Journal Of Commerce  Nov. 04, 2007  Paul Page

The annual meeting of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals is a great place to catch up on longtime industry contacts and learn what the leading logistics and supply chain managers in the corporate world are doing.

Whether it’s possible to do both of those things at the same time, however, is an open question.

That’s because CSCMP, long the 12,000-TEU vessel of logistics conferences, has become two fundamentally separate conferences. That’s not due to poor planning by the organizers – in fact, the CSCMP has been open, accommodating and expansive as it has sought to keep up with the larger changes in industry that have buffeted the group once known as the Council of Logistics Management.

No, the divisions evident at this year’s CSCMP meeting in Philadelphia reflected the greater separations in the logistics and transportation world. The separation between shippers and carriers was a stark feature of several panel discussions, but there also was a more subtle yet no less significant gulf between the supply chain strategies of major manufacturers and retailers and the nuts-and-bolts of transport and logistics execution.

While countless networking sessions, customer meetings and other gatherings were being held in side rooms and hotel suites, shippers such as Motorola, Kraft Foods, 3M, Coca-Cola and Unilever presented some of the most detailed explanations one will ever see on the tactical goals of major manufacturers and the way the companies designed supply chain strategies to reach those goals.

There were certainly some strong lessons for shippers, and there also were strong lessons for logistics providers and carriers.

Whether the shippers and carriers took away the same lessons, however, depended on which of those two fundamentally different conferences they were attending.

At sessions aimed more directly at transportation, there was repeated mention of a word that hadn’t been heard much around logistics conferences in recent years. In fact, there were so many references to “collaboration” that Nestle transport logistics chief Joseph R. Lombardo jokingly repeated the buzzwords of the day (“collaboration, partnership, perfect storm”) to get them out of the way before beginning his presentation.

There were, in fact, pleas for partnership. “There is so much more to be gained from process improvements, so much to be gained from partnerships,” said Justin Zubrod, a vice president at the Booz Allen Hamilton consultancy.

Unfortunately, when there was talk of collaboration between shippers and carriers, talk about rates wasn’t far behind.

There was strong talk about how to move beyond pure pricing between carriers and shippers. William M. Hutchinson of Dell counseled shippers to look at “driving capacity utilization (by carriers) to move the economics.”

And there was one very strong example of how to do that in a session on “Supply Chain Collaboration” on how companies aligned demand forecasting, production and distribution to their mutual benefit.

Of course, that was collaboration between a distributor and a supplier. Collaboration between shippers and carriers is for an entirely different meeting.

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