RILA and TPM Events Shape Issues Affecting the Supply Chain

By Sara Mayes, President / CEO Gemini Shippers Group

Last week shippers and carriers came together at two of the industry’s iconic events to discuss a range of issues impacting the supply chain today.

The 16th annual Transpacific Maritime Conference was held in Long Beach. Over two and a half days, carriers and shippers discussed a range of issues affecting the Transpacific trade, supply and demand and operational issues affecting carriers and shippers alike.  Concurrently, in Dallas, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) met for their 2016 Retail Supply Chain Conference.  While each conference had its own distinct focus, a number of common themes which highlighted the risks and opportunities shippers and carriers face, were prevalent in both venues.

Demand and Growth: Expectations for trade growth in 2016 remain muted. A host of noted economists parsed the global economy along various lines, but a key theme emerged that demand in 2016 will remain   modest and in the low single digit range.  For carriers, this lack of demand likely means that the current overcapacity, and downward corollary pressure on rates, will continue. For shippers, the need to maximize sales to an increasingly nimble and fickle shopper continues unabated.

Disruption: A number of panels at TPM continued to voice concern over ongoing disruption in the liner shipping space brought on by a host of changes including; global alliances, carrier M&A, port congestion, labor disruption, chassis provisioning, SOLAS weight rules, and the upcoming opening of the enlarged locks at the Panama Canal.  The takeaway from all stakeholders was that shippers’ supply chains must remain flexible to deal with this ever changing landscape.

Omni-Channel Shoppers:  Both conferences highlighted the changes being felt in the supply chain due to the increase in E-Commerce and the effect that Omni-Channel shopping has on the supply chain.  For retailers, the added complexity of multi-channel inventory management, Buy Online – Pick Up In Store, same day delivery and the on demand economy continues to present challenges for network design and inventory management.

Technology:  Both conferences highlighted the continued need for all parties in the supply chain to adapt new technologies to improve performance.  Numerous speakers noted the transformation of a new digital supply chain network driven by analytics and visualization.  Enabled by big data technologies, interconnected networks can provide supply chain executives with real time descriptive, predictive and prescriptive insight that, once established, allows for real-time visibility, customer segmentation intelligence, and planning.

Human Capital & Technology:  With so many changes occurring in the Supply Chain today, many speakers emphasized the need for supply chain team members to embrace and become knowledgeable with the new technologies of analytics and data science.

In closing the RILA conference, former Commander of the USS Benfold and bestselling author, Mike Abrashoff, noted that a motivated and well  led team was paramount to the supply chain.  He called upon supply chain leaders to constantly lead and motivate their teams and embrace a culture of excellence. Commander Abrashoff closed with the compelling call to all supply chain leaders “If you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, challenge the process.”

As each conference highlighted, today we operate in challenging times, and the successful will embrace change and technology with a motivated team of professionals able to adapt and react quickly to the challenges of a changing industry landscape.

The major take away from both conferences was the acknowledgement that we are operating in challenging times and, in order to be successful, we must embrace the change and technology with a motivated team of professionals in order to adapt and react  quickly to the challenges of a changing industry landscape.