The European Supply Chain Excellence Awards 2007: Closing the gap

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We were greatly heartened this year to see both a significant increase in the overall quantity and quality of entries to the Awards, reflected in a shortlist of finalists some 50 per cent greater than last year. The judges were also delighted to have such a broad European representation. The Awards have always striven to uncover best practice right across Europe, but in some years the results have seemed a little Anglo-centric. That is certainly not a criticism that could be levied this time and the geographical spread truly reflects the increasing awareness of this Awards programme as one of genuine rigour and prestige: indeed I know of a couple of organisations who decided not to enter their national awards scheme in favour of concentrating on this one.

On the other hand, I could worry slightly about the paucity of UK winners in categories where we have traditionally been supply chain leaders. Is that the rest of Europe catching up? Or an erosion of the UK’s industrial base affecting supply chain capability?

Looking at the different sectors, we separated hi-tech and telecoms this year due to the high number of entrants and allowing for greater competition. From our own experience we know that the electronics industry has already been through most or all of the major supply chain challenges that firms in some other sectors are only beginning to address.

However the gap between sectors is discernibly closing, and on this year’s findings there really isn’t much to choose between most of the leading players across industrial sectors. There were strong entries across the board and there was no sector where, we struggled to find worthy finalists.

A special joy has been to observe the real variety of supply chain improvement initiatives and the extent to which these improvements are increasingly customer-focused. That’s what we want to see – not just an internal focus on cost and efficiencies. One common characteristic of high-performing supply chains is that the supply chain is used as a strategic weapon to win business and differentiate the organisation from its competitors. This attitude was evident in an encouraging proportion of our finalists. Equally, I think it is fair to say that our most outstanding winners this year are in markets where customers are becoming ever more savvy – as someone once told me ”never underestimate the importance of demanding customers”.

One disappointment is the lack of any real emphasis being placed on using an environmental focus as a supply chain differentiator. When we dig deep into the entries, there is a lot of environmental and social responsibility activity, but supply chains aren’t proclaiming that they are doing something radically different. This will have to come – the issues are on every CEO’s desk, and sooner or later supply chains will be expected to pick up this opportunity for competitive advantage. I’d expect to see these issues more to the fore in future, and the Awards will continue to recognise leaders in this field.

Finally, a word about this year’s overall winner, Infineon. I know they were devastated not to triumph last year, but they haven’t been sulking in their tents. They’ve shown the perseverance to understand why they didn’t win, they’ve taken on messages (in addition, I’m sure, to continuing improvements they were planning anyway) and have run out worthy winners this year. And I hope that every entrant, from category winners down to those who didn’t even make the shortlist, has got something out of the Awards process, some deeper knowledge of how they can take an already satisfactory supply chain operation and begin to turn it into a strategic source of competitive advantage.

Gordon Colborn is a director at PRTM and was responsible for the facilitation of the judging process



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