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If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

That was the sentiment among Canada’s supply chain industry leaders who participated at the third annual World Class Supply Chain Summit on May 9. The Lazaridis School, CN Rail and the Milton Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the event.

The theme of the one-day event focused on innovation in a complex and uncertain world, and brought together leading experts and executives from the shipping industry with academics and students from across Canada and the United States.

“The key takeaway is that analytics matter,” says Michael Haughton, Lazaridis School professor, CN Fellow in Supply Chain and conference organizer. “We’re here to help fill the gaps in knowledge for today’s industry.”

Those gaps can be expensive. The supply chain network industry, also known as intermodal transportation, is made up of trucks, planes, vans, trains, ships and now, drones. It accounts for more than $700 billion of the North American economy and employs hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The summit, divided into two parts, opened with presentations from members of the supply chain sector who want more ways to collect and apply information to help navigate a nebulous shipping industry prone to upheaval. Advancements in technology, environmental targets, evolving markets and competition from emerging markets are some of the challenges facing supply chain professionals.

“I’ve been in this business for 29 years and at no time has the rate of change ever been this high,” says Steve Raetz, conference keynote speaker and director of research and market intelligence at C.H. Robinson. “We’re a business that runs on trends, but now we’re seeing the evolution of new trends that we couldn’t predict, and the disappearance of trends we used to rely on.”

The latter half of the summit addressed the work being done in the academic sector to develop future talent that can meet the challenges of industry disruption. A panel, moderated by Lazaridis School Professor Scott Ensign, discussed the barriers to innovation and what universities are doing to ensure creativity and innovative thinking become staples of business school curriculum.

“Innovation is the application of creative thinking. Creativity is not genetic, it can be taught and we all have the potential to be creative,” says panellist Laura Allan, a professor in the Lazaridis School and executive director of the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation. “If you can find those in your organization who are passionate about something and nurture their exploration, that's where innovations come from."

The interplay between data analytics, industry and getting goods to the markets that need them couldn’t be more important, says Raetz.

“The problem comes from a distinct lack of good, domestic data for Canada. Fortunately, because of our close trading relationship with the United States, we can rely on partial data collected in that country but it doesn’t show the whole picture.”

Raetz says it is easier to understand how to get something from Texas to Toronto than it is to get something from Quebec to Calgary because of the reliance on data-driven shipping networks.

Lazaridis School students closed the summit with presentations that showcased their interest in supply chain management issues and their ideas for an ever-changing industry.

Their work delivered for summit co-chair and CN Rail Vice-President Keith Reardon, who paid Lazaridis School students the highest form of compliment future graduates want to hear.

“So what will it take to get you all to join CN after you graduate?”


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