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Interview: Darrell K. Williams, Leidos

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In the first of a two-part series exploring logistics and supply chains, SHD sat down with the outgoing head of Logistics, Leidos, Darrell K. Williams. We asked Darrell about perceptions of the logistics sector, where it is headed, and what innovations he expects to see in the future.

General_Darrell_Williams.jpgDarrell K. Williams is responsible for Leidos’ – as part of ‘Team Leidos’ – performance in delivering the Logistics Commodities & Services Transformation (LCST) Programme for the UK Ministry of Defence, a critical service looking to enhance and improve the UK’s defence supply chain.

SHD: In your view, how has the perception of logistics changed in the last few years? 

Darrell K. Williams (DW): I think the perception has definitely changed. I think back to 20 to 30 years ago when logistics was very much considered sort of a ‘back-office’ function. What has changed is the recognition of logistics as not just a tactical sort of function, but a strategic function within both organisations and operations. Now, you can't do without it.

SHD: How do you see the industry looking in 10 years’ time?

DW: I think that in the future there will be more attention paid to the strategic aspect of logistics. The criticality of M95 masks and PPE during the initial months of the Covid 19 pandemic provides a great example. Few thought about how they were sourced, or from where they were procured. Suddenly, in the midst of Covid 19, we discovered that the Far East was among the major sources of material and production of these items. What ensued was a massive spike in global demand that no one could have anticipated.

Among the most important developments moving forward will be the drive towards more resilient supply chains.

SHD: And how do you think that will impact the sector?

DW: In some cases for some of your most critical items, there will be an ambition to shorten the supply chain. And so as opposed to sourcing some critical items for example from the Far East, if it's a critical item to the UK then maybe we want to make sure we source it either from the UK or internal to Europe.

I think this issue of sustainability and resilience will carry forward as well. I think gone are the days where you don't care how or where you get an item from. Then I would talk once again about resilience. In the future we’ll be asked to make sure we reduce ‘a single point of failure’. That means looking at areas where you only have a single supplier, and asking ‘can you diversify your supply chain?’, making it more resilient

SHD: What are the obstacles that you foresee within the industry?

DW: One of the challenges specifically for the military supply chain is the number of unique and bespoke items.  There is often a trade-off between finding sources of supply and creating enough economies of scale to encourage multiple suppliers to invest in our requirements.

Next, the smaller volumes often drive a higher cost, and in some cases less resilience. For this reason, many military items are produced by single or sole source suppliers. Given these factors, innovation becomes a challenge. Many suppliers simply cannot afford to invest in innovation for low volume, low revenue commodity items. The items often cost more than through established supply chains. Until cost meets innovation, we have a mandate to create benefit for our customer and at the same time we have to balance this issue of resilience, cost and performance.  Then I would say innovation. Relaying what your requirements are to industry, and establishment of these public private partnerships, as I indicated, often comes at a cost.

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SHD: Finally, given your experience in both the US and UK logistics markets, tell me what you would say are differences between the way in which logistics is approached in both markets? 

DW: The approaches are quite similar in my view. There are some obvious differences – such as scope and scale – but I think you'll find more similarities than differences. Logistics here in the MoD, based upon my experience, is just as critical to the success of operations of its forces as is the much larger logistics infrastructure in the US is to its forces.

And there is similarity in the importance on private public partnerships, and the relationship with industry – like Leidos’ right now with the Ministry of Defence to provide logistical support. I think the approach to relationship with industry remains a key component to both.  During my time as Director of the US Defense Logistics Agency, the organisation boasted relationships with over 14,000 suppliers, over 8,000 of them small businesses. Here in the UK, the Logistics Commodities and Services Transformation Programme continues to expand its supplier base of Small and Medium Enterprises, with over 80 of these companies for Personal Protection Equipment alone.

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