The European Supply Chain Excellence Awards are now in their ninth successful year, with their continuing mission to seek out and honour true excellence in supply chain operation across Europe. Whether organisations are large or small, local or multinational, public or private, we have been looking for the heroes, and particularly the teams, that are not just achieving ‘best in class’ in their particular industrial or commercial sector, but are approaching or achieving some absolute standard of excellence, as far as our judges can make that call in the current state of the art. When these Awards began, we would have been justified in using the cliché ‘unsung heroes’ – happily, and we like to think, due in part to the success of the Awards scheme, there are many fewer organisations now that fail to recognise the centrality of efficient and effective supply chain operations to the achievement of strategic goals – whether those goals be the delivery of public services, of shareholder profit, or indeed of simply saving lives. Logistics and supply chain strategies and operations have their rightful place at the top table of most organisations deliberations – that doesn’t, however, mean that every organisation is at the same stage on the road to supply chain excellence, as we shall see.
The 2005 Awards have again been organised by Logistics Europe in partnership with Capgemini and have been generously supported through the sponsorship of; Intermec, Pall-Ex, Kuehne+Nagel, NAI Fuller Peiser and BT Rolatruc. The format has stabilised over the past few years: there are six Sector Awards – in FMCG, High Tech & Electronics, Engineering & General Manufacturing, Process Industries, Retail & Distribution, and Services Utilities & Public Sector.
In addition, some entries (not necessarily the sector category winners) may be put forward for consideration for Awards for excellence in the processes of Sourcing & e-Procurement, and in Logistics & Fulfilment. This allows us, amongst other things, to recognise operations that are truly excellent in these fields, but which may not be strong runners for Sector Awards or the Overall Award because they do not cover the full range of supply chain activities (for example, organisations or units within organisations may have no direct input to Procurement, or they may not have any Manufacturing element). Two further Awards are available – one for Supply Chain Innovation (and for an anguished discussion on quite what ‘Innovation’ implies, see the judges’ comments later) and one for ‘Team of the Year’ – again, the judges had some wrangles on exactly what is meant by a ‘team’! Of course, there was also the Award for the Overall Winner.
We had a healthy response to the initial invitation in ‘Logistics Europe’. As in previous years, organisations that formally registered were invited to complete an on-line self-assessment process which yields a ‘score’ or position on the Cap Gemini Network Value Chain Index. Even for firms whose entries went no further, we hope that has been a valuable exercise in itself – it should have teased out areas where supply chain performance, although perhaps outstanding in a local context (otherwise the companies would presumably not have entered) is still behind the game when benchmarked against the best of the best.
Scores aren’t everything, though – the elusive quality of ‘excellence’ can’t necessarily be demonstrated merely by ticking all the right boxes, and the assessors necessarily take a subjective as well as objective view – how does this supply chain ‘feel’? Are the people merely following a successful formula, or is their real understanding? and so on. In practice, for the tough decisions the judges find the subjective elements rather more useful than trying to discriminate between marginal differences on a score card. Entries can be from entire organisations, or particular sub-units. Firms that are purely providers of logistics products and services aren’t eligible on their own (a point which may have been missed by some entrants), but the Awards do welcome joint entries between providers and users and several of these made it through to the final shortlist. Extensive site visits From the questionnaire responses, a shortlist of finalists is drawn up, and each enjoys or endures an extensive and probing site visit from an adjudicator.
The shortlist was somewhat reduced this year, in part because of the unexpectedly thin entry from the Process Industries sector – to the point where the judges took the decision to reallocate survivors in that category among the other sectors. Nonetheless, 18 finalists went forward to the final judging stage. An aspect that has tripped up potential finalists in past years and again this year was the need to demonstrate convincing KPIs and metrics to justify claims. Some organisations’ developments are simply too recent for their impact to be measured; in other years we have also had finalists who have felt compelled to withdraw because their metrics are simply too commercially sensitive. Organisations tempted to enter next year’s Awards (which will be announced in Logistics Europe in the Spring) need to bear this in mind. Equally though, the judges are keen to reconsider in future years entries which have fallen out in previous competitions because of these factors but which may now be able to justify their claims to excellence publicly.
An all-day session in London proved, as always, taxing for our judges, who included Chris Webster from Cap Gemini, Martin Christopher, Professor of Demand Management at Cranfield School of Management, and Nick Allen, Editor of ‘Logistics Europe’. Although the core team has remained the same for several years, somehow the decisions don’t get any easier! The judges may or may not get a recommendation from the site assessors as to the Sector winners, and they may or may not agree – then they also have to consider entries to go forward for the process and special awards, and of course come up with an overall winner. Not infrequently, logical paradoxes arise – we prefer A to B, and B to C, but on the other hand we prefer C to A! There are branches of the higher mathematics that deal with this, but it’s hard work, as you will see in the discussions that follow.