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This past week I attended CSCMP’s annual conference in San Diego, one of the industry’s top events for everything and anything supply chain. One of the differences with this conference is its educational focus where the gathering is more about learning and exchanging ideas rather than selling the latest wares. A fair amount of visitors to the RedPrairie booth were college students intent on networking and hearing about the innovations in our world (robot pickers anyone?)

One particular grad student stands out (and not just because her thesis is on cloud computing in the supply chain). She asked a rather pointed question—“Why doesn’t the supply chain get much respect outside of the business world?” Jokingly I told her, the supply chain doesn’t get much respect from the business world either.

There’s certainly an ounce of truth to my response, although businesses today are more cognizant of the financial benefits of a strong supply chain and logistics strategy. In many ways, I equate practice of supply chain strategy to the art of public relations. Having worked at various PR firms, I can tell you that PR doesn’t get much respect either, that is, until you need it. For many, they treat supply chain efficiency as an afterthought, unable to see the benefits beyond the cost. But, the logistics industry hasn’t done itself any favors either.

As an industry, we haven’t done an effective job reaching out to the general public. I would venture to guess that public perception—positive or negative—is either low or non-existent, although your typical shopper will likely remember when the store didn’t have a particular sweater in stock. For those of us who work in any industry related to the supply chain, we are often caught up in our own little world. While we may understand and tout the value that we deliver, the struggle comes is in getting the public to recognize that value.

Think it doesn’t matter? Regardless of where you stand on issues, consider public policy for example. From food recalls and railway improvements to green initiatives and transportation regulations, the general public can’t make educated decisions without an understanding of where we fit along with the implications.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about UPS and its new “We Love Logistics” ad campaign. While it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, it’s a good start. With any cloud, the silver lining here is that we have nowhere to go but up. We just need to make a concerted effort, and with the next generation of supply chain pros, I expect that to happen.

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