Supply-Chain Focus Should Be “Left of Boom”

Supply-chain asset protection (SCAP) in business has traditionally been reactive instead of proactive. SCAP teams are often housed in headquarters or a regional hub and called upon to investigate incidents and deal with the outcomes. That means the “protection” side of the role isn’t aggressively fulfilled, and the process becomes one of mopping up a mess. The management team may learn something in the aftermath, but collectively the group grows frustrated, and the time-consuming work lacks strategic direction.

Members of the military use the powerful term “left of boom” to describe all events that lead up to an explosion. Left of boom is where one can have a positive effect—gathering intel, training the team, and putting systems in place that make the explosion less likely. Everything to the right of that boom deals with consequences and clean up—securing the area, treating the injured, repairing the infrastructure, and raising morale again.

In retail, far too many loss prevention teams talk about events left of boom but actually and unwillingly function a right-of-boom operation. Being left of boom means being proactive and having the correct resources—the “protection” part of an SCAP team is active. Being right of boom can be brand tarnishing. As an industry, we need to move camp. We need to pick up all our equipment and ideas and move them to the left of the boom. It will generate better results and improve morale. And don’t underestimate the power of morale. Stopping an event from happening is far more satisfying than dealing with the mess after it has happened and sometimes getting a trophy for clean-up work.

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We can do many things to get left of boom. We need to consider our roles not just in the companies we work for, but also in the processes that happen in and to our role. SCAP is an integral part of any modern retailer, but it also has a function that lies slightly outside the normal day-to-day running of a store. Being proactive here allows the loss prevention team the opportunity to make a lasting difference to the operation. A retailer that doesn’t get a loss problem under control has a real problem. It bites into profit margins and pushes them closer to the brink. But a proactive asset protection strategy changes all of that. The timeline of events that precede a boom are vitally important. Following is what it could look like.

Obtain Capital

The first step on the path to preventing that boom is getting the money you need to perform your operations successfully, which isn’t always easy in a retail environment. Sometimes costs are under heavy control. So you need to do your homework. Know the resources you will require and have them costed thoroughly. Look to the more innovative, hands-off ways of effective loss prevention. You may end up proposing a cost saving or future cost avoidance instead of requesting an increased budget.

Finding innovative ways to use your budget will help you build a proposal that works for you and the company as a whole. Have a defined strategy from the outset to make sure you get the most from the whole process. Think about new ways of doing things, such as:

  • Using WiFi, RFID, Bluetooth, and GPS to track products through your systems.
  • Developing a thorough supply-chain risk-management strategy.
  • Employing feature recognition to address negative event creators as well as to promote a better service experience.

Develop Team Skillsets and Design Your Organization

Once you have the budget, you need to set up your organization. You are now in a position to make your plans. Look at how you might do things differently to create better outcomes. You may have to start from scratch in many areas to define an operation that will be effective and fit for purpose.

Assess the skills of your existing team and align them with your new way of working to see how they match up. You will need the right players in the right places as well as the correct structure. As you develop these ideas further, you will be able to communicate new roles or new expectations for the team you have and look to recruitment or training to fill any gaps you have identified.

Gather Intel and Provide Resources

If your organization has been gathering information for some time, then this is the point to put that data to use. If you haven’t been gathering intel, then now is the time to start. The more information you have, the more effective you can be. You want to know the answer to questions such as:

  • Where is our product being lost?
  • What procedures do we already have in place?
  • Are they fit for purpose?
  • What would be a more proactive way of dealing with this?

As you pull together the intel that will allow you to operate left of boom, then you can determine and allocate resources. For example, if you decide feature recognition will create positive change and get you left of boom, then look at the different options available to you and procure the one that works best with your company and customer base. An ideal feature-recognition software system will have uses for various departments.

Design Your Attack Plan

This is where the planning stops and implementation begins—time to put all you have decided into practice. For example, if you have chosen RFID as an effective tool to manage the supply chain of products, then the tags need to be sent to the right locations, attached properly, and monitored. Assessing tools and compliance to the program you have implemented is a necessary part of the process. Reporting a successful new strategy ensures the asset protection team retains backing from those who hold the purse strings.

The attack plan can be to deal with the overall supply-chain asset protection issues in the organization (those that you identified earlier in the process) or to look at a specific event. With supply-chain enterprise criminality being a major threat to the retail industry, intel can uncover a specific attack on your brand or modus operandi. This puts you in the perfect position to deal with these brand-altering events.

Master the Devices Needed

Buying the latest devices to operate effectively and protect your assets is all well and good. But you and your team need to master those devices to use them most effectively. A comprehensive training program (with the solution provider in the room) is the best way to ensure understanding and effectiveness.

If you promote a culture within your team that you want to operate left of boom as much as possible, then they will come with you on this journey. Having the most motivated team with the best tools available and delivering the training and support to maximize the effect of these tools will give the best results. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” has become a cliché because there is so much truth running right through this statement.

Plan and Execute the Specific Event

If your strategy (and culture) is geared toward preventing one specific event, then you are now in the best place to deliver the results you planned. Your organization will be ready, your plans will be in place, your team will be ready, and you can affect the best plan possible to deal with that specific event. You will be amazed at how many booms you can stop or minimize.

The Boom

This is where, in a normal timeline of events, the boom will happen. The efforts that you have gone to before this point will make one of three things happen:

  • You will delay the boom. There will be longer periods in between these events happening.
  • You will lessen the force of the boom. An event may still happen but not on the scale of how it was before.
  • You will actually stop the boom from happening. Sometimes you don’t even know if this has happened until shortage numbers come in and success is plain to see.
  • In any industry, there are issues to be solved. But waiting for them to happen and dealing with the consequences doesn’t feel like much of a strategy. Everything that happens on the right of the boom is “business as usual,” and some may even go as far as calling it unproductive. But learning from an event—a boom—and managing the outcomes can be a part of this valuable process. Add in constant monitoring and any revision to your process, and you have a culture of success and a strategy that continually improves.

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