From warehouse drones to big data and self-driving trucks, the supply chain world exists in a state of constant change. Fortunately for us, there's a wide range of supply chain conferences designed to help you stay up-to-date on the latest developments. With limited time and a limited budget, how do you choose the best ones to attend?
Before I get into my list for 2018 and beyond, here's my criteria for deciding which conferences to attend each year.
How to Choose the Best Supply Chain Conferences for Your Company & Career
Who will be there?
Is it aimed at C-suite executives, operations, procurement or information technology? If you're a retail CEO, you may not want to attend sessions on how to integrate new automated guided vehicles into your warehouse management system.
On the other hand, if you're a director or vice president at a 3PL, the latest warehouse tech would be the right fit for you. Of course, one of the big benefits of a conference is learning new things. So don't be afraid to expand your horizons.
Educational or experiential?
Most conferences are a mix of educational and exposition experiences, but some may lean farther one way than the other. If you're looking for new equipment, the trade show floor is where you want to be. If you're looking to optimize the technology and infrastructure you already have, the educational route could be a better option for you.
Some conferences are aimed at members of an association, users of particular software or clients of a consulting firm, so be sure you're aware of the focus of the event. Of course, all industry pros are typically welcome to attend.
As you review each conference, be sure to review the list of speakers. Sometimes a celebrity keynote speaker may be the main attraction, but most of the time they give essentially the same speech tailored only slightly to the audience. Consultants and vendors offer useful insights but usually have a self-serving agenda as well. Be on the lookout for sessions that offer insights from people in the trenches tackling the same challenges that impact your company.
Hands-on or conference hall style?
Some of the best supply chain conferences offer tours of local operations. Seeing the equipment, technology and processes in place in an active setting will bring practices you'd only heard about in theory come to life. Look for conferences that offer intriguing off-site experiences for this type of hands-on learning.
When is the best time to go?
You may have seasonal surges that make it difficult for you to leave the office. Or, you may want to pick out a conference in a welcoming climate to make the trip more appealing. Most conferences are two to three days long, but a travel day on each end could stretch that to a weeklong commitment. Check out the listings to find the best supply chain conferences that fit your schedule.
Why are you going?
What are you hoping to accomplish or learn? Understand what you and your company need to take away from the conference. Are you looking for new resources to connect with? Are you shopping for new equipment to support a revamp or expansion? Do you need help designing and implementing technology? Perhaps you just need a dose of inspiration from others who have succeeded in making the same journey you now travel.
Eric Rempel, chief innovation officer at Redwood, said in a video that he values the 3PL & Supply Chain Summit for a number of reasons:
“I'm at the 3PL Summit because it's a great place to network, it's a great place to learn, it's an amazing place to see what new technologies are out there and how people are leveraging them," he said. "Most importantly it's a reality check and a gut check where you can take your assumptions of what you think is going on and through some shoulder bumping and conversation [to] get a good pulse on where you're at compared to your competitors and where the industry is going.”
The Best Supply Chain Conferences in 2018
Using the criteria above, let's review the best supply chain conferences.
Note: Conference fees are the base price for the full conference at the non-member rate where applicable. Check for discounts such as member rates, early registration, and multiple attendees from the same company.
What:An exhibition hall, educational presentation, networking opportunities and facilities tours draw professionals in logistics, procurement, manufacturing, and planning. Six learning paths are designed to expand the attendees' horizons and skills sets.
Why: More than 2,000 people from over 50 countries attend each year for end-to-end supply chain education and networking. The sessions provide professional development points for key industry certifications.
What:The Edge Conference & Exhibition features more than 100 sessions, the Supply Chain Exchange Exhibition, and continuing education credits for busy professionals. This year's keynote speakers include representatives from Amazon, IBM, and Nike.
Why: Attendees can participate in 20 different tracks spanning the industry featuring interaction with cargo owners, carriers, 3PLs, technology companies, academics and analysts and be the first to hear the results from the 2019 Third Party Logistics Study.
What:This conference is targeted at chief supply chain officers, supply chain planning executives, procurement and manufacturing executives, as well as logistics, distribution and customer service leaders. The exhibitors tend to be technology companies and other tech-connected service providers.
Why: The agenda focuses on what leaders and their teams need most to meet the challenges of today while planning for tomorrow.
What:More than 2,500 global supply chain and procurement professionals attend each year to learn and network with industry leaders. In addition to the exhibit hall, six learning tracks and Signature Sessions on seven different topics, the event features tours of local supply chain operations.
Why: ISM members are leaders in the industry, and this conference participants actively drive their success by leveraging education, research, best practices and collaboration.
What:Held in alternate years with PROMAT, MODEX is one of the largest logistics trade shows in the world. At the 2018 event, more than 30,000 attendees toured 925 exhibits at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Why: Discuss dominant trends in educational seminars and keynotes including digital supply chain solutions including automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, the Internet of Things and data analytics. MODEX has one of the largest exhibit show floors in the industry.
What:Focus on omnichannel operations and direct-to-consumer fulfillment with more than 40 speakers and 100 sessions for retailers, suppliers, and consultants. The exhibit area features hands-on demonstrations from top vendors and facilities tours help participants see how to put theory into practice.
Why: Executives will gain actionable insights from industry experts to optimize DTC e-commerce and omnichannel operations.
What:More than 800 attendees gather for over 100 educational sessions featuring sessions on a variety of topics, including managing the digital evolution, capturing opportunities in e-commerce and connecting with customers. The attendees are a mix of retailers, brands and manufacturers; logistics service providers; and other industry enablers.
Why: Executives from leading companies share their real-world strategies for supply chain optimization and innovation. The sessions meet the needs of manufacturers, retailers and CPG companies, as well as solution providers to the industry.
What:Held in alternate years with MODEX, PROMAT is the largest expo for manufacturing and supply chain professionals held in North and South America, with more than 1,000 exhibitors. More than 130 sessions feature industry experts and highlight the latest supply chain and manufacturing trends, technology and innovations. The event attracts visitors from 115 countries for a truly global scope.
Why: If you're looking for the latest technology or the newest solution in the market, PROMAT is the place to be. Educational sessions and keynotes offer valuable insights, and the networking opportunities are unparalleled.
What:If you're in retail, there's no better place to be than the Retail Industry Leaders Association's annual Retail Supply Chain Conference. After attending mind-opening sessions, tours of area distribution centers bring those lessons to life. The expo hall gathers vendors with the latest technology and solutions to solve retail challenges.
Why: The goal is to provide top executives with the next "big idea" to supercharge their retail supply chain. Attendees rate it more valuable than other industry events.
What:The annual Warehousing Education and Research Council conference gathers more than 1,000 attendees for over 80 peer-driving sessions targeted at warehousing and logistics professionals. Attractions also include facility tours and a visit to the Solutions Center with leading suppliers.
Why: More than 60 percent of sessions are led by industry peers who share their experiences in solving new problems and breaking new ground.