October 2005 | Commentary | Checking In

Supply Chain Security: Fact vs. Fiction

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Man has always been intrigued by transmutation—transforming one element into another. In days of old, we tried changing lead into gold. Today, some are trying to convert the public's fear of supply chain vulnerabilities into political currency, or solid gold votes.

While concern is warranted, some choose to grandstand by floating obviously impossible solutions against the threat. That is dangerous.

One grandstanding example is Stephen Flynn's book America the Vulnerable, which I wrote about here in August 2004. I just finished reading a book by another Flynn, Vince.

In his Memorial Day, terrorists become credible "known shippers" and use our ports and border crossings as a conveyance to attack the United States. Vince is the smarter Flynn, giving artistic representation to my view that securing the global supply chain is a binary task. Unlike Stephen, Vince Flynn portrays the task of searching every inbound container as impossible. Both Flynn works are fiction to me.

On the factual side, I recently read a whitepaper published by UNISYS, entitled Secure Commerce RoadMap. Here are some key takeaways:

  • "Congress must stop advocating 100-percent inspection rates for inbound cargo, which is impossible and undermines credibility with industry."
  • "We are ignoring other maritime vulnerabilities. Ninety percent of the current discussion focuses on containers, even though other shipment types represent an equal or greater threat."
  • "We need a plan for an incident response and re-start." See Katrina.
  • The debate over global security standards is sometimes used as a red herring by those who wish to throw up impediments because they disagree with whatever policy is being suggested at the time.
  • NIMBY should stop. "The container contents are not my concern. I just move the box." "My company will not do anything until legislation is passed."
  • Maritime insurance rates can incent "safe shipper" compliance.
  • Complacency is setting in, the further away we move from Sept. 11.
  • "Stuffing security at overseas DCs is a necessity, period."
  • The most vulnerable node is overseas inland drayage.

UNISYS ought to be recognized for putting forth a practical, frank, and workable start point that, in my view, is the clearest for dealing with supply chain security. For anyone involved, even tangentially, in global commerce and trade, this whitepaper is a must read. Find it at www.unisys.com or call 800-874-8647.

With recommendations like this whitepaper, and recent initiatives such as the partnership between IBM and Maersk Logistics enabling increased security through highly intelligent wireless tracking devices enhancing global supply chain visibility, perhaps we can work some transmutation magic on polemics like America the Vulnerable and end up with America the Secure.

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