The Business of Defense

3 tips to improve resiliency of your agency’s physical supply chains

With all the talk of software supply chain risk management, it might be easy to lose sight of the fact that the government manages many large physical supply ch...

With all the talk of software supply chain risk management (SCRM), it might be easy to lose sight of the fact that the federal government manages and must ensure the resiliency of multiple large physical supply chains.

But it’s not a fact lost on Steve Geary. For 20 years, he and his team have helped agencies address complex supply chain challenges — think mapping extraction supply chains in South America or supporting the medical response to the Ebola outbreak across West Africa in 2015.

“We do physical network analysis. We understand how things are hooked together — around the world,” said Geary, president of Supply Chain Visions (SCV) and partner in Supply Chain Vistas. The first offers supply chain consultation services, and the latter primarily helps with supply chain staff augmentation.

“If you’ve got an intractable problem involving a supply chain, you reach out to us,” he said during the American Society of Military Comptrollers’ The Business of Defense podcast on Federal News Network. “We don’t parachute in a squad. We send in one or two serious experts. In we come in, we resolve it, we move on what we found.”

Geary began his career in high-end manufacturing, later taking a temporary assignment working for a federal contractor. After that, he never left government contracting. “I found that doing government work was just fascinating.”

And that work has taken him around the globe to help agencies — like the Defense Department, Small Business Administration, Veterans Affairs Department and others — at locations on six continents.

“When we say we go anywhere in the federal space, that means that sometimes there’s bullets flying,” he said. “So we’ve been on the ground outside the wire in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We literally will help the federal government with issues no matter where they are.”

We asked Geary to share what he’s learned about successfully managing government supply chains during the past two decades. He offered three takeaways.

Supply Chain Takeaway 1: Low cost does not equal best cost (necessarily)

Over the past 30 years, it seems that organizations’ supply chain leaders lost their way a bit, Geary said. “Many fell into the trap of equating low cost with best cost, which fits with offshoring things.”

Often SCV spends time helping organizations figure out if offshoring creates extra costs or introduces risks into their supply chains.

“We are working very hard with people to nearshore – or to reassure. It just doesn’t make as much sense as it once did to bring things in from Asia,” for instance, Geary said. “You’re better off paying a little bit more. Maybe you’re getting it from Chicago, but you’re risk mitigating by doing that. And we’re all about risk mitigation. That’s how you get to best value.”

Supply Chain Takeaway 2: Evaluate costs and risks far, wide and deep

There’s a tendency to overreact to a single procurement, he said.

But to evaluate costs and mitigate risks requires looking across and down into the full supply chain and all related procurements, Geary said. This is advice that aligns identically to current software and cyber SCRM efforts.

“We always urge our clients to peel through their supply chains, whether from a financial standpoint or from an operation standpoint. It may not be your supplier that’s the risk. It may be your supplier’s supplier,” he said. “So you need to have visibility and access to that information, which requires a degree of trust and confidentiality between yourself and your clients. But if you’re not going through the wedding cake, you’re exposed.”

Supply Chain Management Takeaway 3: Don’t let data blind your judgement

“People can get lost in the analytics. This is about business judgment. I’ve never seen business judgment show up in an equation,” Geary said.

Increasingly, technology can help gather data to inform decisions, but every organization needs to have access to experienced people “who can apply insight, who can understand relationships, who can understand networks — whether they’re physical or financial — and make considered judgments,” he said.

It’s also important, he added, to not fixate on perfection. Agencies need to focus on identifying and correcting problems that improve supply chain resiliency, Geary said.

“One of the phrases we use in our companies is, ‘80%. It’s good enough,’ ” he said, adding: “If I do an 80% solution and it’s not quite right, I can come back in six months and refine it. We’re all about putting points on the board quickly. That’s what we do.”

To listen to the full discussion between Steve Geary, president of Supply Chain Visions, and Rich Brady, CEO of ASMC, click the podcast play button below:

Discover other The Business of Defense podcasts here.

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