What type of animal is your Supply Chain?


I had coffee with one of my colleagues, a supply chain VP, and asked him, “If you had to choose what type of animal you wish your supply chain could look like, what would you choose?”
He laughed and thought about it for few minutes. Finally, he said, “I believe I need my supply chain to be a cheetah!”
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, capable of running at up to 128 km/h, and I need a fast supply chain, up and downstream. They are built for high-speed sprints, which is perfect for my last mile deliveries, when I want to be able to support my customers’ expectations. They are so agile they can increase their speed by up to 10.8 km/h in a single stride. I wish I had this agility in my supply chain!”

“But”, he said, “The cheetah loses 50% of hunts and this isn’t acceptable in my supply chain. It must maintain 100% SLA. And, while cheetahs get tired quickly, we need our wheels to keep rolling.”
As we kept talking about his challenges, he suddenly said, “Going back to your question, maybe my supply chain should be more like a colony of ants. They have the ability to carry up to 50 times their own body weight! I wish I could change capacities and volumes the same way whenever it’s needed.”
“Ants are social, they are a great team. They divide jobs. Some work, some defend the colony and some are responsible for foraging for food and supplies. Once food is found, the forager ant returns to the nest and drops the food at the entrance tunnel to the nest, where it’s transported by another ant deeper into the nest. The forager ant is then free to continue looking for more food. I wish my supply chain partners could be more connected and synchronized, doing their part and handing the “baton” to the next partner,” he continued.

“Ants communicate, they keep trails, and they find the shortest path to their food source. If every shipment I managed was managed that way, my supply chain would be more efficient and responsive,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “and if you had to choose between the cheetah and the ant?”
“Why choose one?” he asked. “I would choose the cheetah for my service parts supply chain and last mile deliveries. For my consumables and raw materials, I would choose ants and, by the way, for my machinery supply chain I’d choose an elephant!”

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