Kudos, buddy! Or: how logistics information management will help you do your job – Logistics for global health and aid: A Humourless Lot - A Humourless Lot

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Kudos, buddy! Or: how logistics information management will help you do your job

by Michael Keizer on November 12, 2009

My previous article about I-See technology was the first post on what looks to become a mini-series on logistics information management; it gave me some fresh ideas for new posts, and why not go with the flow when you’re on a roll?[1]

This one will be about logistics data and what to do with it. Hello, are you still there?

A couple of years back, I was asked to analyse and improve on a supply line for an international NGO in an East-African country.[2] My first obvious question was: how bad is it actually? They didn’t know: although everybody knew that hardly anything was delivered on time and that there were a lot of mistakes in order fulfilment, leading to frequent stock-outs and overstocks, nobody could really give me any hard data – it was all seat-of-the-pants. When I asked what caused the problems, and where in the supply line they occurred, I was told that that was why I was hired, and could I please get on with the job?

By the time I left, I was told that the supply line had never worked as well as it did, and that I had done a sterling job; but had I?

I think it is time to let the cat out of the bag on that one: in fact, the supply line hadn’t improved a bit – at least, after I started measuring things, my indicators remained fairly flat. In fact, they showed that the supply line really didn’t do that badly even before I arrived, taking into account the context.

What did change, though, was that I used the increased supply chain visibility to give useful feedback to field managers, both logistical and operational ones. For the first time, they would know when to expect their supplies, and would be informed at an early stage if things seemed to go off-track; which meant that they could plan for it and start taking contingency measures at an early stage. I also started to churn out regular one-page overviews of how the supply chain was actually doing, which showed nicely that we didn’t do too badly. Of course I presented this as a big improvement: nobody wants to be told that they were actually quite wrong.

Now this is a nice story, but how would this have helped me if, in fact, the supply chain had been the shambles people thought it was? Having increased visibility would at least have helped me to find out where exactly in the supply line the problems occurred, and perhaps even what caused them; it would also have enabled me to see whether my remedies worked, and to which extent – it would even allow me to try out various measures, and see which one (or which combination) worked best. And finally, it would possibly have helped me to argue my case when expensive or painful measures would have been necessary.

All this turned out to be moot, and I got kudos for what was a fairly easy job. Want those kudos too? Then start working on your supply chain visibility.

[Image: Kudos Buddy by Adam Fagen. Some rights reserved.]

Back to post [1] I just love mixing my metaphors. It’s like those chemistry experiments I did in school, with sometimes similarly interesting (or malodorous) effects.
Back to post [2] Sorry, can’t be more specific than that.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

cynan_sez November 14, 2009 at 2:30 am

I’m sure you’re aware there’s some major investments around the traps going into this very thing in the form of HELIOS


Michael Keizer November 14, 2009 at 5:44 am

Yes, I am aware, and in fact I even wrote about it before. I am also aware of the work Oxfam is putting in tailoring and developing it further.

I would be careful, though, in only looking at technology like Helios to solve this (for reasons that I set out in my previous article). You will need to invest fairly heavily in other systems aspects like HR and organisation as well to do this right — ‘just’ implementing Helios doesn’t get you there. As far as I can see from some distance, Oxfam does understand that and is working hard on getting this right, but too often systems like Helios are seen as silver bullets whose implementation will automatically improve our supply chain visibility. They won’t, at least not without a lot more work been invested in the other systems aspects.


Fraser Stephens December 3, 2009 at 2:19 am

Well said on HELIOS and the ‘just’ implementing it issue. Oxfam are investing in it and HELIOS 2.0 will be with us shortly thanks to them. But it is still going to be a long while before implementation is going to be anything but very hard.

PS – Re: [2] – I can’t possible guess where that was…. 🙂


Michael Keizer December 3, 2009 at 8:11 am

Thanks, Fraser. Any chance that you might give us a sneak preview of what will be new in version 2? A guest post would be very welcome!

Re the guess: you might be surprised — it was not for MSF (not everything I ever did is on my CV), although now that you mention it, the Burundi case might be interesting to write about some time too, because it showed how ‘distance’ is not only measured in kilometres (or miles, for the metrically challenged). Thanks for giving me an idea for a next post!


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