Keeping the Human Touch in Logistics

Rick Blasgen,
President,
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals

We’ll never lose focus on quality says Rick Blasgen, president of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).

Like many trade and professional associations, CSCMP saw a drop in attendance at its annual conference following the events of September 11, 2001. For CSCMP, attendance at its annual US-based conference appears to have plateaued around 3,400. That’s a manageable size, says Blasgen, but it is still too large for the event to move into a hotel.

Blasgen points out the US conference is still its biggest event. People actually refer to it as the global conference, he says. That view could change as the organization reflects the global needs of the field of supply chain management. “Let’s face it,” he comments, “we’re in Europe every year, we’re in China every year, and [in 2008] we’re in South Africa.” After that, CSCMP will be back in Dubai. “We’re going where we see people really clambering for what we have to offer.”

To that end, one area where CSCMP wants to build is one of its traditional strengths—relationships. Attendees used to come together at CSCMP and make deals, notes Blasgen. That change may have coincided with the aftermath of 9/11, but its cause is more the complex contractual environment one attendee described to Blasgen as the “10 pounds of contracts you have to sign.” Driven by the need to spell out more of the details and performance measures in an increasingly complex global supply chain and with added compliance issues like Sarbanes Oxley financial and accounting disclosure, it’s easy to see why some of the mood in the hallways at the annual CSCMP event has changed. Blasgen still feels there are opportunities to put the parties together and let them evolve their business relationship post-event. “We have been trying to develop programs for just that reason,” says Blasgen.

Another challenge for the event is maintaining the high quality of speakers. It is harder to get speakers to commit well in advance of the event because they are so busy, reflects Blasgen. While he and the staff tackle that challenge, Blasgen says that he expects the international attendance at the US event will continue to be strong—there were 44 countries represented at the 2007 Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

When you’re in Europe with an event, Blasgen continues, the structure of the conference may be similar, but it has a decidedly local flavor. Where the US-based event talks about manufacturing moving to China, the European speakers talk about manufacturing moving to Eastern Europe. And an event in China will have some completely different perspectives and some new issues to address.

“We can’t continue to do what the organization was built on over the years, and that’s fine,” says Blasgen. “We get that.” As the organization becomes more global to match the needs of members and potential members, Blasgen recognizes CSCMP can’t do it alone. “Our mission is about advancing the profession and helping the professionals in it. If you can do that with just CSCMP materials and venues, great. If we cooperate with somebody to do it, that’s great too.”

To that end, CSCMP works closely with European and Asian organizations, it has been developing some programs with VICS, the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards group, with APICS, the international association for operations management, and he anticipates working with others.

Globalization is and continues to be a factor going forward, and Blasgen wouldn’t be surprised to see CSCMP opening physical offices in other countries to manage the needs of members there the way the Chicago-area headquarters does now.

Blasgen also sees an opportunity in bringing information and resources to the professionals in the form of an on-site education initiative. In his professional career as a logistics executive, he says he often worked with academics to develop a workshop or educational session that could be presented at his venue for his logistics/ supply chain team. Why can’t CSCMP, a neutral organization that isn’t selling consulting or technology, assemble a faculty, design a program specific to the needs of the member’s organization, and then present it on site, asks Blasgen rhetorically.

With all of the global developments and technology linking us continent to continent there’s still a need for the human touch, points out Blasgen. People still like to talk to each other in person and gain some trust, he says. As CSCMP evolves and changes to meet new challenges, it’s clear that the focus continues to be on bringing people together to advance the profession, and while that will occur in different venues, much of the interaction will still be face to face.

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