‘I’ve spent 30 years in consultancy and academe: every time I’ve left a consultancy I’ve gone to a different business school,’ says Alan Waller. He admits it may sound arrogant but ‘I set myself an early target of trying to bring academe and industry closer (at a time when both were dirty words). I felt acutely that this was important, especially vis-à-vis what was happening in Germany, the US, Iberia and elsewhere. Secondly, I wanted to get the supply chain into the boardroom. The acid test is, if an activity is not going to achieve one of these two objectives, I don’t do it’. The result has been that ‘I’ve done some things free and some where I’ve made a lot of money’.
Waller was chairman of CILT for two and a half years — ‘The institute is a vehicle to achieve both of the above objectives’ — and he believes it has succeeded in placing supply chain higher on the agenda. However, he warns, ‘It isn’t just about educating people in the boardroom; we have to ensure firms have a succession [of supply chain savvy people].’
ELUPEG, the European Logistics Users, Providers and Enablers Group, which he helped found and of which he is chairman, is another unpaid activity in which Waller believes passionately. The group, which works to create and develop collaboration between supply chains, is ‘a powerful mechanism to get businesses to work together to improve business performance’.
‘Supply chains are being replaced by value networks: the supply chain lies no longer within an individual company; we have global networks cutting across countries and organisations.
‘The only way to achieve this is to get players working to a common agenda — the collaboration agenda. The network concept is powerful but we’ve been taught to compete: nobody has taught us to work together. ELUPEG has spent two years getting collaboration onto the agenda: the need and awareness are there but still nobody is taught how to do it.’
The big issues, as Waller sees them are firstly getting supply chain onto the board agenda ‘in a way people understand it as an adder of value, not an absorber of cost. The dog has got to know that there is a tail. Even if it is not critical the supply chain can still add value and affect the bottom line — and in some businesses the tail really should wag the dog.’
Secondly, he says, businesses must learn to work together. But again, if they don’t have board level visibility of their supply chains and networks, how can they identify the opportunities to work together in non-competitive areas?
A third issue is that of barriers to change and to the adoption of new techniques like RFID. The nature of the barriers is changing, says Waller. ‘For all breakthroughs, sure you need the technology but you also need people and people skills. Until 2000, surveys showed that the biggest barrier to supply chain excellence was seen to be the absence of appropriate IT systems. Now we get a different message: “We have all the technology we need but it is either not mature enough to use or our people aren’t mature enough to use it.”‘
That leads to Waller’s fourth concern, which he describes as the need for T-shaped companies and T-shaped people. He explains: ‘I-shaped people know more and more about less and less. Of course we need specialists but while I-shaped people can do their own job they can’t do the supply chain job. Being T-shaped is about breadth. If you are in manufacturing and are thinking about the supply chain, it’s not just about your specialist province of yields and throughputs and so on. You must be considering what sells and what your customers are doing. Similarly if you are in sales, you must be thinking upstream as well. It applies to companies as well as individuals — good retailers are T-shaped.
- Alan Waller, educated at Oxford, Leicester School of Management and Cranfield School of Management, spent 28 years with Price Waterhouse Coopers, latterly as senior logistics partner, during which time he established first the UK, then the global logistics consultancy practice and directed supply chain consultancy for the EMEA region.
- He retired from PwC in 2002 and is now vice-president for supply chain innovation at the consultants Solving International. He is also visiting professor in international supply chain management at Cranfield Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management (of which he was founder, as the distribution studies unit, and later as director between 1997 and 1999).He is also project director for the European Council on Global Supply Chain of The Conference Board.
- He is president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport, chairman of the European Logistics Users, Providers and Enablers Group, and a Fellow of numerous professional bodies.