Most people tend to assume that wars are won and lost by the soldiers on the battlefield.  Of course, the numbers, training, discipline and morale of those men do count for quite a lot.  Some might give some of the credit or blame to the generals.  There is plenty of evidence that the right tactics and strategy can make all the difference.  Far fewer people stop and think about the importance of supplies, or logistics to use a more technical word.  Yet many great generals would agree that looking after the apparently mundane aspects of warfare can be far more important than is often imagined.  Malborough and Wellington both said so. 

In the First World War getting the right supplies to the Front became a crucial issue and was probably one of the decisive factors in the final allied victory.    For a long time British Industry struggled to produce and deliver all the bullets, shells and replacement parts for the various guns and tanks in use.  It was even difficult to get enough uniforms and everyday items to where they were needed.  About half-way through the War, the Ministry of Supply came under the control of David Lloyd George for just long enough for him to appreciate the problems before he became Prime Minister.

 At the point he ensured that he was replaced at Supply by someone who would be sufficiently determined and energetic to get things moving, someone who would not be afraid to ruffle a few feathers if necessary (and it was).  The man he chose was his old friend Winston Churchill, newly rehabilitated after a period out of office.   They got the supply issues sorted out just in time to ensure no British soldiers were inadequately equipped when they had to resist the final big German push of 1918.

In Our Time the same is true. I once heard Norman Schwartzcopf, who commanded the American forces in the First Gulf War in the 1990’s, speaking on TV of how big a part logistics played in that campaign.  He said that it was useless to have a brilliant plan for defeating your enemy if you had no idea how to get your army to where it needed to be, or if most of your men died of hunger, thirst or disease, before they came anywhere near the enemy.

In Your Business the same is probably also true. Yet many business managers concentrate so much on improving or maintaining the efficiency of their own organisations that they do not have the time to look at their supply chain.  This is an increasing problem, as has been reported by the Institute of Risk Management.  The most apparent cause is the increased reliance on outsourcing and partnering, which are often desirable practices as long as the inherent risks are properly managed.

  •          How much impact would an interruption in supply have on your business?
  •          Do you know how vulnerable your suppliers are to any particular risks?
  •          How many days’ supplies do they carry?
  •          What measures do they have for dealing with threats to their production or distribution?
  •          What alternative sources of supply do you have?  How available are they?

If you do not have current, satisfactory answers to these questions, it is time for you to review your supply chain and its risks.  That could put you ahead of the competition.