14. May 2013 08:00
Arguably, one of the most overworked words in the English language is networking, particularly in business. Most of us talk about building a network, networking, etc. but many of us don't have a grasp of what it really means. Webster defines it as the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. In my mind, the operative word in this definition is cultivation, but many of us don't spend a lot of time focusing on that key element. This was brought home to me in a personal way just last month when I received a call from someone I will call "Bob".
My phone rang and when I answered, I found Bob on the other end of the line. Bob said, "It has been a while, and I just wanted to touch base. I am networking". I thought to myself.............Oh boy, here we go.
Now I haven't talked to Bob since 2006 when I submitted a consulting proposal to him, and my primary recollection is that he never called me back after several attempts to reach him. Before he even said anything, I knew what he wanted. Bob is currently out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network. He might as well forget it. It won't work.
Building relationships is a lifelong, never ending project, and cannot be accomplished overnight. As a provider of services for much of my career, I have often been frustrated by the failure of many supply chain managers to extend the simple courtesy of returning phone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.
I am not a relationship expert by any means, but over the years I have tried to develop circles of friends and associates who can be relied on for help, to share ideas, or offer advice. The circles are concentric and some are closer than others. Some people I talk to every week or month. Others maybe every six months or so.
Regardless of the frequency, you should not get in touch only when you or your company are in trouble or need a favor. Relationships are important but they require a lot of communication and effort. If you wait until there is a crisis in your career or your personal life before you attempt to develop a network of people who care, you are too late. If you build it carefully though, and nurture it properly, when you are in need, your network will support you through your difficulties.
29. April 2013 08:00
There probably was dancing on the tracks when Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, announced that he would not run again in 2014. Rockefeller has been one of the major proponents of re-introducing regulation to the rail industry, in spite of the tremendous success we have experienced since the passage of the Staggers Act in 1980, which removed most of the stifling regulation under which the rail carriers had been operating since 1887.
The Consumers United for Rail Equality (CURE), an organization composed of rail shippers, has been lobbying hard in Congress for some time now, and Rockefeller has been a strong supporter of their efforts. The major issue revolves around those industries that are served by only one railroad, referred to as "captive shippers". They want the ability to have a choice in the rail carriers they use which is often impossible because of their single railroad locations. Many of these are coal mines, and many of those are located in West Virginia, which suggests that Mr. Rockefeller knows who butters his bread.
I believe that all shippers should be treated fairly, but to regulate the railroads would throw us back into the chaotic bureaucracy that existed before 1980. Most members of Congress were not in office then, but those of us who worked in the industry in the regulated environment can recite a litany of horror stories. It took months or even years to get new rates approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission. A carrier needed permission to get into the business, and then it needed permission to get out. Carriers were losing millions of dollars and capital improvements were a fantasy. Since 1980, however, the nation's railroads have invested over $500 million in plant and equipment, and the Class I railroads in the country all are making a profit. Many railroad employees during the era of regulation spent their entire careers at one carrier, and never saw a profit.
The NIT League is working with the Surface Transportation Board toward an equitable solution, but the worst thing that could happen is for Congress to jump in and try to fix things. More often than not, they are simply a solution looking for a problem.
2. April 2013 08:00
There is a continuing stream of press about the shortage of over-the-road truck drivers in the country today. Right now, the shortage is estimated at 125,000 fewer drivers than are necessary to meet demand. According to the Department of Labor and FTR Associates, this shortage will more than double by the end of 2013, the largest deficit in nine years. In 2012, turnover averaged 98% at the large carriers and 82% at the smaller operations.
Depending on which side of the fence you are sitting, the shortage is blamed on such things as CSA 2010 activity, reduced hours-of-service rules, and traffic delays caused by infrastructure. However, the most recent data shows that the average salary for an over-the-road driver in 2011 was $39,830. This is not exactly an overwhelming amount when you consider the hours, working conditions, bad food, and the impact on personal and family life. If the economy continues to improve, I suspect even more drivers will turn to other occupations where they can make an increased salary and be more like normal people.
While some carriers are trying to deal with the salary situation, it will take an industry-wide effort to make a significant impact. The carriers must be prepared to face cost increases; but more importantly, shippers must recognize that to get the service they need, they must pay more.
19. March 2013 15:29
Lately, there have been several articles in the industry press about how to develop a good contract with a logistics service provider. Some I have agreed with, while others have seemed a little naïve about the structure of the relationship. There is more to it than just developing a contract.
Several years ago, I developed a list of ten basic rules for entering into an LSP relationship, which I believe have withstood the test of time. I list them here for your consideration.
- Develop a strategy for outsourcing. The decision to outsource should be made only after careful analysis of the options.
- Establish a rigorous selection process. Don't depend on an RFP. While they make proposals easy to evaluate, they often ignore the analysis of the most cost- and service-effective processes.
- Clearly define your expectations. Be thorough and realistic.
- Develop a good contract. Obviously, important. Clearly spell out obligations, expectations, and remedies.
- Establish sound policies and procedures for the arrangement.
- Identify and avoid potential friction points. Identify possible problems in advance and develop processes for dealing with them.
- Communicate effectively with your provider.
- Measure performance, communicate results.
- Motivate and reward providers.
- Be a good partner. Good partnerships are mutually beneficial. Bad ones are not.
While following these ten steps will help set the right course, for the relationship to truly succeed, it must be based on mutual trust and respect.
4. March 2013 12:38
So said Captain Kirk when he wanted to make a quick trip between the starship Enterprise and a nearby planet. When you think about this logically, it sounds a little ridiculous, doesn't it? But maybe not...
|The RepRap project, an open-source
model of a 3-D printer. | via CharlesC
Recently the concept of 3D printing has been getting an increasing amount of press in various trade journals. Frankly, when I first heard of it, I just assumed it was the ability to print a three dimensional picture which could be viewed without the goofy glasses. But a minimal amount of research revealed it is much more than that. As many of our readers will already know, this technique, also called additive manufacturing, allows the use of computer-aided design (CAD) in developing renderings which can be transmitted to a 3D "printer" which will "print" or construct the solid object. Currently, when manufacturing large quantities of polymer products, for example, techniques such as injection molding can be faster and cheaper, but when only a few are needed, you can print them right at your desk or at someone else's desk halfway around the world.
While this is a proven process, it is a long way from everyday use. But it is not at all unrealistic to think that someday it might be a part of our lives. And if so, think about the implications for the supply chain. What if many products no longer required "transportation" in the context we know it today? What if there was no need for inventories since products could be "printed" on demand? If you let your imagination run wild, you can envision any number of supply chain impacts. Maybe Star Trek wasn't as farfetched as we thought.
(For an excellent summary of 3D printing, see Wikipedia)