Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

a3-52 control towerOur Supply Chain Control Tower is up and running. Yes, the idea makes a lot of sense, but what are the benefits? How do we make full use of our resources? What else do we need to add to it?

If you take a look at an airport control tower, it usually is a boring place. Yes, they work around the clock but all you see is a super smooth operation. Operators viewing screens and talking calmly into headsets. When it is not "boring", they usually throw visitors out. Our goal with our SCM Control Tower is to make it a "boring" place.

Airport towers handle incidents on the ground like failed landing gear. They handle incidents in the air like a "near miss". They even reach out to other airports: anybody ever sat in an airport waiting for your destination airport to plow its snow, or whatever?

So all the time our SCM "tower operators" are monitoring for aberrations: in-house; with the suppliers and service providers; and the external World. They are looking for anything that has, will or might interrupt the supply chain. When ever, let's call it an "incident", is detected, the tower operator first determines if it has already occurred.


Next, what is the impact of the incident? This leads to how fast does the response have to be. Now the tower operator puts the incident in one of four "buckets":

(1) happened in the past and the impact is not serious

(2) will happen in the future and not a serious threat

(3) happened already and the impact is a threat to the supply chain

(4) has not happened yet, but will happen and will be a threat to the supply chain.


So now we have created something like the Richter Scale in the earthquake world. Now the company rapid response team can go after the bucket 3 and bucket 4 incidents and other teams (process, continuous improvement, strategic planning, et al) can go after the bucket 1 and bucket 2 incidents.

Let's surface some ideas of what goes in what bucket: Bucket 1 could be a supplier whose KPI's are going downhill. Bucket 2 could be a revised tax law or upcoming construction on the road from a key supplier to the plant. Bucket 3 might be a fire at a supplier plant. Bucket 4 might be a new pirate ship in the Red Sea.

So what kinds of things does the tower operator need?

(1) Access to external news sources such as Weather Channel, NC4 (National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination ) incident monitoring

(2) Supply Chain network map. Posted daily with updates from an early detection supplier monitoring system (based on KPI's)

(3) Map of current or potential "hot spots". This could be as simple as a map someone would update with a grease pencil

(4) A process of "trigger points" to know when to declare an alert. This should be right out in front of the operator

(5) Established "work flows" to deal with potential problems.


Work flows are not a new idea; I have an old railroad "Snow Book" from the 1950's that had all sorts of potential problems with solutions documented ahead of time and ready to go whenever bad weather hits.

Last modified on Monday, 19 August 2013
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