The Empire vs The Federation - Supply Chain Sci-Fi

May The Force Be With Your Supply Chain

Supply Chain SciFi
Supply Chain SciFi. Getty Images

Yankees or Red Sox?  Ginger or Mary Ann?  Tupac or Biggie?  Some arguments rage on – with no clear-cut resolution.  Gehrig’s heart-wrenching speech or Schilling’s bloody sock?  The movie star or farm girl?  Los Angeles or New York hip-hop?  Of all the iconic debates that can unravel friendships, families and communities – none can cut so deep, so quickly as the “Star Trek or Star Wars” face-off. 

Both the Star Trek and Star Wars universes boast operatic canons that have evolved over decades and spawned sequels, spin-offs, prequels, novelizations, comics, cartoons, cosplay and conventions.

  Both feature a core set of characters with deeply personal dramas – set against the backdrop of galactic spectacle.  And both have produced a rabid fan base that would drop you with a phaser blast or lightsaber slash before admitting that Han Solo or James Tiberius Kirk might be less a man than his competing universe’s counterpart. 

But with so many similarities, there are differences, as well.  Star Wars is famously set long ago in a galaxy far away while Star Trek is set in the 23rd Century with humans of our own planet as the central protagonists (Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans aside).  In Star Trek, the United Federation of Planets boldly went where no man had gone before.  But in Star Wars, centuries before Star Trek’s cast zipped across the interstellar abyss, a ruthless, dictatorial Empire battled a united alliance of rebels.  When Star Trek needed a reboot – it enlisted a director known for creating groundbreaking television (Alias, Lost and Fringe).

  But when Star Wars wanted to get rid of that Jar-Jar aftertaste, it hired a director known for revitalizing a movie franchise (ahem, the Star Trek one).  Okay, so maybe they both leaned on J.J. Abrams to fire themselves back into hyperspace (or warp drive). 

In 1977, Star Wars – piggybacking off the cult success of the 3-year run Star Trek enjoyed on network television (1966-1969) – exploded, like the planet Alderaan after a Death Star laser blast, into the hearts and minds of the movie-going public.

  Star Trek, in the meantime, produced as many spin-off movies and TV shows as the original series produced ill-fated, unnamed yeomen.

How do you best compare Star Trek and Star Wars?  What’s the only real way to match up these two icons and settle the dispute once and for all?  By comparing the supply chains of The Empire and The Federation, of course!

Manufacturing Operations

The supply chain gurus in global manufacturing operations will tell you that optimizing that process can save your company money, inventory and timeSix sigma tools can help reduce waste and contribute to the bottom line.  If you can deliver your products to your customers when they want them (and spend as little as possible doing that), you’re optimizing your manufacturing operations.  In Star Trek, when a Federation starship is manufactured – it’s done so near Starfleet headquarters (in Earth’s orbit).  But when Star Wars’ Empire needs a Death Star, it manufactures the war machine where the customer needs it.  Well, at least in Return of the Jedi they did.  The manufacturing of a weapon the size of Rhode Island… in outer space… over the moon Endor… gives The Empire an edge in manufacturing operations.  The fact that they were defeated by a herd of teddy bears with slingshots sounds more like a public relations problem – and doesn’t undermine their supply chain success.

  Edge: The Empire.

On-Time Delivery

Getting your customers what they want, when they want it.  That’s on-time delivery.  In Star Wars, launching your customer’s order into hyperspace will definitely get it there fast.  But sometimes you don’t need hyperspace delivery.  Star Trek benefits from having 10 warp factors.  If your customer doesn’t need its order until next week, ground freight will do.  If your supply chain and manufacturing operations are optimized, you don’t need to overnight every delivery.  Sometimes you can tell UPS to use warp factor two.  Edge: The Federation. 

Inventory optimization

What do Star Trek’s original series and each one of the Star Trek movies have in common?  The primary vehicle in each one is the Enterprise.  When you can satisfy your customers by providing the same product over the course of decades – you have the opportunity to optimize your inventory.

  With one primary SKU, The Federation has kept its inventory lean.  The Empire, on the other hand, builds a Death Star, a second Death Star, star destroyers, and tie-fighters.  The Millennium Falcon is the franchise’s most enduring vehicle, but it doesn’t belong to The Empire and doesn’t show up until the fourth (albeit first) installment.  Edge: The Federation. 

Leadership 

When any key decision needs to be made in the Star Trek universe, a gathering of Starfleet leadership or The Federation must convene in San Francisco.  San Francisco!  You’re boldly deploying your fleet to the far reaches of outer space – and they need to report any action outside protocol back to Northern California?  Holy Kobayashi Maru!  In The Empire, when Darth Vader needs to murder a ship’s commander in order to better optimize that ship’s processes – he doesn’t need to check in with HQ.  The Empire has delegated decision-making to its front line managers.  In supply chain, your buyers and materials planners have the best view of transactional and tactical details.  By empowering them to make fast-paced decisions, you can save time and money – and optimize your supply chain.  And likely keep Lord Vader from showing up at your desk.  Edge: The Empire. 

Customer Satisfaction

In any company, you want to deliver what your customer wants, when it wants it – and spend as little money as possible doing that.  That’s optimized supply chain.  Both The Federation and The Empire have been doing that for decades.  But Star Trek has an animated series and The Final Frontier to pull down its overall customer satisfaction metrics.  In Star Wars, the aforementioned Jar-Jar and the shouts of “Greedo didn’t shoot first” have the same negative customer satisfaction impact.  But, in terms of delivering what customers want – both Star Trek and Star Wars win big.  Edge: Tie. 

Intangibles

In supply chain, there are few intangibles.  If your company isn’t delivering what its customer wants, when it wants it (and spending as little money as possible doing that) – you don’t have optimized supply chain.  In the “Star Trek or Star Wars” debate, however, you could say that one has a slight edge.  Star Wars would not have existed if it weren’t for Star Trek boldly going first.  But Star Trek inevitably had to raise its game because of Star Wars’ success.  To pick the The Empire or The Federation is like picking the supply chain of Apple over that of Amazon.  Both deserve very high marks.  But The Empire just appears to be a leaner organization with faster decision making and less obsolete inventory (they just eliminate it).  The Federation feels overly bureaucratic and maybe a pinch slower – and when an organization is slower to react to the market, they generally need higher inventory and higher costs to stay competitive.  Edge: The Empire. 

Results:  The Empire – 3.5; The Federation – 2.5

May The Force Be With Your Supply Chain / Live Long And Prosper by delivering your customers what they want, when they want it.