Friday, May 12, 2006

Nightmare for operations managers - information gaps are worse than fire.

Fire! It happened last week to The Wall Street Journal Europe. A warehouse of Sabena Technics at the Brussels airport caught fire during the night. Nothing to do with us. Only one problem, the fire blocked the road towards one of our destinations, the DHL hub at the airport.

Whatever emergency procedure you have, you need time to deploy it. In this case there was no time to save the situation. Our products were in the trucks, the trucks were blocked a few 100 meters from their destination. What do you do ? What can you do ? Do you know uberhaupt there is a problem ? We didn't. Unfortunately. It was only in the morning we found out our products hadn't left the country. Somewhere along the line there had been an information gap. We lost sales for 1 day in 6 countries, Cyprus, Denmark, (part of) France, Morocco, (part of) Sweden and Scotland.

Question: Suppose we had known about the problem in the middle of the night, what could we have done ? Nothing! At least not on the operational level. Everything! Especially at the information level. We should have been able to inform our uppermanagement, eventhough it was already after midnight. All (upper) managers have Blackberries. Suppose your COO has troubles falling asleep that particular night. He hears on the 3 AM news there is a major problem at the airport endangering the supply chain of all airport customers. Wouldn't you like him to find already a message about the problem on his Blackberry? Just to show you are on top of things ? I would. The COO knows nothing can be done, that it indeed will hurt sales, yes, but in the meantime he is reassured he has the right people on the job, just because they know, or show they know, or pretend they know it is important to share critical info, so at least immediate action can be taken first thing in the morning. It is this feeling of reassurance that ultimately will stay behind in the mind of the COO. Not the fire.

(picture: the destroyed technical warehouse at Brussels airport disrupting the supply chain of The Wall Street Journal Europe)

Look for disasters.
They are the unfortunate but ultimate way
to strengthen your position in the company.