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Book Review: e-Logistics: Managing Your Digital Supply Chains for Competitive Advantage

“In other words, an effective management of a firm’s digital supply chain will have a positive impact on productivity and growth; ignorance will very likely result in the loss of competitive advantage and have a detrimental effect on performance.” (e-Logistics, p. 4)

e-Logistics: Managing Your Digital Supply Chains for Competitive Advantage, edited by Yingli Wang and Stephen Pettit, confirms for me a theory that I have increasingly held true: that every function in the modern competitive enterprise is more about the flow, usage, and capture of information than any other specialized capability. The editors of this book, as well as their team of contributing writers, understand that e-Logistics is not just about automating the supply chain, but maintaining the quality and integrity of supply chain data. It is also not about data for its own sake, but for the creation of competitive advantage and customer value.

It is meaningful to point out that in the book’s extensive introduction, there is no mention of trucks or warehouses, ocean logistics or air freight. Instead, the editors discuss the intersection of the many major, high-level trends affecting commerce today: cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data, predictive analytics, and globalization. Even when the discussion turns to more traditional logistics topics, the focus is on Information and Communications Technology (ICT). The capabilities of this technology make possible all of the transformational strategies applied in supply chain management: just in time delivery, collaborative forecasting, vendor managed inventory, cross docking, and global manufacturing and distribution.

This book makes perfectly clear that each part of the organization must embrace overall corporate goals and objectives so completely that they do, in fact, become their own. This philosophy is the fulfillment of the movement to eliminate silos. If you were to remove the word logistics in this book and replace it with business, company, or enterprise, the knowledge in it would be no less true. It is a fascinating approach to logistics and an interesting bellwether about the direction of functional development.

Given the importance of (and reliance on) technology to competition, solutions are elevated to a whole new height. The same is true of the need to achieve mastery of the value chain: where demand meets supply. The ‘flows’ that must take place to support the value chain, and which need to be seamlessly automated by solutions, are defined by Tim Hotze (a senior executive in the fields of integrated international transportation and supply chain management) as goods, information, payments, and ownership.

As our solutions become more critical, successful implementation of them is essential. Business leaders have to evaluate and repair processes before selecting and implementing a solution. And once the processes are established, technology can not be allowed to constrain them. Hotze makes this clear as well:

“With the rise and capability of advanced IT platforms it has been partially believed that the implementation of a new system will fix all inefficiencies and broken business processes. In most of the examples where companies with bad processes and insufficient business expertise implement an advanced IT platform, the platform itself will not solve the underlying issues but can become the scapegoat of a missing business foundation.” (p. 432-433)

Woe to those that do not heed his advice, as they will be passed behind in today’s interconnected, data-centric competitive landscape.

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Thursday, 21 September 2017