February 2003 | Commentary | Checking In

Silo's Legacy

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In last month's Reader Profile, Brittain Ladd offers some great advice to people starting out in logistics: "Educate yourself. The best logistics managers are those individuals who are great communicators and who understand the importance of mastering the supply chain, as well as mastering relationships with customers and suppliers."

Besides repeating, that sentiment bears expanding. For any logistics practitioner to be successful these days, continuous education is a must. That's why we publish an education and careers issue each February.

Why spend the time, effort, and expense to educate yourself and continue developing your skill set? There are the obvious reasons—adjusting to the rapid pace of change, dealing with the complexity caused by new security issues, managing your company's globalization, continuously applying new technologies, and, most importantly, enhancing your marketability as a transportation, logistics, or supply chain professional, especially in a down economy.

But there is another, often overlooked, reason: A tremendous difference of opinion about the terms, definitions, and practices of logistics and supply chain management exists among practitioners. Check out the article on page 50 and you'll see what I mean. "There is no difference between logistics and supply chain management," says one IL reader at a Tier 2 company. Another says, "The scope of actions between logistics and SCM is blurred today."

It's not that these practitioners don't understand what they're doing. IL readers are among the most skilled logisticians anywhere. The confusion arises because our industry has transformed from a series of silo functions—purchasing, transportation, logistics, customer relations—into a collaborative discipline.

Skilled silo practitioners in purchasing, transportation, and logistics bring to this new "collaborative practice" their own perspectives, terms, and command chain that served them well in their silo functions. Yes, there is an absolute definition of "logistics" and "supply chain management." And yes, one typically is a subset of another. But this confusion does not mean someone's definition is necessarily wrong.

This new interoperability of our discipline—bringing together these merging perspectives and definitions—creates confusion, which can only be resolved through continuing education. All practitioners, regardless of which silo function they came from, have to be on the same page. That's the reason why more education—either online or offline, either formal or through seminars—is needed and needed badly if we are to continue to advance.

As the article on page 34 shows, our industry will face a "leadership vacuum" in the next decade. You know that nature abhors a vacuum. So, even if you are not just starting out in logistics, take Brittain Ladd's advice to heart. You can certainly do your job without continuing education, but you can do a better job—and advance your fortunes and those of your enterprise—with it.

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