offering up technology as solutions to problems.  Nevertheless, this is a very good list and I reprint it here with some of my thoughts:

  1. Fast Data Will Become The New Big Data -   I know I promised not to use the term "Big Data" anymore as it has become the most overused term in the fastest amount of time of any business buzzword I know.  However this is an interesting twist which is big and fast are critical elements of a successful data management plan.  The speed with which you share and collaborate using accurate data is at least as important (and maybe more) as just the shear volume of data.
  2. The "Social Supply Chain" Will Transform How We Work - Don't confuse your view of "social media" (i.e., your experience with your kids on Facebook) with the social supply chain.  The social supply chain, as written about extensively by Adrian Gonzales (Quickly becoming "the" expert on this topic and wrote this great blog post about why companies were not using social media in their supply chain) is about open collaboration, problem solving and open source dialogue about issues relating to supply chains.  As stated in this article, demand sensing is really part of the idea of the social supply chain.

    The one concern here is if companies really do compete on supply chain efficiency as much as they do on the product then we have to ask ourselves how far collaboration will really go in the open social world.  Some firms, like Apple, which consistently get high remarks for their supply chain efficiency are notorious for being closed up like a vault when it comes to collaboration and sharing outside of their own supply chain ecosystem.  A quick posting on this idea of companies competing on supply chains can be found here at: Businesses Don't Compete: Supply Chains Compete.
  3. Supply Chain Control Towers Will Transition from Concept to Adoption - This I completely agree with and the time is now for this type of operation.  Control towers are a requirement for really dynamic supply chains to adjust to ever changing market and environmental conditions.

    This does not have to be a complicated IT solution either.  A great control tower, using lean methods and the idea of visual management can consist of white boards, manual tracking and the use of forward indicators of data.
  4. Dynamic Cost Will Transform Decision Making - The idea of a static standard cost which gets adjusted once per year is dead.  It is a relic of times gone past when that was all our systems could handle.  Costs and the macro economic environment change far to frequently and quickly to allow you to not have accurate, fast and transparent costs into your supply chain. Transparency of costs is critical to accurate decision making.  The next time a supply chain partner tells you that you do not have to worry about this I suggest you hold on to your wallet.  A true partner would want accurate and transparent cost data so you can make the right decisions quickly and accurately (notice the them on costing:  Fast, Transparent and Accurate).
  5. Risk Management Will Move From Static to Dynamic - I have written about risk and resiliency a lot recently so I will not rehash it here however suffice it to say the same theme applies in terms of dynamic, fast and transparent.  
As with other predictions, I am not sure if "this is the year for... " or not, however the ideas set forth by Mr. Woodward are fantastic and clearly the ideas all supply chain executives should be thinking about and balancing as they work towards transforming their supply chains to meet 21st century challenges. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Math Behind Tracking Packages - Marketplace, NPR

NPR does a very good podcast on the "math behind the packages".  A very fascinating quick story on how the "quants" are taking over logistics as well as finance.  Being able to develop mathematical algorithms is critical to UPS' mapping success.  Their mapping success is critical to the efficient routing of drivers.

Have a listen and enjoy:

Lessons From for Same Day Delivery

Yes, it is true if you live long enough what is old will be new again.  This, of course, is the situation as it relates to the so called same day delivery wars.  I have mentioned over and over again that I am very skeptical of this beyond being a marketing hype ploy as the density needed (low miles per stop and high number of packages per stop) is virtually unachievable except in very dense cities.  And, of course, in those cities "couriers" have been around a long time so same day delivery is not new.

Now even our friends at the Wharton School of Business have weighed in on this by analyzing what went wrong in the late '90s with Kozmo in a posting entitled " Same Day Delivery: This Time it May Actually Work" - an organization dedicated to same day delivery which went out in a flash of glory - and why this time it may be different.  The basis of this argument?  It is all about density.

The issues remain and the questions continue to go unanswered in my humble opinion.  Some of them are:

  1. How will you get the density?
  2. How will you overcome the high costs of fuel?
  3. Will this really generate incremental sales?
  4. What happens when this becomes "an expectation"?  
  5. Will this be given away for free and ultimately put pressure on margins?
  6. Do people even want it (beyond the procrastinators who are probably not your best customers)?
The answer to number 6 equates to the idea of sticking a knife in a horse to get one last gallop out of it before you run it to death (i.e., What Kris Kristofferson does in True Grit).  Every retailer is fighting over that last incremental dollar as if it will make or break them.  My analysis suggests the amount of money spent to get that very last dollar of revenue probably is not worth it however that is what they are doing as a crowd.  They want that last dollar and appear to be ready to spend a fortune to get it.  

In my next posting on Same Day Delivery, I will propose a solution to this issue and we shall see what they think. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

IDC 2013 Supply Chain Predictions

Last night I sat through the archived broadcast of the 2013 supply chain predictions for manufacturers from IDC.  While it is a little bit of "mom, Country and apple pie" I do think it was a very good presentation as it summarized almost all the key supply chain challenges in one spot.  I would not say this was a "2013" prediction but rather a good primer on what supply chains always have to deal with and what should be in your playbook.  Some years one will be prioritized over another (for example they believe responsiveness and service will override cost in the year ahead) but overall these are the items you are always reviewing as you develop both tactical and strategic plans.

Here are the top 10 as they see it:

  1. Resiliency becomes a priority for end users looking to master massive multidimensionality. 
    • Prioritize flexibility, visibility and agility
    • Mastering this will require you to deal with massive amounts of data. 
  2. On the supply side of your supply chain, recognizing inherent cost of long lead times, end users will look at global networks through the lens of both regional and country level sourcing. 
    • Finally companies will quantify the effect of long lead times. 
    • Trade offs will be made - Most effective sourcing will take over from "low cost" sourcing as companies build tools to quantify the true costs of these activities [ this bullet is my commentary].
  3. On the demand side of supply chain, recognizing the need for better service levels and mass customization, end users look again to postponement techniques and data analytics to drive more effective customer insights and smarter fulfillment. 
  4. End user IT organizations must support a more productive supply chain ecosystem.
  5. Service excellence becomes a strategic priority. 
  6. Supply chains optimize omnichannel customer service and cost by enabling trustworthy, efficient and effective supply chains (TEE). 
    • The consumer will demand value and trustworthiness (right product, right time, right place, right value).
  7. End user supply chains focus efforts to improve collaboration both upstream with suppliers and downstream with customers to better compete in a faster world. 
    • Sales and operations planning (S&OP) collaboration will be critical [ my commentary]
    • Technology to bind business partners together and to facilitate the flow of information [ my commentary] will also be critical.
  8. The modern supply chain gets smarter
    • Integration
    • Optimization
    • Embedded analytics
  9. Supply chains invest in technologies that enable visibility, virtualization, and visualization
  10. The 'Big Data' era draws dawns for supply chain organizations (what prediction would be complete without mentioning "big data" - my comment)
Those are the 10 and most will say this is what I do all the time as we always are trying to figure out the perfect mix of all of these things.  I would agree.  However, it was very helpful to get it all in one spot and perhaps use a maturity model to rate your supply chain - where are you on each of these dimensions and how important is that dimension to your organization.  

Once you draw that out graphically you can then socialize it in your company and begin drawing out what your 3 - 5 year strategy will look like along with what tactics you may use next year.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Do You Have a Supply Chain or a Spiderweb?

This question was recently asked by Zurich's "Risk Engineers" and I think it is a fascinating question.  The metaphor we are all familiar with, the "supply chain" connotes a nice set of interlocking rings, probably made of steel, and that are perfectly aligned.  It brings to mind a very planned and organized way to get from point "a" (raw materials) to point "b" (finished goods) to point "z" (The consumer).  We all know the problems recently experienced from hurricane Sandy however this study clearly indicates the issue is deeper and more broader than just a freak storm.

Reality is, unfortunately, many are spiderwebs.  Not made in any particular order, overlapping and easily disrupted with the swat of a hand.  Zurich believes 2013 is the year companies better take managing, or at least mapping, this web a bit more seriously.  A few key statistics:

  • 73% of respondents to a survey in 2011 reported at least one supply disruption; 50% reported two. 
  • 40% of those who experience extended disruptions eventually go out of business.
  • The leading cause of disruptions is IT or telecommunications. 52% saw some or a high level of disruption from these issues. 
  • One in five companies said they had one instance where they incurred at least $161M in damages
I had an opportunity many years ago to meet with the people of Zurich about this topic in New York City.  At that time it was an "interesting"topic but not much more.  Today, it is critical.  Terrorism, global warming, reliance on sophisticated telecommunications networks, "just in time" (i.e., lack of buffer stocks) and the web of globalization has not only made the likelihood of a disruption more probable but the consequences of it far more severe. 

Their solution is at least to start mapping out your supply chain through tier 2 and rate it based on likelihood of disruption, financial stability and physical stability.  From there I imagine you can create significant contingency plans to at least have a fighting chance at keeping your business running.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Inventory to Sales Ratio Tells a Grim Story

As my readers know I follow this very closely as this ratio tells us whether product is "backing up" in the supply chain or flowing as it should from manufacturer to consumer.  We are already hearing anecdotes of sales not being where they should be for the holidays, slow movements of imports, extended automotive shutdowns and now this... the inventories in the pipeline relative to sales are growing:

Inventory to Sales - Published 12/11/2012

The slope of the line looks very ominous and it certainly looks like it did back in the 2006 time frame.  Of course, we came out of that but only for a short period before we had a collapse.  This clearly leads us to believe freight will be very soft for Q1 and perhaps into Q2 as companies execute the "final mile" by selling what is inventory but not restocking until these inventories get back to normal. 

Some may look back into the '90's and say "we have a long way to go before we get to those levels". To this I say retailers and manufacturers learned their lesson during the "great recession" and I would not anticipate ever going back to those levels of inventory (At least until those who lived through the great recession die off then the new younger hip crowd says "this time is different" and go back to it - it is a generational cycle).

This data, along with the idea that we will have extended automotive shutdowns (at least with GM on the Cruze line) leads me to believe my prediction for soft freight in the first half of the year is very reasonable.  

As always, I hope I am wrong however I truly just let the data speak.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Where Reverse Logistics and Sustainability Meet

We all know the technical reasons for reverse logistics and at this point in the season many retailers loathe it.  Product is returned, packaging is just thrown into landfills and old product is thrown in the garbage in favor of the new and fancier version.  This is both a reverse logistics and a sustainability nightmare.

What is worse is a lot of the garbage created ends up in the ocean.  There are floating patches of man made waste all over the ocean and it just sits out there generally making a mess of things.

Well, fret no more as one of the most forward thinking and sustainable companies on the planet, Method, has come to the rescue.  According to both their website and this article in the Mother Nature Network Method has devised a way to take that post consumer use ocean garbage and re-purpose it to make the bottles for their 2 in 1 hand soap / dish wash soap.  What a great idea.  by using this product you will accomplish three things:

  • Get a great soap (Yes, I use Method and love it)
  • Help to clean the oceans
  • Eliminate waste in the creation of new plastic bottles which are unneeded since we as humans have provided patches of the old stuff ready for use. 
It is very rare you can accomplish all of this in one purchase. Yes, recycling what we throw away is part of reverse logistics. 

What are you doing for your personal sustainability initiative today?

Exporting Natural Gas - No Cheap gas Part deux

I wrote back in the beginning of November that we can expect an abundance of domestic oil and gas but not low price oil and gas.  I said this because what the candidates refused to say was that while it is abundant the fact it all can be exported means it will almost always stay around the world price for oil and gas.  My thesis was if the price in the US just became too cheap all of it would be exported.

I hate it when the facts prove this out.

Today in the Wall Street Journal there is an article titled "US Gas Exports Clear Hurdle" and it is  talking about a Government study which said was good for the economy if we "liquefied and exported" natural gas.  Voila.. your "cheap domestic source of energy" has just evaporated into a world price domestic source of energy.  So, those expecting a great amount of domestic energy and all the good things that come with this should be happy.

Those who expected "cheap" energy will be disappointed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

McDonalds - No Product Out of Stock - Ever!

I like it when a company knows and understands its core principles relative to the supply chain.  I see so many companies make the mistake of trying to develop a culture where everyone can suggest trade-offs.  When that happens then everyone has a great idea on what should come first, second and third in terms of priority.

In this article titled, McDonalds Wants to Be Assured of Delivery, the McDonalds Director of Global Supply Chain Integration and Logistics, Alex Bahr makes it pretty clear that first and foremost nothing can be out of stock - ever.  And, it is for a very simple reason: efficiency of the restaurants. He states:
"A typical McDrive needs to be able to handle 120 cars per hour in Europe, and as many as 150 to 160 cars per hour in the US. That leaves us no time to suggest alternatives if a product is out of stock."
I believe more supply chains need to be just this blunt on what the priorities are.  I once worked in automotive service parts where the objective was 80% of last nights orders are delivered by 10:00am the next day and the remaining 20% were delivered by the end of the day.  This was a "non-negotiable" standard and any cost cutting project had to be done in the context of this objective.  An idea which said we could save $xx dollars if we pushed delivery out a day was rejected immediately.

Clarity brings simplicity and unity of purpose for a team.  Are your supply chain objectives this clear?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Discussion at Michigan State

I had the pleasure of speaking to the Broad China Business Society this past Friday concerning my thoughts on where global logistics is headed, what are the big issues or mega-trends and what are some of the things we logisticians can do to solve these issues.  I first want to thank the group for inviting me and say how incredibly impressed I was with the leadership and the membership of this group.  All incredibly intelligent students and it makes me feel really positive about our future.  With these students as leaders, the world is in good hands.

After showing the state of our industry as measured by efficiency and quantity of goods (the state is healthy but has some challenges) I then went into 5 major challenges:

  1. The continued rapid explosion of global trade
  2. The evolving infrastructure issues around the world
  3. Global security issues - this deals with supply chain disruption for any reason
  4. Global climate and sustainability issues
  5. The "war" for talent and the need for great talent in our industry. 
While I will not go into this in depth here I do believe all of these issues are issues the logistician and the supply chain professional will need to study and deal with over the next 10 - 20 years.  Each person will have to evaluate these areas relative to the industry they are in, the goals and objectives of their business and their business' current situation.  

I warn people - there are not one size fits all solutions to these issues.  What works for a CPG company may not work in consumer durables.  Again, the tough work of detailed analysis in your own business must be done to determine where you will take your strategy. 

I also caution people to reevaluate these periodically.  While these trends will stay with us the severity of each one may change which may change your prioritization of what to work on.  

The discussion was almost an hour long so the details are beyond the scope of a blog.  Thank you again to Michigan State University and I hope to do this again soon!

Is The Apple Supply Chain in Trouble?

Forbes is questioning the efficiency of the Apple supply chain now that Tim Cook is running the company and not just the supply chain and operations.  I think this is a bit of a stretch and also a bit of hype as everyone tries to find issues with the leader.  I doubt very much if anything substantively has improved or devolved since Tim Cook took over the entire company - things don't "rust" that fast.

The future will tell however I would hate to be part of the millions of people who have counted Apple down for the count more than once.  It is a great company and will be for quite some time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cap and Trade Has Come To Be in California

Consider it a birthday of sorts.  Yesterday, California launched their first "Cap and Trade" market by auctioning off allowances in the California Carbon market.  This, while just being California, actually becomes the world's second largest carbon market right behind all of the European Union.

While right now it essentially only applies to major refineries and electric plants the day is coming when it will apply to transportation fuels.  My personal recommendation is the industry should get prepared to deal with this inevitability rather than fight it.  Politics aside, what we have found is what generally starts with the California Air Resource Board (CARB) moves across the Nation fairly quickly.

The Wall Street Journal reports on this launching and reports California expects to raise $1bl in 2012 and $2.8 to $11bl by 2015.  A critical factor for success is we have to ensure this money goes to actually reducing emissions or offset projects rather than the general coffers of the state.  If we can avoid the "money grab" then this will be a very effective way to use market incentives to lower emissions.

 According the the California auction site, the results will be listed on November 19, 2012. Auction information can be found at the CARB auction site.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Speaking at Michigan State

If any readers are near Michigan State this Friday, I am keynoting at the Broad China Supply Chain Forum.  My topic will be on The Current and Future State of Global Logistics.  I will also be on a panel concerning sustainability.

Stop by and say hi!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oil Independence? Yes - "Cheap" Oil? - No

I have written about this before because I feel the headlines are misleading for those in energy intensive industries such as transportation.  The headlines talk about energy independence and energy dominance and the underlying assumption by most is this will translate into low cost oil.  This could not be further from the case.

We will continue to have high priced oil and the IEA in the same report where they said the US will be the dominant producer of oil also said you can expect oil priced at $125 per barrel (inflation Adjusted).  Oil is a global  commodity and therefore will settle on global prices.  The Wall Street Journal in an article entitled "Don't Expect Lower Oil Prices Even As US Output Surges" quotes the report by saying:
"But oil prices, the IEA said, will continue to rise, hitting $125 per barrel in inflation-adjusted terms — more than $215 per barrel in nominal terms — by 2035. U.S. consumers, the agency makes clear, won’t be shielded from those price increases, even if the country doesn’t import a drop of foreign oil."
The report goes on to say:
"Oil is a global commodity. What matters for prices is total supply and total demand — not where the oil is produced or consumed. That means that even if the U.S. relied only on domestically produced oil, prices would still be dictated by global market forces."
 Oil prices are based on global supply and demand and oil is very easily exported.  As soon as there is a big enough price differential where traders can make money in arbitrage they will export the oil. The graph below shows the predictions by the IEA:

So, the conclusion is clear... The US will be a large oil producer AND you will still be paying $3.00 - $4.00 in adjusted dollars per gallon.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

An Interesting Post On Value of Supply Chain MBA

20 years ago "plus" when I started in this industry I would not have even been able to tell you where to get a "supply chain MBA".  Usually it was finance or operations research degrees who somehow meandered into this field.

This is not true anymore and this blog post from "The Strategic Sourceror" explains why.

EU Freezes Carbon Charge on Airlines

Many know the EU was going to charge a carbon emissions charge on any airline flying in the EU airspace - this included foreign airlines.  Of course, this caused a furor in international relations and the US actually passed legislation (prior to the election) preventing US flagged air carriers from implementing this charge.

Now, the EU has agreed to "freeze" this for a year.  This is an interesting development and one which I am sure is designed to bring "peace".  I am just not sure what they are waiting on?  What will really be different next year than this year?

Bill Graves on Fox Business

Bill Graves, the head of the American Trucking Association (ATA) does a nice job on Fox Business discussing the impact of Sandy, the readiness of the transport industry and the future of the industry.

I found it fascinating that he believes we will "slog along" until Q3 of 2013.  I think this was about as direct as I have heard an industry leader speak about the "flat lining" of the transportation industry recently.

U.S. Overtakes Saudi Arabia in Oil Production by 2030 - IEA

This is a fascinating statement and it shows how disruptive technology (i.e, the ability to extract tight oil and shale oil / gas) will really turn the world energy markets on their head.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has two reports out.  The first (as reported by Bloomberg) describes how the US will overtake Saudi Arabia in oil production.  Some interesting statistics:

  • Last Month Saudi Arabia pumped 9.8 million barrels per day; The US 6.7 million - very close. 
  • US production this year will be highest since 1991.
  • 83% of the US domestic oil needs were met with domestic oil supplies in the first 6 months of 2012. 
The second report (again as reported by Bloomberg) tells us by 2030 natural gas will be the predominant source of energy in the United States as it will be plentiful and cheap.  Both of these are incredible developments given just a few years ago people were talking about "Peak Oil".

I will add a bit of commentary on sustainable practices.  I hope we as a country are wise enough to see these developments as incredible luck which gives us time to move to a more sustainable way to power our economy.  If we use this as a way to get "cheap energy": which then makes the business case for sustainable energy not economically viable then we will have squandered a huge opportunity.  

Also, as I have stated before, do not confuse "energy independence" with "cheap oil".  The oil prices will almost always be at world levels because if they are not then the energy will simply be exported rather than consumed in the US. 

The impact on transportation will be clear:
  • Oil supplies abundant
  • Oil prices at world levels (i.e., no "cheap oil")
  • Movement to natural gas will continue. 

A Good After Action Review (AAR) for Logistics Companies Post Sandy

A neat article in Reuters today titled "Transport, Logistics Weather Sandy Well Despite Glitches" calls out the great work the trucking and logistics industry is doing in Sandy.  Specifically, the good news is the industry learned from Katrina and has developed very good playbooks to deal with big storms and natural disasters:
"Freight transportation company triage playbooks have been evolving with a series of disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
 By the time Sandy hit, trucking and logistics companies had topped off gas tanks, bought or rented back-up generators to power distribution and fueling centers, and shipped relief and manufacturing supplies to the Northeast that customers would need after the storm. During the storm and in the days after, these companies and East Coast railroads diverted shipments away from the hardest-hit areas and found alternative delivery options for customers"
This is good news as we know these disasters will not only increase with frequency but also with severity and the fact the industry is preparing for them is a great service to the US.

On Veterans day, we thank all the veterans who have served this Nation.  I would also say if companies are preparing to work in disaster stricken areas there is no better person to lead these efforts than a veteran.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rail Volume for Week 44 Down - Hurricane Sandy

Association of American Railroads released week 44 on Thursday and as expected volumes were down significantly.  However, anyone who graphs and analyzes this data closely will need to asterisk this week forever as Hurricane Sandy drove most of it.

The data shows a 4.8% decrease in container traffic versus week 44 of 2011.  This can only be explained by the Hurricane and embargo of certain locations.  Container traffic through week 44 increased 5.6% for the year showing the increased volumes will continue and, as expected, trailer traffic on the rails continues its decline in favor of the more efficient COFC.

Overall ton miles are down both for the week and for the year and the driving factor for this is Coal.  Coal is down substantially and while petroleum products are up due to all the shale oil it is not enough, on a ton mile basis, to offset the decrease in coal.

The story continues to unfold despite the blip due to Sandy:

  • COFC is up
  • TOFC is down
  • Overall ton miles are down
  • Coal down
  • Petroleum up dramatically. 

Cap and Trade Launches in California

It is finally here in the United States with California launching their carbon market on November 14th.  On November 14th, California Air Resource Board (CARB) will launch the selling of 21.8 million carbon allowances to be bought by stationary carbon emitters (plants, utilities etc.).  Distributors of transportation fuels and natural gas will come in 2015.  

This offset mechanism is supposed to have the desired effect of putting a market mechanism in place which will allow rules of economics to force companies to either lower their carbon emissions or pay a price.  Presumably, the price will get high enough where there can be business cases made to implement new technologies or new conservation programs which will drive down the emission of green house gases.  The ultimate goal is to get CO2 down to 1990 levels even with presumed growth of the economy.  

To give an idea of the pricing mechanism below is a graph from Point Carbon which reflects the prices, per metric tonne, of CO2 allowances currently trading in the very illiquid California market. 
Source: Point Carbon
You can see the carbon allowances are trading on the low end of the scale.  The point of injecting the allowances by the state is to give a shot of liquidity to the market to get the market functioning better.  Best estimates are they will sell for between $10 - $12 per metric tonne and we will see on November 14th how it all pans out. 

This mechanism is similar to the European market already in place and this will make the California market the 2d largest market in the world. 

Like it or not, I think the evidence is clear:  1) CO2 is causing climate change. 2) Human activity is producing excess CO2 3) We must reduce CO2.   Given all of this using rules of economics to create a market which "prices" bad environmental behavior is the right way to go.  People will either have to pay the price and continue the bad behavior (that money would be used by others to clean up after the bad behavior person) or they will use the economics to create business cases to create projects to fix / lower their carbon emissions.  

The issue here of course is anytime the government creates a "currency" out of thin air their is huge opportunity for abuse.  However, there are mechanisms to solve that abuse potential, or at least make it not in their best interest to execute the potential corruption, and those mechanisms should be researched, implemented then fine tuned before we decide to end what will be a great program. 

Of course, this will come with the obligatory law suits on both sides so we will wait and see how this all turns out.  Bottom Line: If you are a transportation provider or transportation user you should watch this closely because in 2015 it will impact your business.  You will be participating either directly or indirectly. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

XPO Logistics - Insane Growth?

I just read a great article on XPO logistics which is growing their brokerage business very dramatically. I have been close to this company since it was just Express-1 and the leadership had the foresight to see the potential growth in brokerage.  They started this business at exactly the right time and now it is the fastest growing part of the business.

As you can see from the graph below (Source: Seeking Alpha) the revenues from brokerage are really taking off.  The other key point I draw from this graph is they have a really nice mix of business.

XPO Logistics
I think this is a company to watch very closely and it is at a major point.  They clearly have shown they have the capability to bring in acquisitions and grow the revenue.  Like most companies in a major growth period they are losing money but I do believe in the leadership and the strategy of the company.  

As a shipper, I have always loved doing business with companies in this sweet spot.  Big enough to do what I need them to do, they are willing to invest and yet they are small enough that you are a big player in their portfolio.  You generally get much better attention and you have the ability to be a core customer regardless of size. 

I could be wrong but I had the same feeling about Coyote Logistics when it was much smaller and so my intuition tends to be pretty good on these things.  Watch XPO.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Logistics of Fuel in Post Sandy

I recently read a quote from Boone Pickens where he said there was plenty of fuel but no electricity to pump it. I remember in the Army we had "retail tankers" which could fuel up retail trucks and cars ( and tanks) right from the tankers.

I wonder why we don't have this capability as part of homeland security? Seems this would be core to what is needed during extended times of power outages for whatever reason.

I hope we involve experienced logisticians in a detailed and non emotional review of what can be done to mitigate suffering in the future.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Add Google To The Same Day Delivery Frontier

I have blogged a few times on what appears to be a growing number of companies interested in executing same day delivery.  At, Adrian Gonzalaz tells us to add Google to the list of those who want to try their hand at this.

I understand the push and I understand in large dense cities this may be something people want and will pay for.  Other than that, I am not sure the value in this.

Good Discussion of Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

I found this a very enlightening and exciting presentation relative to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.  Clearly they have a plan and are executing against it.

"The Logistics Failures Will Not Be Repeated" - Part Two

Note:  This is Part 2 of a Two Part Series Concerning Logistics Lessons Learned in The Israeli National Defense Forces (IDF).  You can read Part 1 here. 

This entry deals with an article I read which discussed the logistics failures of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the last Lebanon War.  I felt the article really applied to what I see as a common business cycle where a business sees success then begins feeling certain elements are not "core" to the business and logistics almost always becomes one of those items.  The business sheds / outsources / under invests in the logistics centers. Inevitably, something happens where logistics becomes a necessary requirement and the company finds out they no longer have the capabilities which they had originally and which may have actually been core to the success.  

Having been caught flat footed the business rushes to reinvest and the cycle starts all over again.  

The IDF found themselves executing this same cycle.  Prior to the Second Lebanon war they had stopped investment and training in the logistics forces, they were not seen as core and their capabilities atrophied to dangerous levels.  Once they went into Lebanon and the IDF literally had soldiers dying of thirst they realized how wrong they were.  This part of my two part article (Again, you can read part 1 here ) discusses the solutions. 

The first item they had to fix was the competency of the forces in terms of both training and equipment.  Due to under investment the logistics forces were the last to get equipment and the last to be invested in for training.  This was fixed and the "competency" level was raised to above 90%.  

A second and very interesting development was the organizational structure they adopted as a result of the learnings during the second Lebanon War.  The reorganization is described:
"Most importantly, following the war, the Logistics Corps was removed from the responsibility of the Ground Forces Branch (to which it had been subordinate a short while before) and once again, became subordinate to the GHQ Logistics Directorate. In addition, we established unified responsibility in the field of logistics – from the GHQ to the level of the individual soldier"
What they found was when the logistics corp was subordinate to the operational forces (ground forces) they were almost always going to be ignored or at the most they would receive just minor investments as they would always be considered "non-core".

In business we see this all the time in organizations where logistics is subordinate to a brand or a commercial part of the business.  Yes, there are great examples of enlightened marketing and commercial general managers who fully understand the competitive advantage of a great logistics team but mostly they under invest because they push all the money to brand, product development and advertising.  They develop a great product, generate huge demand but find their ability to move to market in a timely and efficient manner is limited. 

The IDF essentially bypassed this organization and had the Logistics Corps reporting to equally high levels in the organization. This sends the right signal to the commanders and not only gives logistics a "seat at the table" but actually makes them "equals"  at the table.  

Finally, the IDF established a policy whereby no plans for military action are created without detailed logistics plans built along side the war plans (read: Logistics plans built along side the commercial plans).  This made the ground commanders (read: Commercial General Managers) equally responsible for the logistics successes (and by default responsible for any failures) of an entire operation.  They stated:
"Beyond that, the logistics issue was incorporated in all IDF operational plans. Today, no plan is drawn and no exercise is conducted without fully incorporating logistics planning. During the Second Lebanon War, many IDF commanders did not consider logistic issues a part of their responsibility, mainly because they had become accustomed, over many years of low intensity combat operations in the territories, to a state where logistics support was delivered to them, all the way to the end units on the ground. Now, IDF commanders understand that as part of conducting combat operations, they must be responsible for logistic supplies on the ground, and that without logistics, their combat operations cannot be continued.”
Again, think how many businesses do not incorporate logistics into their overall product development plans or do not incorporate them early enough to matter.  When decisions are made in terms of size, channel distribution, packaging, final assembly etc is when logistics people should be at the table helping and providing input. I call this "Design for Logistics"™  Many times companies get the logistics group involved after all these decisions are made and find out they have developed a "Frankenproduct" which will clog existing logistics networks. 

Concluding Lessons:

There are so many lessons to be learned here by companies and here is my summary:

  1. Understand logistics is core to what you do and can provide competitive advantage if you properly invest. 
  2. Even if you outsource do not "throw it over the wall".  You need to manage and involved your outsourced partners as if they were part of your organization.
  3. Involve Logistics groups at the very beginning of the design and product development phase in a method I call "Design for Logistics"™
  4. Think about the organizational structure.  Whatever organizational structure you select ensure the leaders of logistics have equal say and are not subordinate to the commercial organization unless you are absolutely sure the commercial leader will not ignore or under invest in the logistics capabilities. 
  5. Invest in training and development of the logistics groups just as you do the commercial side.  
It seems these lessons have to be learned over and over again and it is good to reemphasize them.  Thank goodness lives are not on the line in business as they are in the military so the cost of not learning these lessons are only measured in dollars versus lives.  However, if a company is going to grow and prosper, they ignore these lessons at their own peril.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More on The Pickens Plan

Good interview with Boone Pickens about oil and oil independence.  I just warn all the readers that oil independence does not equate to cheap oil.  Oil and the refined products will always be priced at a world price.  If we get too cheap, it will just be exported.

I still think oil independence is something we should do.

ATA September Tonnage Report; AAR Rail Loadings

The ATA has issued their September tonnage report and the results are as expected - flat at best (increased.4% after an August decrease of .9%).  The most stunning statement in the report is:
"Compared with September 2011, the SA index was 2.4% higher, the smallest year-over-year increase since December 2009. Year-to-date, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 3.6%."
The smallest increase since 2009 is not a good story for the transportation industry.  Combine this with the fact that inventories are somewhat inflated - meaning no real inventory restocking is about to happen - and you realize this year ended very flat for freight and freight movements.  Of course, we have been seeing this all along in our "unofficial" indices which I use to gauge freight demand.  A couple of instructive trends to look at from the graph:
ATA 9/2012 Truck Tonnage Graph

Coming out of the recession you can see the truck tonnage rise but really since the beginning of 2012 it has flattened out substantially.  Further, there is a little blip at the end of 2011 which I believe was essentially a "fear trade".  A "fear trade" was the beginning of the industry pushing hard to put the "fear of God" into shippers telling them if they do not sign up for premium costs then "when the economy turns" the carrier will abandon their freight.   This worked (like all fear trades) for a very short period of time however ultimately rational economics took over and the results are what you see above.

Rail tells a bit of a different story and it is clear the migration from truck to intermodal is occurring at a fast pace.  Market share of intermodal v. truck has to be increasing as I personally believe it has become the preferred mode wherever it can be applied.  It used to be truck was preferred then people would "look at" intermodal and now I believe it is the exact reverse.  Logistics Management magazine said in interviews with shippers at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Conference - 2012 shippers where now calling intermodal the "go to" mode of freight.

AAR reports while carloads are decreasing in volume, intermodal (IM) is increasing for all major US railroads.  For week 42 (ending October 20, 2012) IM containers were up 6.1% yoy and 5.8% for the cumulative through week 42.  Trailer on Flat Car (TOFC) continues to show significant declines as the migration to containers continues.

Overall we are seeing a very flat freight market and one which shows no real signs of major pick up through the beginning of 2013. If GDP continues to rise at or around 2% and roughly 10% of that number is "non freight" (i.e., financial etc.) then we will see below 2% growth in freight for the foreseeable future.  This is far below the 3% most industry analysts believe is when the real "crunch" will occur.

Unless carriers decide to significantly shrink their business this will mean it will be far more about growing market share than it will be about grabbing more of a growing pie.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

More On Same Day "Delivery Wars"

My readers know I have been blogging about this, with thoughts on what will work, for almost a week now.  I started with a post asking whether Amazon awakened the sleeping giant of Wal-Mart and also wrote about the inherent advantages of scale and dispersion that the United States Post Office possesses in this space.

Note: to follow this story on my blog as it develops make sure to click on the tag: Same Day Delivery.

SCdigest has now written about it (I must admit, I love when I "scoop" a professional journal!) and they are calling it the "same day wars".  Not sure I would use the war analogy but it is interesting they see it that way.

My experience has been same day shipping is more a "marketing gimmick" than reality.  How many people really cannot afford a quick trip to Wal-mart (which is open 24 hours a day mostly)?  Will they really pay $10 to avoid that trip?  I think same day shipping ads will draw eyeballs (which is good - creates sales) but when the customer is about to dispense with $10 or $20 extra dollars they will decide a quick car trip could be enjoyable!

Housing - Good News Bad News for Transportation

First, I want to be clear that one month's data does not make a trend however we all have to be very pleased with the housing numbers yesterday.  According to the Wall Street Journal,
"On Wednesday, the government reported that new home-building levels surged to a four-year high last month, amid a nearly 12% rise in new building permits. "
As we all know, housing drives a lot of activity or "velocity" in the economy because along with a house comes a lot of other ancillary purchases such as appliances, furniture, drapes etc.  Housing also is a "mood" indicator because, generally speaking, people do not buy houses unless they feel fairly stable about their economic situation.  For these reasons, and I am sure a lot more, having housing move like this is a fantastic sign.  The Wall Street Journal even went so far as saying this movement may vindicate all the maligned recent activity by the Fed.

This is also good for transportation - in a way.  Transportation always gains from housing.  It is that simple and quite frankly housing is almost a singular metric for transportation companies to look at when determining the macro movement of the economy.  The last huge "boom" in trucking came when the housing market was at a froth of excitement in 2004 - 2006.

Now, for the "bad news". Housing is also right up there with manufacturing as one of the highest employment substitutes for drivers.  Drivers can migrate from construction to semi-skilled manufacturing to driving pretty easily and when construction jobs jump, drivers tend to want to move to those jobs.  Why do that and not just stay with trucking?

Two reasons help explain this migration between careers.  First, the time at home factor is big.  If a driver can even come close to replicating their driving income while staying at home they will do that.  Second, there really is no "penalty".  Most jobs and careers there is a penalty for hopping around such as loss of seniority, pay or other benefits.  For the most part (yes there are a few perks for being senior but not many and they are not highly valued relative to time at home) a driver loses nothing by pivoting to construction as they know they can move back to driving anytime they want and they will be welcomed back with a hug and a thank you.

Keep your eyes on these numbers as they develop.  If this is the beginning of a real sustained increase in construction and we get anywhere near close to 800K to 1M starts next year then the driver shortage will exacerbate really quickly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More on 3D Printing

I had recently written thoughts on 3D printing (3D Printing - Don't Reduce Costs - Eliminate Them) and how I thought this could revolutionize how products get to market.  There are a lot of great things about this technology which will improve our lives however I definitely had a logistics and transportation slant to my reporting.

Yesterday, Steve Faktor at Forbes wrote how 3D printing is also a big opportunity for HP to reinvent themselves [ and this technology].  Read more about this and keep abreast of this technology.  I assure you this technology will change our lives eventually.

Why Transportation Stocks Are So Important

In my last post I reported (and linked) to an article about transportation stocks and what the "warnings" mean which have been issued recently.  The graph below from the Wall Street Journal and this article really define why it is so important and why we need to follow these stocks not just because we are logisticians but because we follow the economy in general.

Graph from Wall Street Jounal

Macroeconomic Monday® - Mixed Results Last Week

Last week could have been a "Seinfeld" week where it was the week about nothing.  It was a very bad week (worst since June) for the stock market as people continue to anticipate poor earnings and forecasts for even slower earnings.  It then had some nuggets of macroeconomic data which essentially said things were "flat".

I do want to start with the Producer Price Index.  The PPI went up by 1.1% ("Core" PPI held flat) v. an expected value of .7%.  As can be seen in the graph below, this is a bounce back from the beginning of a decline.  It is difficult to see how a recession could be in the near future when there is such inflation at the PPI (unless you think the increase is due to speculators hoarding commodities:

This will be an interesting trend to watch to see if we continue to have inflationary pressure at the PPI level which ultimately will need to come into the CPI or will be a drag on corporate earnings.

Inventory to Sales Ratio:

The vaulted inventory to sales ratio was released on Monday October 15 so I thought I would include it in this week's report.  First, why is this number so important?  What it shows is whether companies are building inventory or are they lowering inventory.  If they are building inventory it is a signal that the economy is slowing since it usually takes a few months for companies to adjust to lower sales.  There is seasonality to these numbers and for sure they are not adjusted for prices (if prices go up the value  of the inventory goes up but the quantity does not) but it is still a great indicator to watch.

FRED® Inventory to Sales Ratio
The graph shows this has increased over the last few months and it had started coming down but this month it actually increased ever so slightly.  This is a clear indication the economy is "tilting" to slowing down and inventory is building.  What do companies do when inventory starts building?  They lay people off, slow down factories and slow down 2d and 3d tier purchases.

This is a key metric to follow and if you are not sure why just look at what happened during the recession - it ballooned.

Jobless  Claims:

Initial jobless claims came in lower than expected (339K v. 370k expected) however I am going to let these numbers "mature" before I make any conclusions.  There has been a lot of "noise" in these numbers lately so I am going to see some trends.  By the way, I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories related to these numbers but rather understand there are real statistical reasons why the numbers are moving around.  Let's see how it develops in the next few weeks.

Transportation Data:

In the last couple of weeks many indices have shown the transportation freight is slowing dramatically and rates have not only stabilized but in some cases are showing year over year declines.  Transportation executives have "warned" already about slowing freight volumes and the inventory to sales ratio reported above would support the decrease in freight volumes in the future.  All in all the story is not great for the near future for freight volumes.  This report from Reuters a few weeks ago titled Dow Transports Raise Warning Flag For US Economy says it best:
"Transportation and logistics companies are also worried. At least seven of them - FedEx, Norfolk Southern, UTi Worldwide (UTIW.O), Swift Transportation Co (SWFT.N), Arkansas Best Corp (ABFS.O), XPO Logistics Inc (XPO.N) and Werner Enterprises Inc (WERN.O) have scaled back their profit forecasts in recent weeks. United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) led the pack when it cut its outlook in July."  
Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and others who follow the transportation industry clearly are indicating a slowing transportation spend and all the macroeconomic data would support that theory.


Clearly the data is showing a continued advantage for the shipper.  This is another week of Slight Advantage: Shipper®.  Last week also reported this measurement so it is clear the extreme tightening of capacity and drivers and its effects on rates is being offset by the slowing economy and the potential for a slowing economy (yes, the negative feedback loop actually will effect this even more).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Could The Post Office Be The Big Winner in Same Day Delivery?

An interesting development in the "same day delivery wars" which has been brewing as of late with Amazon and Wal-Mart.  The key question is who is going to do this from a delivery standpoint and who can do it at a very low cost?

Already, the USPS gets something to you for about .45 cents which FEDEX may charge you $5.00 or more.  Granted, they get it faster however with just a small amount of pre-planning you can change that $5.00+ charge to .45.  Most of what FEDEX is charging us for is a premium for our inefficiency and lack of planning.

Enter the USPS in the same day shipping.  As we know, the infrastructure costs for same day shipping are massive (advantage Wal-mart over Amazon since Wal-Mart has essentially 4500 distribution centers) and thus usually make it economically impractical. The USPS has some interesting, already in place, advantages:

  1. Huge infrastructure - generally an office in every town regardless of size
  2. Already mandated to go to just about every house every day in the Country
  3. Will pick up as well as delivery and usually without an appointment. 
  4. If you are not home, the trip to the USPS is generally very short (FEDEX for example has pulled out of my small town.  If I am not home when a FEDEX shipment comes and I want it I have to drive 1/2 hour to get it.. my post office is less than 1 mile away)
With some sophisticated routing tools, the USPS could, in a town, sweep the town to pick up the deliveries, bring to their "cross dock" then conduct the deliveries at night.  In some cases they can incorporate the delivery into their already established routes and in others they can utilize the equipment which is just sitting anyway.

This should be fun to watch!

"The Logistic Failures Will Not Be Repeated" - Part 1

Note:  This is Part 1 of a Two Part Series Concerning Logistics Lessons Learned in The Israeli National Defense Forces (IDF)

I came across the this fascinating article which chronicles the poor performance of the logistics group within the Israeli National Defense Forces (IDF) during the 2d Lebanon war in 2006.  Literally, Israeli soldiers were suffering from dehydration due to a lack of drinking water in the Country right next to their own and one which they easily can beat militarily.  Brigadier General Itzik Cohen, the head of the Logistics Branch for the IDF's Technology and Logistics Division said the following about this horrendous situation:
"During the Second Lebanon War, there was no shortage of logistic items. We had sufficient inventories of food, water and ammunition. The problem was that the items did not reach the forces that needed them."
Translate this into a business problem which we see all the time:  The company has a better product and can readily produce it but the problem is they cannot get it through distribution to the customers who need it when  they need it (Availability of product is at least two dimensional:  Quantity and time).  Think about this in relation to the infamous "Black Friday" events.  There is a lot of demand, there is a lot of promotion (think of promotion as the invasion) but the company cannot get the product to the market.  Last year, one company even canceled orders admitting they would never get the product to market.

Why did this happen to a one of the most proficient militaries in the world?  We learn the issue is very similar to the problem in business. Here are some reasons cited in this article:
"In the summer of 2006, the IDF disbanded the divisional logistic groups that were responsible for resupplying combat divisions... The issue of logistics, so it seemed, was of low priority for commanders, and the result was reports of hungry and thirsty troops deep inside hostile territory."
Does that sound familiar?  Logistics is a "low priority" for commanders?  Translate this into business and think how many times logistics is an "afterthought" to  the people who generally run a consumer company (sales, marketing, finance and merchandising).  Of course, there are great companies, like Wal-Mart who fully understand logistics is in fact core to the success of the company.

The life cycle of a company's organizational structure relative to logistics is very similar to the experience cited in this article with the IDF.  This life cyle looks like the following:

  1. Business is Going Well - All is in Balance
  2. Times get tough - Cut "Non Core", Logistics is seen as "Non-Core"
  3. Things start getting better
  4. Product has high demand, logistics is under developed, sales and marketing say "If only logistics was better we could sell the product"
  5. Company invests in logistics
After 5, the cycle starts all over again.  This is a common life cycle of a company and it appears a very common life cycle of a defense force. 

My next post will discuss how the IDF solved this problem with what appears to be some real "10X Solutions".