Earlier this month, Wanted Analytics announced that job postings for supply chain positions were up 24% over the same 90-day period last year (source). Great news for the supply chain! But what jobs are in high demand?

I went out and interviewed a number of academics, industry professionals and recruiters to gauge what jobs are hot in the industry. Here are the 5 jobs that are trending right now, and some of the certifications and skills that are important for these professionals

#1 Demand Planner -- The demand planner ensures that the business isn’t carrying too much (or too little) inventory. They do so by developing forecasting and inventory models to help support the rest of the supply chain teams. Because of the quantitative focus of this role, an academic background in mathematics and engineering is helpful. Many of these professionals have certifications from APICS or hold the title of Six Sigma Black Belt.

#2 Procurement Manager -- These professionals help manage sourcing and purchasing activities to ensure that inventory is being purchased from trustworthy suppliers at affordable costs. Many individuals with backgrounds in supply chain operations, marketing, sales and a number of other disciplines are successful in these roles. There are a number of popular certifications, including the C.P.M. (now replaced by the CPSM) and the SPSM through Next Level Purchasing.

#3 Distribution Center (DC) Supervisor -- While the warehouse and distribution center is often presented in a less-than-glorified manner, its efficiency is crucial to timely product delivery to the customer. The DC Supervisor ensures that the operation runs smoothly through managing both a team of workers and communicating with both inbound and outbound carriers. The most successful professionals in these roles are often the well-rounded individuals--those that are great leaders, but understand that sometimes it’s necessary to your hands dirty.

#4 Supply Chain Consultant -- A popular destination for recent supply chain undergraduates and new MBAs are the big accounting firms such as Deloitte or Aon. Alternatively, individuals can work for the more supply chain-focused firms such as Capgemini or A.T. Kearney. Overall, these individuals are hard-workers that are okay with the long hours and tough assignments. The benefit--working with individuals that manage some of the top supply chains in the world. Oftentimes, these consultants go on to higher positions in other firms, start their own consulting operations or even move up into management-level positions within the supply chain itself.

#5 3PL Business Manager -- As more and more businesses look to outsource their logistics needs, the importance of third-party logistics operations will continue to increase. This rising importance creates an interesting opportunity for the intersection of sales, account management and logistics. The individual in charge of businesses development for 3PLs doesn’t necessarily need a Masters in Supply Chain Management, but a basic understanding of logistics is beneficial when working and communicating with customers.

I’ve also highlighted some other skills that the experts believe are in high-demand over on my blog, so check out the original article for if you would like some more info: Top 5 Fastest-Growing Jobs in Logistics.

Over on Software Advice, I recently discussed the prevalence of Cloud-based solutions within the public sector. I spoke with Alan Webber, eGovernment and public-sector IT expert from Altimeter Group on the subject.


Alan has some really great thoughts. Namely, he expressed the opinion that while the public sector is still generally hesitant to move the Cloud, there are a number of benefits that government groups can realize in the Cloud:


  • Decreased up-front investment with monthly subscription pricing (most important)
  • Architecture that can fluctuate with the ebb and flow of changing organization sizes
  • Increased accessibility thanks to web-browser access


The discussion got me thinking about how the Cloud can impact public-sector procurement. For Cloud-based solutions to be successful in government purchasing situations, I think software vendors can focus on two strategies:


  1. Public-sector specialization -- Public sector activities have much more regulatory checks than their private-sector counterparts. This, among other reasons, are why a “repackaged” private-sector application is not always a good fit for the public sector. I think vendors can successfully market their Cloud-based solutions to the public sector as long as they have specific public-sector functionality.
  2. Private Cloud deployment -- Webber believes--and I concur-- that the “private Cloud” will be developed further within the public sector than the private sector. Government organizations can enjoy the benefits of Cloud-computing along with increased control over network security and administration. The cost savings will be less drastic, however, but this may be a stepping-stone to reliance on vendors’ Clouds.


At the same time, I see two trends within the public sector increasing the prevalence of Cloud-based solutions:


  1. More P3s -- Public-private partnerships, or P3s, are increasing in importance at a drastic rate, according to public procurement expert Mary Scott Nabers. These partnerships will require new technology solutions, and many of these buyers will be strapped for cash. The only option for these groups may be the subscription-based Cloud solutions that lack little up-front investment.
  2. Acceptance of software buying groups -- A popular option for many public-sector groups strapped-for-cash is to partner with similar organizations to purchase software. For example, instead of individual schools adopting a solution, entire school districts can band together to select one Cloud-based application. This will be a popular option as groups at every level of the government will need technology solutions to augment worker numbers, but also don’t have the budget for a large IT purchase.


The complexity and variance within the public sector make it difficult to make a statement one way or another on what it will take for the government to move to the Cloud. I'm interested in real-world anecdotes. Is anyone seeing a shift to the cloud with public-sector purchasing? The opposite? Let me know, as I’d be interested in discussing it.


You can check out a deeper discussion on the Software Advice site, or you can go to the article directly here.

It’s hard to single out just one move by Apple over the last 15 years that has helped build the company into both a technology giant and one of the most valuable companies in the world. Steve Jobs built an impressive team and was a visionary genius in terms of both product development and corporate management. One could argue, though, that a large portion of Apple’s success was possible thanks to Tim Cook and his focus on improving Apple’s operations and supply chain.


Prior to being Apple’s COO (and now CEO), Cook spent time at companies such as IBM and Compaq leading worldwide operations and fulfillment. As Apple has improved from an afterthought to a thought-leader in the consumer technology industry, it’s become increasingly important for Apple to meet the enormous demand for its products. Cook has developed and cultivated Apple’s logistics and procurement practices so that it can meet increasing demand and offer high-quality products that can be procured at low costs and delivered quickly to consumers.


Cook’s rise to the top coproate position as a supply chain graduate is uncommon, but something that more technology companies should think about. I spoke with another supply chain expert this morning, and he agreed that boards need more supply chain executives to help improve the bottom line. He expressed his personal shock that many consultants offer simple advice such as improving procurement - but of more “tactical” purchases such as office supplies or of maintenance work. A stronger focus on more "strategic" procurement, such as for raw production materials, has the potential to impact the bottom line in a much more dramatic way. Supply chain experts can not only bring this knowledge and focus to the top of a company’s priority docket, but also bring experience with software applications such as spend management, procurement, and warehouse management software (link) to enact these changes.


I’ve written more on this topic on my company blog, including how the lack of high-level talent in the logistics field is holding back the industry from placing graduates on technology company boards. For more discussion, you can check it out here: http://blog.softwareadvice.com/articles/scm/c-level-supply-chain-focus-for-tech-companies-1091311/.

I recently wrote an article on how to effectively manage supplier relationships in the heyday of procurement and contract automation software.

Don’t get me wrong, software is a necessary part of the big-picture supply chain solution. But, I think that should be balanced with a focus on education and relationship-building with suppliers.

For example, if purchasing experts are thinking of using supplier penalties to get the most out of their suppliers, they should consider using incentives to make the relationship more than a one-sided deal. Wal-Mart is well known for being King of the one-sided supplier penalty game. But what if you’re not Wal-Mart? Suppliers can take their business to one of many other buyers.

On my blog at Software Advice, I recently wrote an article on this topic. I also talk about the need to increase performance visibility and communication with suppliers, the necessity of creating escalating expectations, the need to focus on high-risk suppliers, and to consider a supplier’s industry when establishing performance indicators and penalties/rewards.

You can check it out at this link: Relationships 101: Back to the Basics for Supplier Management. If anyone has any thoughts or feedback on the topic, it would be great to hear from you. You can contact me at michael@softwareadvice.com.

Lean manufacturing has been the standard in Japan - and across the world - since Toyota and other Japanese manufactures mastered Toyotism in the 1980s. This methodology focuses on mastering repeating processes, improving the flow of production, and empirically analyzing results to reduce inefficiencies.


But, when disaster strikes, how does one react? Japan was unfortunately asked this question in March, after being devastated by a massive earthquake and Tsunami. How were some of the biggest manufacturers and supply chains able to recover from the disaster?


A new article from Software Advice (site) analyzes who are some of the post-tsunami supply chain all-stars, and how they did recovered. Some were pre-emptive: they had been affected by disaster in the recent past, and had effective action-plans. Others worked together, sharing secrets with competitors in order to help suppliers get up and running as soon as possible. And one in particular - Apple - was able to leverage its stranglehold on the supply chain and come out relatively unscathed. These companies are a testament to disaster readiness, as well as proof that quick-thinking and action can prove effective in repairing the broken links of a supply chain.


Today, businesses must take a closer look at their value chains and determine the weakest points - these are where calamity will hurt the most, and should be the first points of action. In the future, these instances of success will become great case studies on how to recover from horrible natural disasters quickly and effectively.


For more, check out: The Post-Tsunami Supply Chain All-Stars | Who Recovered the Fastest and How?

Demand for procurement software is improving. Large enterprises are back in the market driving big deals, while mid-market firms are implementing sophisticated procurement systems for the first time. Cloud computing is behind most of the positive trends in this market, including increased adoption, improved collaboration and new forms of application functionality. I expect 2011 will be a strong year for the procurement systems market.


Based on my research, here are the trends I’m following:

Demand is Growing Moderately as the Economy Improves

Heading into 2011, the economy has improved and business are spending more on software. Large enterprises and big deals are back. At the same time, some of the most active buyers are mid-market businesses (i.e, those with revenue of $100M to $750M). Many procurement specialists who were displaced by large-enterprise downsizing landed at mid-market companies; in their new roles, these seasoned operators are pushing to implement sophisticated procurement systems. Cloud deployment makes that possible.


Meanwhile, many businesses that cut procurement headcount during the recession are choosing not to replace those workers as business improves. Instead, these firms are seeking permanent increases in productivity by better automating the procurement function. The efficiency gained from procurement systems is reducing the need for human capital. Procurement systems vendors stand to profit.


The Cloud is Enabling Procurement Collaboration
Cloud-based procurement systems are delivering benefits beyond reductions in cost of ownership. In particular, procurement networks are allowing procurement specialists to better collaborate within and beyond their organizations.


Jason Busch of Spend Matters predicts that 2011 will see more collaboration between businesses’ procurement and finance operations. “Purchase-to-pay and supplier performance management applications are two examples of how software is helping bring together cross-functional departments,” he says.


Procurement specialists are also eager for social functionality that will allow them to network beyond their four walls. For example, when procuring print services, buyers can collaborate with vendors to keep presses running by scheduling print jobs during typical slow periods. In that situation, a printer would be more than eager to extend discounted pricing.


Going one step further, many specialists are reaching out to their peers at other organizations – sometimes, even competitors. An example of this can be seen at exchange.ariba.com, where members can provide information and ask questions with the Exchange community.


Usability Takes Precedence Over Functionality
Buyers are demonstrating a preference for systems that have intuitive, well-designed user interfaces (UIs). In many cases, the simplicity of a modern Cloud-based system is preferable to a more feature-rich offering with a dated, complex UI.


“I would rather have a system that is user-friendly with fewer bells and whistles, than an advanced system that can’t be turned on,” remarks Andrew Miller of ACM Consulting


This trend is reinforced by an influx of young employees who expect a UI like the sites they frequent every day: Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The secret to winning over this generation of employees is to provide a system that is similar to their casual browsing experiences. Procurement software vendors are responding by mimicking the straightforward Web UIs of popular sites. Cloud-based vendors are at an advantage.


Demand is Increasing for Advanced Sourcing Applications
Buyers are adopting more sophisticated sourcing applications that enable them to evaluate suppliers against a more rigorous set of criteria. These applications factor in quality, delivery, and reliability to identify the most advantageous suppliers.


As time has gone on, suppliers have have learned to exploit reverse auctions – using learned tactics and working with other suppliers to tip the scales in their favor. Software vendors are now producing systems that feature filtering beyond common qualifiers (e.g., fixed price and shipping time) to return balance to reverse auctions.


The mainstream adoption of mobile apps also creates new opportunities to attack long-tail sourcing opportunities. One example is in delivery, where mobile allows for working with a more fragmented set of suppliers, such as a mom and pop shipping company in eastern North Dakota. Instead of relying on UPS or FedEx, procurement can auction off the last 50 miles of a delivery to a local shipper, such as Ross – a one-man operation driving with his dog. Ross can receive a mobile alert in his van, bid lower that the big guys, and drive to Fargo the same afternoon.


Demand for Spend Analytics is Strong as Well
Executives are investing in spend analytics to evaluate how their business spends money, the state of their supplier relationships, and how forecasts compare to actual spending. While many procurement systems offer reporting, these applications are often simplistic, cumbersome, and limited to data within that system.


Now, more vendors are providing more sophisticated analytic applications and the ability to personalize reports. Instead of one-size-fits-all reporting, users can customize their reporting and receive reports that analyze the most meaningful, useful data. This results in analytics that actually provide useful information, rather than create information overload. These same systems can also draw data from a broader set of sources, creating a more holistic, meaningful view into corporate spend.


Contract Management Gaining Traction
Fairly advanced procurement departments automate most of the purchasing cycle, but still push paper when it’s time to sign a contract. Contract management is the last hurdle to cross to fully automate the purchasing process. It seems more procurement departments are ready to take on this challenge in 2011.


There is a lot of efficiency to be gained by moving deals away from paper contracts and into automated agreements. For example, contract management reduces bottlenecking or neglected contracts. Notifications can help speed along the process. A number of pure-play contract management vendors have pushed the technology ahead, while large procurement systems vendors have taken notice and incorporated contract management into their suites.


As procurement applications become more usable and functional, businesses will make a stronger effort to integrate the systems into their workflow. Look for procurement departments to go “all in” with new software systems in 2011.

If you are in a procurement department, is your company planning on investing in new software applications? What features are important to your business, and how will you make sure your employees are going to use them? Sound off below.


Special thanks to Ellen Lasser of Energy Future Holdings, George Harris of Calyptus Consulting Group, Mark Trowbridge of Strategic Procurement Solutions, and Dan Plute of Material and Contract Services for additional insights for this article.


See the original article at: http://www.softwareadvice.com/articles/scm/2011-market-trends-report-procurement-systems-1030711/

Software vendors are offering enhanced products for logistics executives looking at new Warehouse Management Systems (WMS). These systems feature inventory and labor management applications, and further integrate warehouse, distribution, and transportation operations. As efficient logistics operations become more specialized and essential to profitability, executives will look to upgrade or replace their WMS software to remain competitive.


Here’s what I’m seeing for WMS software in 2011.


Economic Recovery is Improving Demand

Market spending is not at the level seen before the recession, but it is rising. “You can only wait so long before you need to spend money on improvements,” says Phil Obal, President at IDII. Buyers spent less on Supply Chain Management (SCM) software in the first three quarters of 2009, but began to rebound in Q4 2009 and 2010. You should expect that trend to continue into 2011 for two reasons.


First, an improved economy is giving buyers confidence to tackle long-postponed logistics upgrades. Companies will soon have the capital to either upgrade their outdated systems or invest in WMS software for the first time.


Second, other companies are on schedule to upgrade their systems in the next few years, especially those who invested right before the recession.


Small and Medium Businesses are Driving WMS Purchases

Small and medium businesses make more WMS purchases than larger corporations. “Small businesses are being a little more aggressive than larger ones, perhaps because their purchasing decisions are more predicated on their current earnings,” says Terry Harris, Managing Partner at Chicago Consulting.


As the economy improves, SMBs are investing profits into logistics to gain a competitive advantage. Large businesses are likely to follow, but their longer purchasing cycles leave them six to twelve months behind.


Many smaller businesses are also outgrowing their current systems, or their abilities to operate without one, and need WMS solutions urgently. Warehouse managers need to act urgently to stop their operations from foundering, which means buying WMS solutions right now.


Cloud-based WMS systems (described in more detail below) are a great option for many smaller operations. A lot of SMBs are choosing WMS software in the Cloud because it requires little IT assistance, and an attractive payment model.


Increased Demand for Labor Management

Many organizations using WMS software to accurately track inventory are now turning their attention to labor management features. These increase warehouse productivity by letting the operator manage each worker more efficiently.


Labor management applications let managers measure the time cost of warehouse activities, such as the time it takes to unload a truck or pack a container. These systems can also create a list of tasks for a worker as he enters the warehouse. So in one trip, he can complete multiple types of work: put away a palette, move a container, and drop off a forklift for another worker.


“When you start interleaving and measuring people, you are driving out a lot of inefficiencies. You’re maximizing your labor that is already there in the warehouse,” says Obal.


These applications can send key performance indicator (KPI) updates to a manager’s computer or a worker’s mobile device. The most efficient and accurate employees can be rewarded, and those not meeting standards can be told exactly where they need to improve.


Increased Demand for Integrated Supply Chain Execution

Integration of WMS and Transportation Management System (TMS) software is becoming a popular way to do seamless and efficient business processes in warehouse distribution

Integrated systems can notify an incoming truck to cross-dock its contents onto an outgoing truck, while at the same time coordinate warehouse labor to position stored containers for loading onto the same vehicle. “It’s business integration. It’s ‘integration-between-the-ears,’” says Don Benson, Partner at Warehouse Management System Support.


Integrating WMS and TMS means better coordination between warehousing and shipping, which reduces costs. The shipping destinations of containers can be changed as they arrive, containers going to the same location can be easily spotted and combined, and less-than-truckloads (LTLs) can be reduced.


Growth of 3PLs Creates New WMS Requirements

The rapid growth in third-party logistics (3PL) providers is forcing WMS vendors to consider developing multi-tenant architectures. Any software complication is magnified in 3PL operations. A single problem becomes an issue for multiple users, and providing a quick fix for one site may limit another.


The nature of logistics outsourcing requires that WMS systems used by 3PLs have multi-tenant interfaces to account for distribution centers with multiple clients. And many of those distribution centers are one of many. All in all, modified and extended WMS software often becomes too rigid. It can’t meet the needs of rapidly changing 3PL operations.


3PLs also handle large amounts of inventory, which is irregularly accessed, frequently moved between locations, and is therefore haphazardly crossing paths with similar and dissimilar products every day. WMS software must be able to handle these stock volumes, and be exceptionally particular in how they track and manage it.


“There’s about 75, maybe 80 [vendors] now that have a WMS for 3PLs. Providers have done a good job with their functionality, but it’s a lot of work to do a 3PL and do it right,” says Obal.


Outsourced distribution and warehousing will remain important in 2011.


RFID Fails to Live Up to the Hype, Thus Far

The excitement around radio-frequency identification (RFID) has subsided in recent years. Despite Walmart’s 2005 mandate that its suppliers adopt this emerging technology, I feel that RFID is only now rising out of its elevated hype.


There was a lot of hype for the future of RFID technology in the supply chain, but our expectations were too lofty for this emerging technology. “It was super-hyped, in my opinion. It’s at a moderate, more reasonable level now,” says Terry Harris.


Why has the technology not materialized as expected? While Walmart probably did more for technology than any other commercial operation, they equally hindered it by not supporting their suppliers’ adoption?


Walmart required its top suppliers to adopt RFID, and issued per-palette penalties for suppliers not using the tags - but gave nearly no financial support to help suppliers invest in the technology. Similar lack of support from other large corporations is hindering the widespread adoption of RFID in the supply chain. The end result is the technology has yet to become a standard across the industry.


While the number and variety of RFID products from vendors in increasing, the cost of ownership is stopping many logistics managers from buying them. As with most technology, look for more widespread adoption of RFID as the cost drops.


Voice and Mobile Applications are in Demand

Warehouses are embracing voice and mobile technologies, as they help improve efficiency and make tasks easier for warehouse staff. The original WMS systems which used voice-recognition were limited to picking. Thanks to modern processors, computers can now use voice technology in multiple worker activities: picking, putaway, replenishment, shipping. And the days of using software to control your voice-recognition add-ons are disappearing - most vendors offer a voice-capable product out of the box.


Mobile technologies are also in demand in many business operations, and the warehouse is no exception. With the ability to access software on the go via an iPad, tablet PC, or smart phone, mobile systems are becoming popular with both managers and floor workers. More and more systems are being designed with applications built to live in a mobile world.


New features like mobile alerting have changed how productivity is monitored in the warehouse: if a picker is taking longer to complete a task than he should, he can get a mobile alert on his iPad, tablet PC, or smart phone.


“Instead of people being reactive, they are being proactive,” says Paul Schweet, Senior VP at TZA Consulting. Mobile software will help increase the visibility of warehouse operations among workers, and make efficiency standards easier to achieve.


Warehouses are Late to the Cloud Party

Cloud-based WMSs offer an effective solution for buyers with limited IT resources; but logistics managers have been slow adopting this new software deployment model. Cloud-based WMS systems have had trouble penetrating the warehouse market for a couple of reasons.


First, warehouse managers generally are late adopters, and would rather see others test new technology before adopting it themselves.

Second, the perceived security issues of hosting off-site are a deal-breaker for many. Says Schweet: “If I have critical data, I don’t want that sitting out in the Cloud, where other people can get to it or a competitor is on the same network. It’s about protecting my data.”


WMS buyers will accept the Cloud, but only after witnessing successful deployments elsewhere in their organizations. Indeed, Cloud-based systems are rapidly gaining acceptance in many enterprise functions such as CRM and email.


ERP Vendors Gaining Ground in the Warehouse

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors are gaining ground in the warehouse by using exisiting executive relationships and increasingly functional WMS offerings. Businesses running simpler warehouse operations are choosing ERP solutions for the simple convenience of integrating a WMS with their other business enterprise software.


ERP vendors are offering strong enough WMS systems that their account control is tipping many buying decisions their way. “We often hear of businesses replacing a best-of-breed for an ERP solution that has very similar features. They often leave because of the relationship,” says Don Benson. Businesses often choose an ERP for the comfort it provides.


More complex operations are choosing feature-rich best-of-breed systems and integrating them with their ERP suites. If a warehouse operation wants more advanced features like cross-docking, interleaving, advanced labor standards, or advanced technology integration, those features may not be offered by their ERP.


In response to the ERP penetration of the logistics market, many best-of-breed WMS vendors are expanding their systems’ functionality to address a broader range of enterprise processes. These “WMS as ERP” options offer the advanced capabilities of best-of-breeds with the business functionality of an ERP. More and more software companies are taking this approach, and it provides an attractive option for many buyers.


2011 and Beyond...

Warehouses are the backbone of successful logistics operations. Each warehouse operation is unique to the business it supports, and a WMS software decision must reflect these nuances. What features are important to you? Will you choose an ERP solution, or go with a best-of-breed system in your warehouse? Do you feel comfortable in the Cloud? Add your thoughts to the comments below.


This article was originally posted at: 2011 Market Trends Report: Warehouse Management Systems