I do enjoy and recognise the benefits of conferences and on-line webinars. They are a great opportunity to take some precious moments away from the bustle of the day-job, think about the wider picture and think differently. Invariably, the most useful part is hearing about other organisation’s application of a new approach, technology or change.

Typical examples of some of these cutting edge practices may include; bigger and more granular models, more advanced network optimisation algorithms, Big Data, Control Towers, and even effectively merging product in transit.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the reality that many operations still rely upon immature processes such as vehicle key and fuel card control, routing system parameter configuration, KPI data capture and appropriate transit packaging. Perhaps the 2 biggest issues, that I have still yet to see performed well, in all but a handful of operations, however are;
1) Capturing, maintaining and protecting (handling) Product Data
2) Managing Returns process

One might expect that the organisations presenting their cutting edge practices are totally separate from those who have some very immature practices. However, my experience suggests they are invariably the same organisations that exhibit a few leading edge practices, many on-parity and some very outdated practices. A key difference is that the large cutting edge initiatives will attract the funding, senior management attention and effective project management. This can result in further divergence of practices within the organisation. We therefore end up with situations that we are deploying transport optimisation tools and processes with feedback loops from telematics (cutting edge), but lack appropriate Product and Vendor address data (the basics), to make the optimisation valuable. Or, we may have the best planning system and best people to use it (cutting edge), but if we haven’t got the multi-site IT networking sorted (the basics), then the benefits will be compromised.

So how do we reconcile cutting edge processes with the very immature processes?
Where should organisations focus their efforts?

Logically, one would advocate “sort out the basics”. If we can’t get some of the basics right, then does an organisation really have the foundations and proven capability to adopt the cutting edge practices? However, the cutting edge practices are the items that will drive the strategic development and the customer experience. There are clearly dependencies, but are quite different in their complexity, scale of change and the skills and capabilities needed to deliver.
It’s impossible here to quantify the relative benefits. The accepted norm is that there is greater value to be driven out at the strategic design level. However, I wonder if this assumes operations and tactics being on-parity.

Driving Cutting edge initiatives and Operations Excellence must remain a valid aspiration, but we must also focus on the very tangible “back to basics” agenda. We must recognise that Operations are rarely anything like “steady-state”. Instead Operations are in a constant state of flux. Capacity and capability for continuous improvement must be considered rather than assumed to be part of the day-to-day Operation.