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Book Review: Global Supply Chain Ecosystems


…today’s supply chains encompass complex webs of interdependencies, frequently spanning the globe, designed and deployed to optimize critical attributes – such as speed, agility, and resilience – that drive competitive advantage. (p. 11)


Global Supply Chain Ecosystems: Strategies for Competitive Advantage in a Complex World by Mark Millar provides a multi-dimensional look at supply chains. The ecosystem concept was originally used by the Financial Times to describe the increasingly complex nature of business in general. When it is applied to supply chain operations, it provides us with the idea that chains are more spherical than linear and non-consecutive.

One of the things I realized early in my reading of the book is that Millar is writing from a much different perspective than the authors we am used to hearing from. His biography lists him as a speaker, presenter, and board member. His view of supply chains in general, and their potential value contribution to the modern competitive enterprise, is more elevated.  

For instance, there is no lament that supply chain leaders do not often enough have an established position at the executive table – Millar has held too many executive level roles at globally recognized companies for that to make any sense. Instead, he advocates for supply chain leaders to play a greater role in the boardroom. He also poses a compelling question about when CEOs will realize that, in fact, the supply chain IS the business. This realization will change both the influence trajectory of supply chain operations and the ability of the enterprise to adjust to changing conditions.

Marketing is positioned as a critical internal partner for supply chain, with Finance as more of a secondary concern – another break from the status quo that make me think that a view from the trenches is causing us to unknowingly pursue limited strategies.

Some things seem to be the same no matter how high your role is. Collaboration is acknowledged as a challenge, rooted in the natural human inclination to hold information close to the vest. I liked the points Millar made about visibility – something we all pursue more of - only being possible through collaboration. Because of the interconnected nature of supply chain ecosystems, visibility can only be achieved through collaboration because at this point one internal operation, no matter how robust) is like looking at a single data point.

The requisite topics of risk (which is related to but not synonymous with vulnerability) and talent (where challenges exist in both developed and undeveloped economies) both make an appearance. More compelling is Millar’s discussion of trade agreements, both new and proposed, and how they can be anticipated to affect business strategy. Compliance with these agreements must be pursued at multiple tiers of the chain, especially in more heavily regulated industries.

Looking forward to a future of supply chain innovation, infrastructure investments are key, requiring public and private sector entities to work closely together (note: this is the second supply chain title in as many weeks that I have read this idea in. The blurring of the line between the two sectors is something to watch). Warehouse robotics, 3D printing, drones, and omni-channel supply chains (something you are actually familiar with even if you don’t know the term) are all being explored by thought leaders for their potential contributions to competitive advantage.

The book is light on in-text citations, especially around numbers and statistics, something that only research wonks like me probably care about. I would think of reading this book like getting the opportunity to pick the brain of someone well beyond your pay grade over lunch. Millar is open about his ideas, most of which push us to set our goals higher than many of us think is possible. You just have to be prepared to overcome some of your fears to accomplish them.

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