January 2013 | Commentary | Checking In

Supply Chain Force Multipliers

Tags: Supply Chain Management

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

For years, I've wanted the Logistics Planner issue theme to focus on the concept of using inbound logistics as a force multiplier. When I entered the conference room for the Planner issue strategy meeting this year, I was ready to make my case. But when I presented my idea to the editorial team, I was met with blank stares, and a question: What is a force multiplier and what does it have to do with adopting demand-driven logistics practices?

Force multipliers, I explained, are things that reduce the amount of applied force necessary to move an object. The gears on a mountain bike, for example, are a force multiplier, and without them yours truly would not be able to get up the mountain, much less survive getting down.

And, in the military, a force multiplier is something that, when added to an existing capability, makes it more powerful without increasing its size. It can be a new technology or weapon—the UAV or Drone program, for example.

A force multiplier can also be intangible, like an idea. "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier," said General Colin Powell. Is there a logistics idea that you can use to act as a force multiplier? Yes, the practice of inbound logistics, demand- driven logistics, or supply chain management.

If you look at the cover, you'll know who lost the argument.

Arguments aside, reader success stories based on the adoption of demand-driven logistics ideas have fueled Inbound Logistics for more than 30 years. As those articles illustrate, enterprise size does not matter. From the smallest SMB to the Fortune 1000, adopting demand-driven logistics practices and accepting an inbound logistics business philosophy acts as a supply chain force multiplier, projecting disproportionate business power.

Using demand-driven logistics ideas lets you project a greater ability to solve supply chain challenges without significantly expanding your operations. It also amplifies your impact across several business functions, including customer service, overall business efficiency, marketing and sales, financial performance, workforce development, and compliance.

As several articles in this issue illustrate, logistics is comprised of many tangible force multipliers. Taking advantage of an FTZ's capabilities, limiting your logistics liability, and using a pick-to-light or voice-directed solution in your warehouse will help you project a greater ability to solve your logistics challenges without having to scale up.

Giving customers end-to-end visibility by matching demand signals back through your enterprise to your supply also reduces the need for customer service interventions. In fact, Jeff Bezos said that his best customers are those he never hears from after the sale. Using demand-driven logistics practices was a force multiplier that helped Amazon project market presence, and match and exceed its larger competitors' ability to deliver, even though, at the outset, those competitors held a significant size advantage.

Demand-driven logistics is a force multiplier or, as some say, the great equalizer, especially if your larger or more entrenched competitors are not leveraging the same concepts and ideas you are.

Conversely, those who have not yet adopted demand-driven logistics practices don't have that leverage, and they are placing their enterprises at a competitive disadvantage.