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ASCM Insights

Supply Chain Metamorphosis


Life as a supply chain manager has drastically changed over the years. Today’s young professionals would laugh hysterically if they were asked to work the way we did back in the 1980s. In fact, all of us would.

Back then, I was a buyer/planner. I remember walking into the office on Monday mornings and being given a massive green-and-white, pin-fed computer printout. It was roughly 18 inches wide and two inches thick, containing our weekly material requirements planning (MRP) run for all parts within our respective portfolios.

We went through the report meticulously, manually calculating what to order before completing the forms that detailed the production orders. We then submitted them to the master scheduler and, on Friday afternoon, received approval. We spent the last few hours of the day frantically entering orders into the system for the weekend run. This arduous process was just for our internal manufacturing team. Purchasing something from a supplier was an even more ghastly routine. I’m not sure those were the good old days.

In 2018, I attended ASCM’s annual conference in Chicago. One workshop has left a lasting impression on me. My fellow attendees and I discussed change in supply chain. We talked about the importance of challenging old norms, and we wondered, “What is our role as supply chain professionals?”

The main discovery we made was the magnitude of our industry’s role in global business initiatives. Sure, supply chain is inherently concerned with moving products quickly and efficiently. But those of us in this industry also improve the world by getting essential goods to people in remote places. This lesson helped me recognize the significance and complexity of global supply chains — and the need to embrace change.

Change is not an option within a company; it is a must. Industries evolve over time to reflect improved technology and a global economy. Without change, both organizations and individuals risk becoming irrelevant.

I admit that I don’t really like change. I prefer to stay within my comfort zone. However, that workshop has helped me think more granularly about my specific role as a global planner. Yes, it has changed very quickly in recent years. I spend much less time manually placing production and purchase orders, evaluating reorder points, reviewing economic order quantities, and expediting. Instead, I work on complex global improvement projects, stakeholder management, strategy alignment, and customer and supplier relationships. I am constantly looking for ways to improve business processes, and I always keep customers as my primary focus.

While change can be uncomfortable, more often than not, it leads to increased productivity and overall business and personal advancement. Without change, we would still be stuck in the archaic world of massive pin-fed computer printouts. My job today is a lot more fun and fulfilling than it was decades ago. I’m certain countless supply chain veterans would agree.

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About the Author

Darrin Eastes, CPIM Roche Diagnostics

Darrin Eastes, CPIM, is employed with Roche Diagnostics in Indianapolis. He may be contacted

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