When I looked in the yesterday mirror, I clearly saw a gal with the flu. I hate being sick. In the morning, I struggled. Did I have enough strength to make it to my speaking appointment in the afternoon? I was the last speaker on the last day of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) (http://www.trb.org/AnnualMeeting2012/AnnualMeeting2012.aspx) in Washington, DC. I was on a panel. So, I questioned if it would matter, but as a matter of principle, I don’t cancel speaking engagements. So I put on my pink suit (to hide my pale skin) and headed to Washington.
Prior to being approached to speak at this conference, I had never heard of TRB. Have you? In short, they are one of six major divisions of the National Research Council which is a private, nonprofit institution providing services to the government, and scientific and engineering organizations. It was established in 1920 as the National Advisory Board on Highway Research to provide a mechanism for the exchange of information and research on highway technology. It was renamed the Highway Research Board (HRB) in 1925 and finally the Transportation Research Board in 1974. In short, they provide research to local, state and federal organizations on transportation infrastructure for planning. When I entered the room, the air was thick with acronyms of bills, research studies and acts that I had never heard of. I was a fish out of water in a group of 11,000 attendees.
I was asked to speak on available data in the supply chain and share insights on how this data could be used to improve transportation planning. When I was asked to speak, I questioned if I could add value, but after being in the session for 5 minutes, I understood why I was there. In 2011, the group had an awakening. They recognized that they could not properly plan transportation infrastructure without a better understanding of supply chain. I walked in early and got to hear the prior session.
In essence, the group before me was putting together a proposal to ask for 5-7 million dollars of government funding to do a survey to better understand the impact of supply chain on future road, waterway and rail infrastructure. They had spent the last year interviewing the “private sector” to understand how to define supply chains for the questionnaire. I smiled looking forward to their insights. What was presented was a very rudimentary understanding of source, make and delivery without a clear understanding of the complexity, nuances and dynamics of the real world of the supply chain. The group was proposing penalties for non-compliance. I shuddered.
As I took the stage, I asked the group if they had heard of the “private sector organizations” of APICS, CSCMP, FMI, GMA, GS1, NAM, NRF, or SCOR? They shook their heads “NO.” I asked if they had heard of the GS1 GTIN and GLN standards and how they tied to commodity types and geolocation data? Their response was “No.” I asked if they knew that the average supply chain team had not one but seven supply chains and that 95% of companies reconfigure their supply chains based on Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP)? They asked me to explain S&OP. I continued. I asked if they knew that 80% of process manufacturers used planning systems to route trucks and dispatch loads? They asked me for an overview of transportation planning, and how they could get to the data. In summary, the gal in the pink suit suffering with the flu had a great discussion with the planners that are planning the North America roadways.
Let’s face it, North American transportation infrastructure needs help. Not only has demand volatility increased, but satisfying customer delivery expectations is a growing issue. This is two-fold: tightening of delivery windows and congested roadways. As I spoke to the group designing the roadways, I realized that we had an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the process to expedite plans for the roadways. Here are my recommendations
1) Make use of Existing Data: I explained that a substantial amount of historic transportation data on loads tendered could be accessed through Cass Logistics and Chainalytics business models. I also explained that Chainalytics also had some future and forward looking data from RFPs. I encouraged them to contact the leaders of these two transportation providers to see how they could get access to the data. I shared that while the data was not free, it could be purchased at less cost and with more accuracy than the data that they would get from an annual survey.
2) Use Carrots not Sticks: I asked that we try to use the existing standards and try to work within the private sector’s existing associations to gain insights on manufacturing and distribution shifts/region. I explained how imposing new naming conventions would be costly and ineffective. I suggested that they work with local CSCMP roundtable leaders to try to use the forum to gain insights from leaders to help them plan. I also pleaded that they never recommend this as compliance mandate. I shared that I believed that the private sector wants better roadway and infrastructure improvements and that carrots were more effective than sticks.
3) Partner with the Private Sector. I also explained how the private sector organizations worked, their charters and how I thought that they could work with each to get useful data. The group was just as unaware of these charters as I was of the mission of TRB.
I walked back to the train in the rain. I was miserable, but I was glad I went. It was great grounding for me on how we as leaders need to try to bridge the gulf between the private and public sectors understanding of supply chain. I only hope that the 5-7 Million that was going to be spent on a data project makes it’s way into improving the Chicago rail yards, Atlanta’s Route 400, or the many Spaghetti junctions that line the US highways and tollways. Your thoughts? Any ideas for the TRB?