Innovation time

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In any profession there are some tasks that are particularly satisfying – and for me one of those moments came in presenting the award for Supply Chain Innovation at the European Supply Chain Excellence Awards. As you will see from our awards report, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust beat off competition from a strong field with an automatic replenishment system that is a first for the health service. Innovation was also key to the success of the overall winner, Nokia Siemens Networks, which has embraced change to create an industry leading supply chain.

There can be few moments when innovation is more vital. The unprecedented upheavals of the past few weeks have left the banking industry reeling and economies heading towards recession.

The retail market has been reflecting the downturn. Marks & Spencer recently reported half year profits sharply down as a result of falls in both sales and margins, along with rises in distribution costs.

Not surprisingly, the retailer is cutting its capital spending programme, but significantly it is shifting its investment focus, in the short term at least, to supply chain and information technology.

It’s probably not the only retailer that will adopt such a response to a tough market. When times are good the focus is on increasing sales even if that means sacrificing a small measure of supply chain efficiency. As a result, there is probably scope for boosting operational efficiencies.

This provides an important opportunity to consider innovative supply chain solutions. Technological developments are opening up new ways of working — boosting agility, opening the way to greater collaboration, and reducing carbon footprints.

It’s defeatist to view tough trading conditions as simply a threat. For those prepared to embrace the challenge, it’s an opportunity to make change and strengthen a competitive position. And innovation is key to achieving that.

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