Sending delegates from your company to a supply chain conference can be expensive, but should the expenditure be considered as an investment, or an indulgence?

Many business leaders find it hard to see conference attendance as a real investment. If you choose your events wisely though, the return on attendance, travel, and accommodation expenses can be greater than you might expect, even when conference-ticket prices seem inordinately high.

A supply chain conference can be a very current source of knowledge and education for your company, its leaders and its workforce.

The secret is to make sure you and your team pick the right events and the right delegates… and that you brief and prepare those delegates to come back with new information and insights to share and make use of.


The Lessons to Learn From a Supply Chain Conference

In this post, you can get some ideas about the types of business problems and issues often covered by supply chain conferences.

Knowledge can be gathered by attending speaker-sessions, workshops, and other scheduled conference activities, as well as from vendors in the exhibitor hall and the multitude of supply chain professionals who attend such events just to network.

Usually you’ll find something to educate delegates at any level and from any of your supply chain functions. Let’s start with a look at how execs and senior managers can benefit from supply chain conference attendance.


Let Your Leaders Learn From Leaders

All good leaders know that the learning process never ends, which is probably why so many executive leaders deliver conference keynote presentations. Your own company’s executive officers can gain a lot of valuable knowledge, inspiration, and insight from listening to prestigious business leaders speak at supply chain conferences.

For example, at last year’s Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, keynote speakers included Chris Tyas, Nestle’s Global Supply Chain head and Michael Duke, former Walmart CEO, both of whom gave very candid keynote speeches, sharing lessons they learned as their career paths unfolded.

It can be very revealing to hear from leaders with such high profiles. Their stories and anecdotes often highlight how theoretical leadership knowledge can be put to practical use in decision-making and strategy development.


In fact, supply chain strategy is one of the most important areas of knowledge for company executives, making time spent at a supply chain conference well worthwhile if strategy is a key theme.


Strategy is but one supply chain conference topic relevant to executive delegates though. Others might include:

  • Supply chain and logistics trends and predictions
  • Supply chain optimisation
  • Risk management and mitigation
  • Supply chain integration and collaboration
  • Management of the extended supply chain


Learn How to Improve 3PL Relationships

Supply chain conferences can be especially useful to anyone responsible for developing and managing 3PL partnerships. This topic is not extensively covered by supply chain training and education programs, yet working with third-party partners is a vital element of modern supply chain management.


In order to develop a well-integrated, collaborative supply chain operation, your company needs people skilled in managing business-to-business relationships.


While you might not find it easy to access formal education in 3PL partnership-management, the topic often becomes a focus at supply chain conferences and events.

For example, at our 2016 Supply Chain Leaders Insights event in Sydney (a round table coaching day as opposed to a conventional conference) one of our sponsors was DHL, who sent two of their experts to coach and mentor SCLI delegates.

The topics covered by Sean Maguire and Ben Carrick from DHL included:

  • How to build valuable relationships with 3PL providers
  • How 3PL and 4PL providers differ from one another
  • Mistakes to avoid when procuring third-party logistics services


Get Industry-specific Supply Chain Knowledge

Supply chain and logistics education courses tend to be quite generic, while in reality, there’s a great deal of variation among supply chains operating in different industries. That’s why it’s always worth patronising a supply chain conference focused on your industry.

Here are a few examples of annual, industry-specific supply chain conferences and events that might be worth your attention:

  • 11th Annual Health Care Supply Chain Management Summit (U.S.A.)
  • Home Delivery World (U.S.A.)
  • Retail Supply Chain Conference (U.S.A.)
  • Annual Platts Utility Supply Chain Management Conference (U.S.A.)
  • LogiPharma (U.S.A.)
  • BME Global Pharma SC Congress (Europe)
  • Annual Defence Logistics Conference (Europe)
  • The Global Procurement & Supply Chain for Oil & Gas Industry Conference (Europe)

Of course the events listed above might be a long way from where your company is based, which is something to consider carefully before deciding to send a delegate or two.


Try to determine if the expense of continental travel (along with the conference fees) can be balanced by sufficient value from the event-schedule.


If the cost is too high and you don’t have any industry-specific conferences taking place closer to home though, all is not lost. Many general supply chain conferences include sessions on industry-specific topics. It’s just a matter of investigating scheduled conferences in your country or region to see if any of them include content relevant to your industry.


Gain Knowledge to Improve Warehouse Operations

There are plenty of ways for your employees to hone their warehouse management expertise, but that fact shouldn’t undermine the value of supply chain conferences as knowledge sources.

Many a conference agenda will include sessions on warehouse operations and how to improve them. In fact there are actually a lot of annual events that focus entirely on warehouse management. Such events include:

  • Future Warehouse (Melbourne, Australia)
  • Warehousing & Inventory Control Conference (U.S.A.)
  • The International Warehouse Logistics Association Convention & Expo (U.S.A.)
  • Warehouse Optimisation and Performance Management Conference (Melbourne, Australia)

Some warehousing conferences are run with a very firm emphasis on education. For example, the Warehousing and Inventory Control Conference can really be described as half conference – half training event. The second day of this world-renowned logistics conference is entirely given over to educational workshops, covering topics such as warehouse workforce management and productivity improvement.


Gather Insights Into Optimisation

Supply chain optimisation is one of those concepts that’s still evolving and maturing apace. By sending delegates to supply chain conferences with optimisation on the agenda, your company can stay abreast of new developments and trends as they emerge.

Optimisation topics typically addressed at supply chain conferences include:

  • Supply chain network design and optimisation
  • Supply chain optimisation best practices
  • How to use optimisation technology in the supply chain
  • Collaborative demand planning

Our Supply Chain Leaders Insights Conference which took place in October 2016 (and was so successful that it will run in Melbourne as well as Sydney this year) included a number of one-hour, round-table Q&A sessions on optimisation-related subjects.

The sessions in question covered S&OP essentials, supply chain analysis and optimisation, and collaborative demand and integrated business planning, all led by experts who at any other conference would be staked out at a sales booth, not sitting at a table actively coaching conference delegates.


Improve Knowledge of Your Specialised Supply Chain

We’ve already discussed the value of industry-specific supply chain conferences, but some companies, regardless of the industry in which they operate, have highly specialised supply chain requirements.

For instance, perhaps your organisation…

  • Operates a cold-chain or utilises controlled environments for storage and transportation
  • Transports hazardous materials
  • Predominantly uses one mode of transportation, such as air, sea, or rail shipment
  • Is heavily involved in last-mile distribution
  • Operates a supply chain for bulk liquids, beverages, or other products which require unusual storage and transportation practices

With the exception perhaps of Hazchem, it’s not so easy to find education and training catering specifically to practitioners of specialised logistics.

Supply chain conferences and seminars help to bridge the knowledge gap in these areas, enabling your managers and staff to learn about specialised supply chain practices, and to bring fresh wisdom into your company from outside.


Keep Up To Date With Technology

Nothing moves faster than technology in the supply chain environment, and it’s vital to keep your company in-the-know if your supply chain is to be a source of competitive advantage.

Fortunately, supply chain conference organisers rarely miss the opportunity to showcase the latest and greatest in information technology, whether it relates to warehouse management, transport management, supply chain visibility or process automation. Indeed, technology vendors themselves tend to be the most prolific of supply chain conference hosts.


While it won’t be difficult to find vendor-hosted conferences in your locality or region though, it’s important to be sure that any given conference is focused on a solution that you expect to implement.


It’s less critical that the vendor is one that you have chosen or shortlisted, since the content of vendor conferences often includes knowledge that can be applied regardless of the solution chosen. However, if your company is not expecting to implement a transport management system (TMS) in the near future, you’ll probably find there’s little value in sending delegates to a TMS vendor conference.

That said, conferences run by large software companies like SAP can be very worthwhile, since they offer a wide range of solutions and hence, will cover a plethora of supply chain challenges and issues in their conference session-schedules.


Stay Familiar with the Regulatory Environment

From environmental and sustainability legislation, through occupational safety and health rules, to laws on the operation of goods vehicles, there’s probably not one centimeter of your supply chain unregulated by laws, rules, ordinances, or codes. Moreover, just like information technology, the regulatory landscape never stands still.


The last thing you need is to miss a trick and find out the hard way that what was perfectly acceptable last month is suddenly–and perhaps expensively–in breach of a new legal requirement.


Supply chain conferences often include hosted sessions to advise and inform delegates of the latest regulatory issues and updates. Better still, speakers often introduce best practices, ideas and strategies to help your business adapt to new regulations and ensure compliance.


Strengthen Your Team’s Business Skills

As well as acquiring knowledge relating purely to logistics activity, supply chain conference delegates often have opportunities to learn about more general business practices, but in a way that is relevant to their supply chain roles.

Take contract management for example. Any manager who has been involved in negotiating, drafting, and managing the life of a contract will tell you that traps and pitfalls await the unwary. However, risks vary dependent upon the subject and nature of a contract. Supply chain managers tend to deal a lot with service contracts, especially with carriers and third-party logistics providers.


For inexperienced managers then, or those who aren’t accustomed to the nuances of logistics services, there’s value to be had from learning about the specifics of supply chain-related contracts.


At the 2016 Supply Chain Leaders Insights conference, delegates were able to receive contract management advice from Tetyana Wotton, a contracting consultant for global professional-services company KPMG.

This was no one-way keynote presentation, but like all the sessions at SCLI, was an interactive Q&A. Tetyana coached and advised delegates on the contract management issues that mattered to themselves and their employers.


Supply Chain Conference Value: It’s Not a Given

With all these potential ways to gain, you might be surprised to know that more than 40% of supply chain managers don’t attend conferences (according to research we conducted with our clients).

It’s true that some conferences are over-hyped, and to avoid becoming jaded about the whole conference scene, it’s important not only to select the right ones to attend, but also to prepare delegates effectively to get the most from each event.


Put the effort into preparation, and your company can gain just as much from conference attendance as from some workplace training activities–and probably at a lower total cost.


That should be as good a reason as any to set a little money aside for attending conferences like our very own Supply Chain Leaders Insights. With tickets going for less than $100, SCLI is definitely not going to break the training budget, and as you can hear from our 2016 attendees, that nominal ticket price definitely returns a whole lot more in terms of educational and informational value.


Best Regards,
Rob O’Byrne 
Group Managing Director
Phone: +61 417 417 307