Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Three Takeaways

It’s been a very hectic past few weeks for us at SCMAP as we mounted this year’s SCMAP Supply Chain Conference— an extra special one, as we are also marking our 30th anniversary as an organization. And so, we would like to thank everyone who made the event as success: our 17 speakers, 31 sponsors, over 300 delegates, event partners, guests, friends and colleagues, who put in the time and expertise to help us bring the Philippine supply chain community together one more time.


On the sidelines of the meetings I have attended last week, I have been asked: “so what were the key takeaways from the conference?” Admittedly, despite having had an involvement in crafting the programme and inviting the speakers, this is the sort of things I never really get to think of. It’s not to say I haven’t picked up anything—my position of privilege at the tech booth is pretty much a first-row seat—but that the frantic pace of those past few weeks mean I haven’t had a chance to let things boil over. But now I’ve had a chance to pause and reset (somewhat), and I have these three takeaways from the conference.


Infrastructure is always key. But it’s not enough to have them around: they have to be sensibly designed and planned for today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Yes, this is something we’ve said in this column for years, but it bears stressing. Daniel Ventanilla’s presentation illustrated a picture of sufficient port capacity in Manila, but one that is not properly utilized because of a lack of connections, or regulatory difficulties, or perhaps a lack of imagination from businesses. Come to think of it, the Manila-Subic-Batangas setup should be enough to cover Greater Manila, but we still have to fine tune the entire ecosystem so it all works like clockwork. Take all these new container depots, built to address port congestion, but are suddenly empty.


Perhaps it’s also time for government to expand their definition of essential logistics infrastructure and address the industry’s all-encompassing reach. In the past year we’ve discussed the essential role of cold chain logistics in ensuring quality of life, allowing perishable products like food and pharmaceuticals—as well as nice-to-haves like electronics and cosmetics—to be stored and transported efficiently. But capacity is still below what’s needed, and what’s available is mostly in major urban areas. I’ve been telling colleagues in government that it might be a good idea to invest in cold chain facilities between Baguio and Manila, for example, to keep essential food stocks particularly in case of calamities. I look forward to perusing the new road map by the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines, which should outline these needs.


We have to keep our people up to speed. There’s a lot of talk about how new technologies can help make our supply chains more efficient, but this talk tends to forget the role people will play in all this—perhaps because we automatically imagine a scenario where technology will replace people. But, one, supply chains will still need a human’s problem-solving and analytical abilities. Two, while the Philippines is slowly becoming more accepting of automation (see Orca Cold Chain’s investment in such technologies in their facilities) it will take a while for it to fully penetrate the industry. That puts everyone in the position to being able to both understand the impact of technology and prepare our people for the inevitable.


The government’s Industry 4.0 strategy critically includes plans to upskills workers who will be potentially affected by these technologies, allowing them to either be better able to work alongside the advances, or to move up the value chain and do work that still rely on gut instinct (and that will never go away). The private sector and academe are also bolstering efforts to prepare people for what lies ahead, whether it be public training programs or internal development initiatives. But preparing our people now is one thing: ensuring the next generation – our children, those who will run these supply chains in the future—can adopt is another. We must focus on that.


See what others see. Marcial Aaron led FMCG companies before retiring and becoming a farmer. Now he works with hundreds of them in Laguna, bringing added value to their crops by developing and selling their byproducts—food, furniture, and others. It’s a necessary reminder of how our work has far-reaching consequences, ones that we might not notice thanks to the frantic pace of our jobs, wherever we may be situated. Take also the impact of how we handle the data of our customers and partners (very key considering data protection legislation) and how our leadership style can impact those of the people under us.


One of the things we have been keen to illustrate in the past few SCMAP Supply Chain Conferences is just how wide the impact of our work in supply chain is, and this is something we cannot forget. While we are busy with the immediate details concerning our work—where are our shipments? are we hitting our KPIs?—we tend to forget to pause and take stock of how our work can have lasting effects on the lives of our partners, our customers, and the nation at large. That is by itself a gargantuan task, and we cannot do it all in one event, but we hope to have delivered a reminder that would leave you inspired to put all into your work. Once again, thank you for your support.


Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.


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