A sense of mission

This post originally appeared on the DC Velocity blog at: https://blogs.dcvelocity.com/public_sector_logistics/2019/06/a-sense-of-mission.html

Some people have jobs.  Some have missions.  Sometimes logistics execution is the job at the heart of that mission.

It’s magic when that happens.

It’s around 11 am, and over a dozen people loiter in a church parking lot.  The delivery truck arrives from the central kitchen, and the crew breaks down the load.  The sort happens.  Manifests are checked, and the delivery vehicles are loaded.  The cross-dock operation completes.

Within 15 minutes the parking lot clears.  The delivery vehicles are on their way, fanning out across the county.  By 1 pm around one hundred and fifty deliveries happen, and seniors are sitting down to a hot lunch delivered to their home.  And there is a second cold meal in the bundle, available for dinner later in the day.

Meals on Wheels - a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization - operates in virtually every community in America to address senior hunger and isolation.  All of these logisticians are volunteers, with an unselfish passion to help their neighbors.  Amazing what can happen when you mix mission, passion, and logistics:   innovation and volunteerism to help others. 

Logistics, mission, passion.


What’s your passion?

As big cities push back on innovation and tech, are small cities taking advantage?

Small cities around the country seem to all label themselves as new tech hubs. But do they embrace emerging tech opportunities?

America's biggest and most famous cities are often seen as the breeding grounds of technology, though most of them still fail to truly embrace the innovation and opportunity springing up all around them.

I was listening to a Wall Street Journal podcast last week where the host and her guest discussed the infant technology of last-leg delivery robots. The podcast, which also highlighted the societal hurdles of robots rushing up and down sidewalks, wrapped with mentioning the growing regulatory pushback coming from governments in cities where tech firms are eager to try out their new innovations. Another article- found here- discussed the fascinating potential for the technology but couldn't wrap without mentioning San Francisco's well-publicized robot ban and new efforts by lawmakers in Washington to heavily restrict and hamper the use of delivery robots statewide. Other cities and states are considering similar restrictions; when combined with examples such as New York's recent running-off of Amazon and big-city pushback on autonomous vehicles there's a lot of room for small cities to step in.

This new window for smaller cities could be propped open by their ostensibly more flexible and smaller bureaucracies and an eagerness to shoulder the mantle of a 'tech hub'. By simply creating a welcoming environment- not just with quality of life improvements, as many cities focus on, but with favorable regulatory environments- small cities can start to eat away at the advantages of competing larger cities and begin enlarging their chunk of the economic pie. We could now truly begin to make headway against America's already established tech clusters.


I think back to when I was a child in one of these small rural cities. Back then, the area had a reputation of being a tough and discerning market, though one that was open to new ideas and new products. Life has changed since 20-some years ago, but that same spirit could be embraced and promoted not just here in southern Virginia, but in smaller cities around the country. What's stopping us from being the technological testing bed for the United States?

It would be a grand thing to see our government councils, economic developers, tourism organizations, and workforce boards start to embrace our potential as a tech proving ground. We've already got a well established enthusiasm for tech. We've already got an incredible inventory of nearby resources like Virginia Tech and the multitude of colleges, hospital networks, and eager entrepreneurs looking for opportunity. Opening ourselves up as America's Tech Lab would be a low-risk, low-cost venture.

To make matters even simpler, the biggest issues are purely local, and purely bureaucratic. All we need to do is proactively and positively connect with, embrace, and protect the innovators and we're off to the races.

China, Trade, and the Ripples

This post originally appeared on the DC Velocity blog.

After establishing new trade surplus record with the US in December, Chinese exports collapsing.  Statistics released on Friday – numbers released by China, not the United States – the expected realignment is underway.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed sharply to $14.72 billion in February from $27.3 billion in January.  Now these are numbers reported by the Chinese government, so some skepticism is in order.

“Dollar-denominated exports [by China] plunged 20.7 percent for the month of February from a year ago, missing economists' expectations of a 4.8 percent decline, according to a Reuters poll,” reports CNBC.

CNBC continues, “Dollar-denominated imports [by China] fell 5.2 percent in February from a year ago, missing economists' forecast of a 1.4 percent fall.”

On this of the Pacific remain solid.  The unemployment rate held steady at 3.8%.  The latest employment statistics in the United States for February show non-farm job growth at a near standstill, according to the Labor Department; this may be an aberration, but it bears watching.      

US Census Bureau statistics are still lagging due to the month-long government shutdown, so the best government sanctioned balance of trade numbers available are months old.

Bottom line:  the supply chain in the United States remains healthy, logisticians appear to have realigned in anticipation of a collapse in Sino-US trade, manufacturers seem to have found new sources of supply, and employment remains strong.

And China is getting nervous.

Tax revenue, raw materials, and risk

Many big companies and big organizations understand the need to look at the risk in their supply chains. They research, identify, plan for, and act against risks up and down their supply chain. They make sure their materials, their products, or whatever they need to move will continue to move, all so they can satisfy their market.

So why don’t small cities do the same thing? In this case, the supply chain is the tax dollars or revenue entering the area. Their market is their constituents. Their product is their services.

Do cities look at the risks to their ‘raw materials’- their tax revenue? Do they truly understand the relation between these materials and their market? Do they work collaboratively with their biggest suppliers- their business tax base- to ensure the flow of raw materials runs without a hitch? Do they take measures to make the transactions smoother and insulate the flow of materials despite the surrounding environment?

Often, when suppliers, customers, and markets work collaboratively to combat risk, all sorts of creative win-win solutions emerge, and everyone, together, enlarges the pie. Perhaps its time for small cities- especially those that are still struggling across rural America- to take up the mantle where places like New York City fail.

Looking at tax revenues as the raw material to all the services a city provides is vital to create truly sustainable small economies. It’s past time for many rural localities to work with their business communities to protect their supply of revenue, to create win-win solutions, and to insulate their locales against economic threats.

The best way to do this? Clear, honest, and open communication. Meaningful engagement. Effort. These are the way forward, and the best way to see and prepare for economic risk.

Well executed rollouts

Well executed rollouts are a special thing in the supply chain.  Tomorrow Girl Scout cookies will appear all over the neighborhood I'm in, a true example of distribution excellence.  I once bought five boxes in Baghdad from a young Girl Scout.  She didn't speak a word of English, but she got the job done.  Can't wait to buy a box.

Girl Scout Cookies.jpg

Economic risk planning- a pathway to creative thinking

As I drive through my city, I see that almost all of our economic development eggs have been placed in one basket. This basket- healthcare, and particularly one firm- is historically considered safe. But what would happen if, suddenly, the market upended? Do our local officials understand enough about the market built around the one gargantuan firm dominating our area to plan adequately? Do they have a plan for what would happen if the healthcare regulatory environment changed and the market nationally was freed up? Would the dominant firm be unaffected, and would our job and tax picture stay the same?

Admittedly, a crippling blow to this industry, and this firm, is a low-probability risk. But low-probability is not no-probability, and it’s hard to watch a city once again throw its entire weight in a single industry, if not a single entity, like we did with our now nearly-nonexistent rail industry. We’ve got to learn from our past, and at the very least we need to start entertaining a discussion on economic risk planning.

Economic risk planning, or evaluating localized economic networks for their potential weak zones and areas where they could lose jobs, tax revenue, or whatever metric a city values in its development, is often overlooked, likely because it can be absolutely terrifying. Across rural America, especially, where resources are thin and opportunities often thinner, it is easy to overlook or avoid. Nobody wants to paint a bleak picture, even when that picture has to be painted before positive growth can be kickstarted.

This reality is especially unfortunate because economic risk planning is just as valuable and meaningful, and should be just as obvious, as risk planning in cybersecurity, disaster relief, and supplier management across the commercial and government world. It has its apparent benefits- being ready for actual disaster, for one- and ‘hidden’ wins, such as opening opportunities for useful thought exercise and creative thinking.

It may be scary to plan through the scope of economic disaster, but starting the discussions around ‘what-ifs’ are almost always guaranteed to be incredibly productive. Not only will a city be better prepared when and if disaster does strike, they’ll certainly find linkages, nuances, and facts about their own area they never would have learned otherwise. What could we do with a newfound depth of knowledge about our areas?

Plan against our economic risks, for one. But the possibilities are nearly endless.




Local economies are a lot like businesses

At the end of the day, a local economy is a lot like a business. The goal of a local government is to provide a set of services while bringing in more money than they expend. Too often, we don’t think of things in the least abstract way- money in must equal or exceed money out.

For local governments, tax dollars are the obvious key ‘market’ to target. It makes sense, then, to undertake efforts to increase those tax dollars in way that don’t saturate or exhaust that market. It also makes sense to nail that basic need before trying to overextend and do too much, creating a deficit.

Rural governments leading rural economies often focus on things like quality of life, arts, culture, and tourism, which are frequently ill-defined and, in the final analysis, low-impact overall. This happens while the basic tax-collecting infrastructure is neglected, and businesses are left twisting in the winds of unsure regulatory environments or convoluted processes to engage local officials.

This can be relieved to an extent by opening the lines of communication between government and businesses, especially the small businesses that- when taken as a collective- make up an overwhelming majority of employment and an incredible potential source for tax revenue.

Think of the small business boom potential in rural cities if only an area’s small businesses were truly aided in growing and their needs were almost all met within an area. Imagine a city that develops the positive feedback loop of a diverse, self-sustaining cluster.  Imagine the potential for all the things we aim for now- quality of life, nature trails and greenways, culture, arts, tourism- built organically, strengthened on a bedrock of a strong employment, good wages, and robust business environment.

It’s vital for local governments to understand their ecosystems- their markets. They can, like a business itself, build a reliable market and a continuing stream of income. It just takes boiling things down to the lowest level of abstraction: money in must equal or exceed money out.

Think Globally. Act Locally.

This post originally appeared on the DC Velocity blog at https://blogs.dcvelocity.com/public_sector_logistics/2019/02/think-globally-act-locally.html

Davos, officially known as the World Economic Forum, just wrapped up.

The annual meeting is an event where a couple of thousand people getting together and try to solve the world’s problems.  Quoting directly from the legal charter, The World Economic Forum “is an independent organization committed to improving the state of the world.”  These people are not timid in their ambitions.

This year, their report is over a hundred pages long.  According to the report, the five most likely risks are: 

  • extreme weather conditions

  • failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation

  • natural disasters

  • data fraud or theft

  • cyber-attacks.

The top five in terms of impact are:

  • weapons of mass destruction

  • failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation

  • extreme weather events

  • water crises

  • natural disasters.

Together these items are a good list.  There is a very important point worth noting: only two of the ten are cyber threats.  Go poke around on the web, search for Supply Chain Risk, and odds are the references will lead to articles on cyber threats.  There is a disconnect in our discourse.

Logisticians need to figure out how to mitigate Supply Chain Risk in operations, not just cyber.  Our challenge is at the micro economic operational level.  The one of the world point of view belongs to Davos.  We can consider how to mitigate the impact of extreme weather, the implications of climate change on logistics, disaster response protocols, water, and natural disasters.  Every one of these operational risks cascades down to the tactical level.

Supply Chain Risk Management is about managing and mitigating these risks across the spectrum.  Supply Chain Risk Management is bigger than cyber.  Supply Chain Risk Management belongs to the operators, not the technical staff.

A Holistic View of Supply Chain Risk

This post originally appeared on the DC Velocity blog at https://blogs.dcvelocity.com/public_sector_logistics/2018/06/a-holistic-view-of-supply-chain-risk.html

Allianz – an international insurance firm headquartered in Europe – publishes an annual “Risk Barometer.” 

According to the report, globally, “Business interruption ranks as the most important global risk for the sixth year in a row (42% of responses), due to its tremendous effect on revenues.”

Drilling down into the Americas specifically, in 2018, the top 10 risks identified in the Americas region are:

  1. Cyber Incidents

  2. Business Interruption

  3. Natural Catastrophes

  4. Market Developments

  5. Fire and Explosion

  6. Changes in Legislation and Regulation

  7. Loss of Reputation and Brand Value

  8. New Technologies

  9. Climate Change and Weather Volatility

  10. Talent Shortage

It’s a good list, and Supply Chain Risk Management weaves through all of it.  Logisticians ship, receive, and store things all over the world, so supply chain leaders have to worry about taking a hit in any one of these dimensions.  At the moment, we’re all riding the uncertainty on the domestic regulatory dimension, while chatter about a trade war looms on the horizon. 

The immediate tends to occupy our attention.  That’s natural. The academics call it selection bias.  We focus on what’s in front of us, and have a tougher time thinking about what might be around the corner.

But hurricane season has officially started, unemployment is under 4% so key positions go unfilled, block chain is disrupting traditional business networks, volcanos are being disagreeable in Hawaii, and the FBI is telling us to reboot our servers because of some insidious Russian virus.  And that’s just off the top of my head.  Take a moment and make a list of the “significant” supply chain management risks for your business.

Take a look at your operation through this holistic lens.  Where are your vulnerabilities?  What are your countermeasures?  Do you have a plan?  Are you even capable of executing the plans you have?

Be honest about it, be a little bit intimidated, and then get to work.

The Personal Touch

In a world of AI, social media, complex marketing, complicated algorithms, etc. etc. etc. we often forget that it’s still humans connecting with us at the other end. We always hear about the need to turn back to a more Spartan way of life, and many of us dismiss it offhand as old-fashioned. But there is a nugget of practical value within that advice.

If you don’t buy the often-quacky bits about improving your mental well-being by putting down the cell phone, at least examine the potential for actual economic impact that’s nestled in there. Anecdotally, my biggest wins have come through chance, face-to-face encounters. In my wife’s small business, game-changing wholesale leads have come through little ‘a-ha!’ moments between herself and her network of friends over drinks.

Here at SCV, we strive to create those moments with our clients, our partners, and our network. We’ve modernized our digital game, but we still push each other to dive into our human network on at least a weekly basis. The great majority of our many success stories have roots in an initial in-person connection.  

Person-to-person interaction is foundational to us; it permeates through all of our projects, because we know the most meaningful success comes when we’re able to look our peers in the eye. How many other companies can really claim that?