Chains? Pull the other one;Last word;Opinion

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
After the rich haul in my morning post, I shall never use the expression "junk mail" again. Just when all seemed lost, at the very moment of darkest despair, I received one of those inspired mail drops, telling of a new journal, that solved all my problems. My life will change, I can feel it.

An attractive little leaflet landed on my desk. It was aimed at various people including "practitioners working in . . . the provision of public services who are involved in supply chain management". That's me. We in primary, secondary and tertiary education supply teachers, pupils, you name it, and we are in a chain, so it must be relevant.

"Whatever your area of interest, don't be the weak link in your supply chain", the leaflet proclaims boldly on its front page, "Subscribe to Supply Chain Management: an International Journal". I will, I will. You hit a nerve there, Supply Chain Management. I don't want to be the weak link in anybody's chain. Rush me a copy immediately.

There is more inside. "Supply Chain Management is broad-based . . . It covers the key issues including: Electronic Data Interchange (EDI); Efficient Consumer Response (ECR); Logistics Information Technology; Purchasing and Supply. You already know the buzzwords."

No I don't, Supply Chain Management. These buzzwords are new to me. I know all the educational bullshit, I mean buzzwords, but I am hungry for new experiences and acronyms that will solve my problems.

We in education are eager for a novel science, with accompanying gurus and newspeak, so flood me in soothing cliches, drown me in a sea of jargon that will impress my friends.

Is there a suitable guru, so I can hang on his every word? Please reassure me that there is someone who is acknowledged to be the world's leading expert, the Albert Einstein of supply chain management. Is he a charismatic figure called Norbert Periwinkle, of East Pasadena State College, and does he write authoritative but mystical articles entitled "ECR (Efficient Consumer Response) in the 21st century", or, for novices like me, more rudimentary pieces like "Logistics Information Technology for Dummies"?

I like to think, Supply Chain Management, that, in our amateurish way, we in education may already have some useful experience on which to build. Take the concept of Efficient Consumer Response (ECR), for example. I don't know what the industry standard is in this field, but when teachers used to supervise school dinners, our school record was six minutes from spuds to puds. Hard peas, watery mash, indigestible mince, prunes, lumpy custard, the lot, all consumed in 360 seconds flat, not a Rennie in sight, nor needed. We didn't call it ECR in those days, by the way. It was GTBTF ("Get the buggers through fast").

As a raw recruit to this new science, I may have got the wrong idea about supply chain management, but I see one of your articles is entitled "Beyond MRP - the operation of a modern scheduling system". First of all let me congratulate the author on being "beyond" MRP, whatever that is (More Ruddy Paper? Make Robots Perfect?). It is always a good idea to be "post" any current fad: post-modern, post-structuralist, Postman Pat.

Secondly, we in education have some experience of "a modern scheduling system" I came across a head who has two timetables: one for normal use, one for when inspectors are present.

The secretary sits on the roof with a telescope and, if a vanload of inspectors is spotted, the mechanical version of the literacy hour is wheeled out. Otherwise the school's common sense timetable operates.

Pretty modern scheduling, you have to admit, and well beyond MRP, I suspect, even though I still do not know what MRP stands for (My Rump's Purple?). But I see, Supply Chain Management, that your leaflet describes the journal as providing "the key information resources for everyone involved in the mechanisms of making, moving, buying and selling". "Mechanisms," that's it in one.

We've already got performance criteria, curriculum delivery, value-added, underpinning knowledge, range statements, flangieform springleboobs, the lot. If you are to take root in public services such as education, you may have to get out the weedkiller first.

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