The term logistics has been around for quite some time. One of the first mentions of the field was by Alexander the Great, who said, “My logisticians are a humorless lot, for if my campaign fails they are the first I shall slay.”
Over the years, the profession has been referred to by many different names, evolving from logistics, which generally means the movement of goods, to materials management, and most recently, to supply chain management, a broader name referencing forecasting, planning, procurement, distribution, storage, inventory, tracking, scheduling, warehousing, recycling, and importing/exporting.
As the name and the field evolved, it was sometimes difficult in the past to search for jobs. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not issue a classification for the field until 2012.
Over time, industry made improvements in processes, quality, transportation, and manufacturing. The processes typically were stand-alone entities where there were silos of excellence that did not integrate with the previous process or the next one.
It was not until the entire supply chain from forecasting customer demand to recycling could be analyzed together that inefficiencies throughout the entire process were evident. That all came about when enterprise resource planning systems were developed in the 1990s, allowing total supply chain visibility.
One of the best known of the enterprise resource planning systems is SAP, short for Systems, Applications & Products in Data Processing, a system that is used by 87% of Forbes Global 2000 companies.
The system links all business processes together and provides management with information for decision making in real time. According to its website, SAP serves some 293,000 customers in 190 countries including 98 percent of the 100 most valued brands.
Certainly, enterprise resource planning systems such as SAP have brought the supply chain management profession a long way, but where does the profession go from here? What does the future hold?
SAP use is prevalent among Tier one producers. In our area, think of BMW, a global company that relies on SAP. But many of BMW’s suppliers haven’t yet adopted the system. My guess is that we will begin to see many more tier two and tier three suppliers adopting the system in their production environment.
With greater use of SAP, the need for people proficient in the system will become even more critical. Jobs for those who know and understand SAP are strong now. In the future, opportunities and salaries should be even better. I see the Supply Chain Management program at Greenville Technical College, where I work, growing to keep up with employer demand.
I also see the profession becoming more effective through the use of big data. Supply chain management seeks to provide goods and services exactly where and when they are needed in an effective and efficient manner. With information being extracted from everything we do as we use cellular devices, conduct Internet searches, and share information on social media, this information becomes quantifiable and therefore usable to forecast demand for goods and services ranging from food preferences to flu vaccines.
Finally, I believe that in the near future we will see a uniform certification for supply chain management professionals. Currently, there are several respected professional organizations including APICS, CSCMP, and ISM offering credentials. I can imagine these organizations coming together to offer one certification so that just like the CPA and the Professional Engineer, people will recognize a supply chain management professional credential.
Supply chain management has come far since the 1990s, when it began to gain widespread use. As professions go, this one is still very young. In the future, supply chain management is certain to be faster, more accurate, and valuable to every organization. No matter what an organization’s size, type, or location, in order to have a future, thought must be given to the supply chain.
About the Author: David Lucero is Supply Chain Management program coordinator at Greenville Technical College. An educator for 16 years, he gained supply chain management experience through positions with the United States Marine Corps, where he spent 30 years, and Grainger Inc., where he spent 15 years.