00:00:10 Discussing the state of online supply chain communities and news.lokad.com
00:00:37 Joannes explains current state of information flow in the supply chain industry.
00:02:14 Demographics and content found on Reddit’s supply chain subreddit.
00:04:16 Critique of Wikipedia’s coverage of supply chain topics.
00:09:19 Introduction of news.lokad.com, an online board for supply chain news and discussions.
00:10:20 Minimalistic design and registration process of the new forum.
00:11:16 Balancing vendor bias and fostering diverse perspectives.
00:12:49 Comparing software and supply chain industries in terms of online communities.
00:14:45 Differences between news.lokad.com and the supply chain subreddit.
00:18:03 Goal of the forum: improvement of supply chains through intelligent discussions.
00:20:50 Discussion of filtering and types of comments allowed on the forum.
00:21:13 Examples of recent posts on the forum.
00:21:56 Importance of focusing on supply chain related content.
00:22:37 Purpose of news.lokad.com for the supply chain community.
00:24:15 Benefits of in-depth discussions and learning opportunities for professionals.
In an interview, Lokad founder Joannes Vermorel discusses the fragmented state of information flow in the supply chain industry and the potential for more focused online communities. He criticizes existing platforms like LinkedIn and Reddit for diluted content and limited value for professionals. To address this issue, Vermorel introduces news.lokad.com, a platform designed for supply chain discussions free from ads, vendor bias, and irrelevant content. The forum aims to foster intelligent, in-depth discussions on a wide range of topics within the supply chain community and provide a daily source of valuable insights for professionals.
In this interview, host Nicole Zint speaks with Joannes Vermorel, the founder of Lokad, a software company specializing in supply chain optimization. They discuss the current state of information flow in the supply chain industry and the potential of online supply chain communities.
Vermorel identifies two types of supply chain communities: software-driven platform communities (such as LinkedIn and Reddit) and influencer-driven communities, which revolve around a renowned expert followed by many people. He highlights that the landscape is fragmented, with supply chain journals playing a smaller role compared to social media platforms.
LinkedIn is considered the most popular online forum for supply chain discussions, although the content is diluted as the platform caters to all professional topics. Reddit comes second, but the amount of supply chain content available is very limited.
One problem with Reddit, according to Vermorel, is the anonymity of its users. In the supply chain subreddit, the majority of contributors are very young, often teenagers or young adults, asking basic questions about whether to pursue a career in supply chain. While there is nothing wrong with such questions, when they dominate the discussion board, the value for supply chain professionals becomes very limited.
On LinkedIn, the age range is broader, but the content is still diluted. Most discussions on Reddit are centered on career orientation rather than informative knowledge, making it difficult for professionals to find valuable insights.
In summary, the interview reveals that the current state of information flow in the supply chain industry is fragmented, with a mix of software-driven platform communities and influencer-driven communities. LinkedIn is the most popular online forum, but the content is diluted, while Reddit’s supply chain subreddit is dominated by basic questions from young users. This situation indicates that there is potential for more focused and informative online supply chain communities to better serve professionals in the industry.
The founder of Lokad, discuss the challenges in learning about supply chain optimization and the launch of news.lokad.com, a platform designed to facilitate intelligent discussions on supply chain topics.
Vermorel explains that Wikipedia is generally inadequate for learning about supply chains, as most pages are driven by vendors, which leads to biased and incomplete information. For subjects like mathematics, Wikipedia provides excellent information, but for living persons or commercial software, the quality is generally poor. Vermorel uses the example of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Wikipedia pages, which are so vendor-driven that it becomes difficult to understand the core concept of ERP systems.
Vermorel highlights that young professionals looking to learn about supply chains face a significant challenge due to the opaque nature of the field. Academic books on supply chain theory focus on mathematical formulas, lacking the practical aspects of data handling, software implementation, and team management. Conversely, books written by consultants often focus on leadership and management aspects but remain shallow in terms of technical details.
To address this issue, Vermorel introduces news.lokad.com, a platform designed for the supply chain community to discuss news, articles, and other relevant information. News.lokad.com aggregates interesting links and encourages open discussion, functioning as a neutral platform without advertising or bias. Users can register with just a username and password, and the platform operates without ads.
Vermorel emphasizes the importance of having a place for professionals to discuss specific situations and real-world applicability of techniques and technologies. News.lokad.com seeks to fill this gap, removing vendor bias as much as possible. The platform allows for different vendors to express their opinions, providing a balanced perspective for visitors to make informed decisions.
Vermorel compares news.lokad.com to software community forums, which have been valuable in the software industry, where every project is unique. These forums help professionals understand good design, problem-solving, and the relevance of specific technologies and processes. Vermorel notes that such communities are lacking on the supply chain side, making it difficult to engage in intelligent debates with peers online.
When comparing news.lokad.com to the supply chain subreddit, Vermorel points out that the subreddit is heavily influenced by its moderators, who can censor content as they see fit. The supply chain subreddit has chosen to focus on inward-looking discussions, disallowing links pointing outside Reddit. This approach limits the range of information and insights available to users. News.lokad.com, on the other hand, encourages the sharing of external links, fostering a more comprehensive and engaging discussion platform for supply chain professionals.
Both discuss about the challenges and goals of creating an online space for supply chain discussions. The focus is on the creation of news.lokad.com, a forum designed to provide a place for intelligent discussions around supply chain topics.
Vermorel expresses his dissatisfaction with Reddit’s no outside link policy, stating that it leads to uninteresting discussions with only basic questions being asked. His goal is to create a forum that fosters intelligent discussions and serves as a place for young, brilliant engineers and talented individuals to learn from a knowledgeable community. Vermorel aims to concentrate knowledge without the distractions of ads or irrelevant content.
He explains that knowledge can take many forms, and it’s not just about specific conclusions or announcements. Vermorel shares his experience learning about the software industry through online forums and how the way people approached problems was interesting to him. He wants to create a space for supply chain discussions that facilitates such learning, which is currently lacking in the industry.
The forum on news.lokad.com is meant to be open and have light-handed moderation. Vermorel believes that while some moderation is necessary to prevent rudeness and profanities, it should not filter people based on their neutrality. He encourages brutal arguments and the challenging of ideas, as long as it doesn’t cross the line into personal attacks.
Vermorel provides examples of posts on the forum, which include a wide range of topics such as historical patents, like the barcode, and industry news, both old and new. The community votes on what content is considered interesting, with the most upvoted content rising to the top.
The ultimate goal of news.lokad.com is to provide a place for intelligent discussions within the supply chain community, free from vendor claims and bias. Vermorel is not interested in changing the status quo for the sake of change, but rather in fostering in-depth discussions about best practices and what works or doesn’t work in the industry.
He envisions the forum as a place where supply chain professionals can visit daily and learn something new and interesting every day. This is in contrast to platforms like LinkedIn, which Vermorel feels are filled with low-effort content. He hopes that news.lokad.com will grow and have a positive impact on the supply chain community.
Nicole Zint: Today, we will be discussing the state of online supply chain communities, the potentials that they may have, and the launch of news.lokad.com. So, Joannes, in your experience, what is the current state of information flow in the supply chain industry?
Joannes Vermorel: Nowadays, I would say there are two types of communities. One class of communities is essentially software-driven, platform-driven, like LinkedIn, Reddit, and other social media platforms. They have their own crowds. The other type of communities is influencer-driven, where there is one renowned expert and a lot of people follow this person, possibly on several platforms. Those people might even have their own platforms. But overall, it is fairly fragmented, and there is also a series of supply chain journals with fairly limited audiences compared to all the rest combined.
Nicole Zint: What is the most popular online forum at the moment?
Joannes Vermorel: Probably LinkedIn, although LinkedIn is for everything professional. The content about supply chain is very diluted. Supply chain-minded people discuss supply chain on LinkedIn, but it’s very limited. Reddit would maybe come second, but it is at a very distant place again, and the amount of supply chain content you can find is overall very limited.
Nicole Zint: Who are the people who spend time on these forums, like Reddit? Are they supply chain practitioners?
Joannes Vermorel: That’s part of the problem with Reddit. It is very anonymous, and I would say the overwhelming majority of contributors in the supply chain subreddit are very young people, possibly teenagers or late teenagers, very young adults who are just asking if it’s interesting to pursue a career in supply chain. That’s maybe two-thirds of the posts. Then, you have people who are barely older replying. It has a very different vibe compared to LinkedIn, where you have people from ages 20 to 65 or even 70. On Reddit, it is very young, and as a result, most of the discussions are not so interesting.
Nicole Zint: So, the discussions are more career-oriented rather than informative?
Joannes Vermorel: Yes, it is a board that is dominated by people asking exceedingly basic questions, which is fine, except that when there’s only that, then you have an entire board filled with questions like, “Should I start my career in supply chain?” It’s not bad if you have questions like that once in a while, but if 90% of your posts are questions like that, then it means that the added value for a supply chain professional who consults this sort of board is very limited.
Nicole Zint: So, the actual informative knowledge is very diluted, you would say?
Joannes Vermorel: Yes, it’s very diluted. There are very few places online where you can learn.
Nicole Zint: Anything about supply chains, most of the Wikipedia pages on those topics are pure garbage.
Joannes Vermorel: Mostly, I mean, Wikipedia is in general very bad for a certain class of stuff and very good for a certain class of other stuff. The sort of stuff where Wikipedia is downright excellent are things that are old, non-commercial, and that only attract passionate people. So, for example, mathematics - the Wikipedia pages about mathematics are usually brilliant. They’re also quite static, though mathematics doesn’t change much. But if you’re looking for pages about ancient music instruments, you will find pages that are absolutely excellent. If you’re looking for pages about living persons, it’s going to be complete crap. If you’re looking for pages about software that is being sold, it’s also going to be complete crap.
For example, the Wikipedia page about ERP is so vendor-driven. You can see that there has been infighting between 20 different ERP vendors that were trying to push their own stuff. The result is that it’s a page that’s almost impossible to understand what the hell is going on with ERPs by actually reading the page, which should have been the point of an encyclopedia page about covering ERPs. But the same can be said for pretty much every single supply chain topic, which has a vendor element to it in the sense that there are people who happen to be selling the stuff. And that’s the sort of area where Wikipedia is just very weak.
But more generally, it is also very incomplete, and if you’re a young professional who is interested in supply chain, as I was a decade and a half ago, the reality is that the world of supply chain is still exceedingly opaque, and there is very little to learn from the books either written by academia or consultants.
Nicole Zint: Is it because classical theory is not really applicable in real life?
Joannes Vermorel: I mean, first, the supply chain theory doesn’t discuss other classes of problems that are very, very relevant. You see, a book about supply chain theory will only discuss mathematical formulas, so it will not discuss the fact that you have an applicative landscape. The data doesn’t fall from the sky; there are tons of things to be considered considering the applicative landscape. Then there are teams operating those softwares that need to be considered. So, you see, there are classes of complexities that are just not there. They’re lacking behind the software that we currently have or, the opposite, the theories are just exceedingly beyond what the software actually implements. You see, it’s just a vast disconnect.
And then they don’t discuss at all the problems with computing hardware that you can have, the problems of reliability in the sense of industrial reliability, and then you have all the problems of security, like computer security. It’s like there is a wide spectrum of topics that if you want to have something that is real and that works in the real world, it is not just the supply chain formula. There are tons of things that come before and after.
And conversely, the books written by consultants tend to very much focus on the leadership and the management aspects.
Nicole Zint: They are trying to sell themselves to the upper management of the company, but as a counterpart, they tend to be relatively shallow again on the applicative landscape. How do you connect to your clients? I mean, technically speaking, how do you connect to your clients? How do you connect to your suppliers? How does all the plumbing look like, etc.?
Joannes Vermorel: There are so many things, and this is the sort of thing that is hard to discuss in a book because every single company is unique. It would be very interesting to have a place to discuss the specifics, discuss the case of a vendor in this particular situation, or the applicability of a given technique or technology to this specific situation as well.
Nicole Zint: Speaking of the space, what is news.lokad.com that you recently launched?
Joannes Vermorel: News.lokad.com is a shameless clone of a minimalistic-looking online board posting board. It is intended for news, as in novelty, but also for posting anything that would be of interest to the supply chain community. It’s oriented towards submitting a link with a title and then discussing the content of this link. It’s not expected to be the primary place for the publication of new things. You can post that on LinkedIn, Medium, or your own blog if you have one, but news.lokad.com is supposed to be an aggregator that consolidates interesting links, and where the community can openly and easily discuss.
The design is very minimalistic. For example, for the registration, we only ask for a username and password. There is no email required, though you can provide one for password recovery if you want. There are no ads, and it’s essentially a non-profit forum hosted by Lokad but not advertising for Lokad. The posts that concern Lokad do not get more visibility just because they are related to Lokad. Everything is purely ranked based on community votes, and Lokad doesn’t get any bonus compared to anything else.
Nicole Zint: So the goal is to remove vendor bias as much as possible?
Joannes Vermorel: My big theory is that you can’t remove vendor bias; you can only have other vendors that provide counterbalance to the bias. If you have different vendors that can express their opinions, then visitors will have the opportunity to see the various arguments being presented and then decide for themselves what they think is the most convincing argument.
Nicole Zint: So it’s a forum that encourages discussion on the topic?
Joannes Vermorel: Yes, that’s something I learned from the software community. The main problem is that…
Nicole Zint: You have with software is that every single project is unique. You’re implementing a piece of software, but if it’s already done, why are you doing it? So chances are that if you’re doing software, it’s precisely because it hasn’t been done before, exactly like that; otherwise, you would just buy the product on the shelf. Every single project in the software industry is a fundamentally novel undertaking, at least to some extent, and thus you end up with a difficulty: how do you compare anything to anything? Every single product is kind of unique, their own journey is kind of unique, and the sort of problem that one team faced at a point in time may be different from the problems that other teams will face later because the ecosystem has changed a few years down the road.
Joannes Vermorel: Nevertheless, those online boards that have existed for decades for the software industry are incredibly valuable. These discussions between peers online help you sort out the truly good design, the way you should even think about the problems, and what you should understand when someone is making an announcement about a piece of technology or a piece of process. How should you even read this into your situation? These communities have been incredibly helpful on the software side because they exist. When I started Lokad a decade and a half ago and through my journey, I realized that there was no such thing on the supply chain side. It’s very difficult to have any kind of intelligent debate with peers online anywhere on the internet at the moment.
Nicole Zint: So how does news.lokad.com compare to the subreddit of supply chain?
Joannes Vermorel: The supply chain subreddit, like every subreddit, is heavily influenced by the moderators that operate these specific subreddits. Moderators can decide to censor whatever they want to censor; that’s the way Reddit is organized. You claim your space in Reddit, your subreddit, and then you’re the owner of this small part of Reddit. That’s the way Reddit is engineered. In the specific case of the supply chain subreddit, the problem is that the people who claimed this space decided that they don’t want links pointing outside Reddit, so they only have inward-looking discussions. When these sort of things happen, you mostly find students on Reddit because the majority of people who have something interesting to say about supply chain are not going to post it on Reddit; they are going to post it somewhere else. For example, when McKinsey produces a report about supply chain, they don’t post it on Reddit; they post their report on mckinsey.com. But the moderators of the supply chain subreddit decided, for whatever reason, that they don’t want links pointing outside. I believe they chose that because there are so many vendors trying to flood this forum with low-effort marketing content.
Nicole Zint: They decided, okay, 99 of those links linking outside are just garbage, and so on. Let’s prevent all of that. I understand that’s a problem. I believe that massive heavy-handed censorship is not the way to go, or at least that there are better alternatives. So that would be my comparison with Reddit. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they have this no outside link policy, they end up with the only people who have something to say being potential students who have a question to ask. But it makes the discussion very uninteresting because it’s always the super basic questions that are being asked, and there is no really good answer to those questions. I mean, at least when you have one student per week asking the question, “Should I enter supply chain as a career?” the answers that were given last week are still applicable next week. So it’s not very interesting to actually revisit the same question again and again.
Joannes Vermorel: My goal would be to try to contribute to the overall improvement of supply chains, even if it’s very fractionally, very marginally. To give a place where there are intelligent discussions happening so that young, brilliant engineers and people with talent can find a place where they can learn a lot by having a community that sorts out the truly interesting stuff and that shows how to even think about the problems. Concentrated knowledge without distractions of ads or other things.
When I learned about the software industry, I discovered that more than two decades ago on forums that were called “Joel on Software Forums.” The most interesting thing for me was the way people even approached problems. They were presented with a software situation, and it was a forum where there were a lot of business owners, people who are literally business owners of software companies. It was very interesting for me to see how those people were even thinking, what was their way to look at the problem, not just the specific conclusion on this question or announcement, but the way they were even looking at the problem.
And you see, when there is an announcement by a company, there are all sorts of questions such as, “Why is this company making this announcement? Why now? Is it true? Is it important? Is it important now, or will it become important five years down the road?” There are plenty of meta questions.
What I found is that there are forums where you can find online discussions for the software industry, but there is no such thing for supply chain. My hope is to achieve a place where these sorts of discussions emerge, with a place that is very open, with very light-handed censorship or moderation. You have to have a little bit of online moderation; it is unavoidable. Otherwise, there are some people who are going to post things that are just plain rude and unacceptable or just profanities. But you don’t want to filter people just because they are not neutral.
Nicole Zint: You just want to filter people that are very obviously crossing the lines, you know, profanities, insults, these sort of things. But we’re just people that are attacking the ideas just fine. You know, you can be pretty brutal and just have an argumentation that just destroys whatever is proposed. That’s fine. Can you give some examples of the latest posts on the forum?
Joannes Vermorel: There have been dozens of posts. It can be anything, you know. I’ve posted things about the patterns that made history, the pattern for the barcode, for example. They can be very old news, or a series of reports, some of them not even very recent. I’m a big believer that if something that was published a decade ago is still very relevant, then it was probably a very good document in the first place. And then there are some news about that are Lokad centric, but the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what sort of example it is. It’s more like an attitude of, is it a link that refers to something that is of interest to a supply chain-minded person? And then it’s a community who votes, so you see, my opinion doesn’t really matter. It’s what gets voted that surfaces to the top, and that’s how much healthy discussion is concentrated on the stuff that is really interesting.
Nicole Zint: Lastly, what do you hope that news.lokad.com will do for the supply chain community?
Joannes Vermorel: If it can be a place where the outside claims of all the vendors are questioned because, obviously, supply chains are operated by computational means. There are people who can sell you warehouses, trucks, the software to operate the warehouse, and the software to operate your fleet of trucks, etc. So, whatever question or concern you have, there are vendors, that’s the way it is. This is a business environment, and we encourage the challenge of the status quo in supply chain. My concern is not to change the status quo. My concern is to even have intelligent discussions about things like what works, what doesn’t work, and what should be considered as good practice or better practices. You see, changing for the sake of changing is meaningless. Sometimes there are things that have been done for a very long time that are just fine, they don’t need changing. There are plenty of things, like this glass has a design. We have been doing glasses like that for hundreds of years. It doesn’t mean that there is anything urgent in fundamentally, radically changing this design.
The question is, having a place where you can have really in-depth discussions that are not just trying to do virtue signaling like it is on LinkedIn. So, there is something that is about the post and not about the author, that tries to show off and shine with one of their pet initiatives. Also, to have something where people could actually come to this board every single day and learn something new and interesting every single day. My hope is that supply chain professionals could potentially visit this thing for five minutes a day, find a couple of posts that are really worth their attention, as opposed to, let’s say, LinkedIn threads which are endless and filled with, I would say, 99% low-effort garbage.
Nicole Zint: It will be very exciting to see how news.lokad.com is going to grow and what it will do to the community. Thanks so much for tuning in. Check out news.lokad.com and let us know what you think.