Let’s start with a story illustrating how supply chain security irrevocably altered the fortunes of a company that was
This story is in
Think of the time before Iphone and Samsung phones came along and conquered the supply chains of the industry, and the minds of the users. I tell that story elsewhere.
Here we focus on the simpler times.
A seemingly trivial random event, on a fateful day in March 2000, changed the destiny of the industry.
Both Nokia, and Ericcson, the stalwarts in the mobile phone industry at that time, were equally impacted by the same event – a
Both Nokia and Ericsson experienced business disruption to an equal extent as a result.
More importantly, the manufacturing capacity of the plant was damaged and it was difficult to estimate the time for repairs.
This is where the events take an interesting turn. Not everyone thinks of supply chain security beyond the physical security of goods in transit. For
In fact, all the security experts who have no background in supply chain security fail on this count – they never think deep enough in terms of the layers of
Nokia had invested months, if not years, in creating and perfecting a robust and responsive supply chain security, while Ericsson’s business network was relatively a middle-of-the-line affair that worked well when things were good.
Ericcson staff were content to go with the flow, without too much care and worry about this part of supply chain security.
After the fire, Nokia was able to see the full impact of the chip shortage on its own business, as well as the entire industry with a lot more clarity than Ericsson, and even Philips.
Moving quickly, it activated other parts of its business network to shore up supplies, to redesign some of the chips to manufacture them in other plants, and to take pre-emptive steps in the network.
Ericsson let the situation evolve at its own pace and made decisions more reactively.
The resulting gain in profitability and market share for Nokia and the loss of these for Ericsson tipped the balance of the industry to an extent where within a few years Nokia pulled far ahead of the Ericsson which never caught up with its erstwhile equal rival.
It does have some anecdotal entertainment value.
But the moral value is even higher. Here are some things to ponder:
I could easily turn this above 7 point list into a large magazine article (listicle), but my readership is wise enough to connect the dots themselves, and do not need
Given the quality of my readership – I have created a
If you really want to pay
People often wonder where the best opportunities for start-ups are. Supply Chain Security space is getting a lot of attention in this regard.
In fact, just today someone asked me on a popular platform about opportunities for start-ups in Supply Chain Security space . They wonder whether these were more in software, or consulting arena.
Here is my view:
It would be neither of those two. Rather it will be a combination of hardware and software – initial application know-how will have to come from the user side.
Let me explain.
Post-2001 (911) the world of supply chain security has changed dramatically. The regulatory environment has evolved dramatically (as we explain in my report Global Supply Chain Group’s SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY REPORT). But that is not the only change. Almost everything – customer innocence, political and cultural norms, technology and particularly technology – has evolved dramatically as is explained in this report.
Most importantly – the threat perception has evolved considerably. Look at the diagram below which summarises the supply chain threats over the decades:
So far, this is common sense representation of common knowledge. What is not common knowledge is how technology has evolved in response to these trends.
There are at least 6 technological streams which find applications in supply chain security. You will find them in the report, or in this survey on supply chain security – Supply Chain Security Survey
But the most interesting insight in the report is that almost all the opportunities offered are in combinations of hardware, software and some know-how in the application.
That is not to say that pure-play companies do not exist. In fact, many companies have evolved to products with a considerable component of application know-how. In mature products that is always going to be the case.
But, for a start-up, a combination of hardware, software and some application know-how is the best bet
This is a million dollar question for most companies – start-ups or conglomerates. A lot of time and money is wasted either because the companies do not bother to ask this question in time, or try to answer it in the wrong way.
“What Comes First – Make, or Sell?” – this is a conundrum from
Here is my answer to a similar sounding question on a popular forum.
Let me tell you a story from my book The 5-Star Business Network – Vivek Sood | Global Supply Chain Group :
One of our large corporate clients faced exactly this dilemma when investing in the renewable energies sector.
In simple words, the dilemma was whether or not an entrepreneur with a good idea should go looking for customers or go looking for the ability to build the product/deliver the service.
Depending on the choice made at this point in time, the two models of innovation will look very different as shown in the figure below:
Alternate models of innovation
There are enough proponents for both types of models. In our work with clients, this conundrum has frequently surfaced and is always argued quite passionately by different senior executives in either of the two camps.
On one hand, there are the proponents of the Reaganomics supply-side theory – arguing ‘if you build it, they will come’. On the other hand are the more traditional thinkers arguing unless we have the customers and services pre-defined, how can we build anything?
In this story, as a way out of this dilemma, we listed the factors on which the decision was dependent. Among the factors were questions related to the certainty of the customer demand, such as:
• Are the real customers properly identified?
• Do the real customers know exactly what they want?
• Have the real customers communicated their demand to the market explicitly?
• How likely are real customers to change their minds?
• How easy is it for real customers to change their preferences?
On the other hand, there were several factors related to the level of innovation itself – whether it was just an incremental innovation or a giant leap. Key questions in this realm were:
• By what factor (multiplier) does this product/service improve the customer life?
• What are the existing means of getting the same value in use?
• What makes the new product better than the existing product?
• What tangible measures can be used to measure the superiority of the new offering?
• Do the real customer really value the new offering as superior as the provider does?
Based on these factors we developed the following matrix to enable answering the question:
Figure: Innovation Drivers and Supply Networks
In box 1 (red colour) – in a situation where the level of innovation is only incremental and the certainty of customer demand is very low – massive investments are required for customer education as well as for building a viable supply network.
This is because most potential supplier will see the situation as high risk and will only respond to monetary inducements to buy co-operation. A very high percentage of innovative efforts are in this square and, as a result, fail because of lack of deep enough pockets and difficulty of fighting the battle on two fronts simultaneously.
A basic supply chain would be the only possibility in this instance – where the organization has to move on two different fronts to build demand and supply simultaneously. This is shown in figure 8.3 (of the book mentioned above).
The key lesson for the players in the red box is that you need very deep pockets to fight the battle on both fronts – demand and supply.
If you lack that financing ability, try and move up or right – either find a niche of customers with pent-up demand looking for the right product/service by moving up, or move right in the matrix by creating a step change in the users’ lives by creating a product that far surpasses anything else available in the market place in terms of the customer experience.
If you cannot do either of these two things, keep looking for ways to make one of these two moves; or, consider scrapping the idea altogether.
Recall our client case study; the company, in this case, was in box 2 (light green colour) – with massive innovation but uncertain customer demand due to competing technologies promising similar magnitude of innovations.
In such a case, the business suffers from a chicken and egg situation. The customers do not buy because of some uncertainty, perhaps regarding which technology will ultimately win the battle; after all, no one wants to be stuck with a Betamax VCR and find that VHS standard has won the battle.
At the same time, the company is not in a position to invest too much in production capacity unless the customer demand is certain. Most businesses in this type of situation try and work with customers on a conditional basis – promising to build capacity if the orders are placed.
However, customers are not inclined to place orders because of the factors driving uncertainty in their own world. A way out of this situation then is to work with the supply network on a conditional basis – promising and delivering massive returns as the demand materializes.
The key is to find the right suppliers with the superior world-class capability and flexible capacity who are willing and able to understand the situation and work in it.
At the same time, flexible product design and investment in customer education to reduce demand uncertainty and increase buy-in also yield good results.
The need for flexibility, adaptability, ability to hold supply in readiness for the demand that builds up through education, clarity and events results in an adaptive supply chain that looks like alternative number 2 in the round figure above.
The key strategy is to make sure that suppliers and co-developers of technology and production capacity are fully on board with the plan and work alongside your business – as part of your 5 STAR Network.
If you have any doubts about any of the co-developers or suppliers, it is better to continue looking, negotiating and influencing till all the members of the 5 STAR Network are fully on board with you.
Consultants, think tanks, industry organizations, academia, research laboratories, brokers play a critical role in bringing together businesses that could form part of the same 5 STAR Network.
They play an even more important role in keeping the network humming smoothly, ironing out any wrinkles in the relationships. Such an adaptive supply chain is shown in Figure 8.4 of the book.
We have already seen how, in such an adaptive model, several organizations work together in an adaptive network to think and solve problems of their common customer/s.
Our client, an entrepreneur with massive innovation, used this model to work alongside some of the largest and best heavy machinery and engineering corporations in the world in order to bring their technology to the market successfully.
This was also a good example of the Fire-Aim-Ready (FAR) Innovation, but we will use yet another case example – of a much more ubiquitous product, an iPhone – later in this chapter to illustrate that effect.
In box 3 (dark green) above the situation is exactly the reverse. Imagine a pharmaceutical company trying to find a cure for cancer or a number of other old age infirmities.
As the population ages, the demand is already present and growing. However, on the supply side of the equation, the research and development are being carried out in the laboratories of large pharmaceutical companies and their collaborating partners in academia, scientific establishments, consultancies and other organizations.
The patent system, to some extent, restricts the collaboration – barring this anomaly every company would be keen to collaborate much more openly to gain part of the returns of a first mover advantage in a blockbuster product.
However, in any scenario, an adaptive supply chain similar to the figure above will result in far quicker and more effective innovation at a much lower cost. In fact, that is the reason for collaboration, despite the patent laws.
Successful strategies in this scenario will hold demand in Supply Chains till supply eventuates. At the same time, the business will make massive R & D investments to build further product innovation and sell limited quantities to early adopters under limited conditions – which is indeed the case in the pharmaceutical industries.
We will not discuss the box 4 (yellow box) in this article because such a scenario, where demand is highly certain and the level of innovation is mammoth, is rarely encountered in real life. Such opportunities are snapped up in a jiffy.
We have seen how the super-networked businesses use their 5 STAR Business networks to build adaptive supply chains and gain a massive advantage in the field of innovation. But this does not happen only in the fields of pharmaceuticals or high technology.
Apple, Amazon, Inditex and many other case studies dispersed throughout this book demonstrate clearly how super-networked businesses innovate better than the rest of the businesses in their industry.
Consider the case of Apple once more. Whether it is iPads or Apple TV, the company has never shied from firing first and then taking aim towards the target.
For example, the much maligned and a total flop Apple Newton, released around 1995, served as the key platform for the eventual success of iPads. Just because the technology or the public was not ready for the product, Apple did not shy away from testing, learning, improving, testing again, learning more and eventually succeeding.
As it succeeded with other products and learned the lessons (get the iTunes and iPod ready before launching iPhone) it has had less number of flops along the way.
Eventually, Apple will be ready with a unique, highly personalized and anticipated experience for each customer – which is the holy grail of the modern era. Most successful companies have followed similar Fire-Aim-Ready (FAR) trajectory to innovation, and examples abound.
If you have questions about your own company’s innovation strategy, send me an email on email@example.com or take our diagnostic survey. The results are always enlightening for senior executives, as they always bring up some blind spots. Covering these spots will save you a lot of heartache, time and money.
I write about The Supply Chain CEOs, The 5-STAR Business Networks and Unchain Your Corporations. My website is at http://viveksood.com
There were only 24 hours left. Tomorrow the board would pull the plug on the project which had continued for well over 3 years. The total costs as per internal calculations had run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
External consultants reckoned that when you included the costs of internal resources seconded to the project from rest of the organisation, and other costs buried elsewhere in P&L’s the real total was at least double of that.
However, the project had built a momentum of its own. No one was willing to point at the elephant in the room, let alone to lead it out. Careers were at risk. Good careers – built over several years.
I will talk about the outcomes later in this piece. Before, I do that I want to spend some time talking about how did the company arrive here?
How did so many competent people miss obvious and easy signs that the project was not on track. More importantly, where did it all go off the rails?
Of course, I have covered these, and other similar questions in my book OUTSOURCING 3.0, and in my blogs and videos. The book, in particular, carries a very comprehensive model and diagnostic tool kit, which is value for money.
In this piece, I want to focus on only a few key points. And, I want to frame it as a positive affirmation of key things that would build momentum towards success.
Three kind of congruence is important:
In the case quoted above, while minor lapses occurred in all three, several major gaps very readily apparent in #2. It appeared as if IT team was working in total isolation from the Supply Chain and Business Transformation team – though their projects were closely linked.
Short term, tactical thinking – predominantly related to cost savings and control issues and considerations tend to dominate. It is quite easy to lose track of the big picture in the process. All the initial discussions and dreams of gaining competitive advantage are thrown out of the window at the first opportunity.
Then, what is the point in spending all the money? The project appeared like a lot of effort, just to stay in the same place.
This takes more than a flight of fancy. A lot of things will change when one thing changes. You cannot ever do enough of visualisation and preparation. Every time you do this exercise, you will discover some more things that need to change in parts of the processes, infrastructure, skill sets, SOPs, contracts, warehouses, etc. Change it.
That brings me to my last point. All this difficult work is highly specialised; it also takes considerable time and money. It needs skills rarely found inside organisations, or even in IT service providers.
While it is well known that most IT projects run into time and money problems, the scope adjustment problem is less well articulated. Yet, taken together, these can wreck havoc on your business outcomes.
The above graphic – taken from my book OUTSOURCING 3.0 sums up the situation nicely.
In the case study quoted at the start of this post, the outcomes were a lot different than what was expected by the majority. The board made a bold decision and pulled the plug on the project in the middle. That single decision most likely saved the company in the long run. They could have saved a lot more money if, at the outset, they are created governance structure to ensure just a few key points. After all, prevention is better than cure.
Recently, the value of trust in supply chain was brought home to me in a graphic manner. An owner of a medium sized business (who was trying to be one of our well-wishers) showed me (and one of our new recruits in sales management department) the way they were using dummy websites to generate leads for their business. He also mentioned that nowadays this is a very common practice to create dummy websites, even dummy companies and fake addresses for the sheer ease of doing so and anticipated potential benefits.
He wanted to encourage us to do the same thing. We listened to him politely, thanked him for his opinion, and refused to go down that path.
He was firmly in the camp of people believing that you have to fake it till you make it.
Obviously there is a huge contingent of people who follow this philosophy. To justify themselves they often quote Richard Branson saying this:
I don’t know if this phrase was truly said by the man himself. However I would feel a little bit uneasy if pilots in their airlines adopted this mantra. It basically means that they accept the job as a pilot hoping to figure out how it works later, meanwhile they are going to fake it till they make it.
I know I have carried the example to an extreme, and pilots do need certification before anyone offers them a job as such.
However, I am also aware that there are more subtle considerations such as aircraft types, routes and even airport characteristics where most pilots will not accept command of an aircraft till they know for sure they can do the job.
Like them, I am firmly in the camp which says ‘make it real and keep it real.’ The risks are far too high; and the numerous opportunities to train and learn without exposing your passengers (or business network partners) to the unnecessary risks make it almost callous to do otherwise.
Yet, many people persist.
This belief – fake it, till you make it – is usually based on the assumption that nobody will offer you a job if you’re perceived as not qualified for it.
On the contrary, you are the best person to judge whether you are truly competent enough to take on a job. At the same time, with the job offers comes the responsibility of choosing, whether to accept it, or not; the responsibility of evaluating your own skills, experience and competence for this particular job.
Unfortunately, there are far too many people forsaking this responsibility that can only apply at a personal level.
That is also the reason why there is a lot of trust deficit in the business world.
If you are faking it, your reader, your audience, your client, your customer will most likely know that you’re faking it. It is just a matter of time.
Whether you are a motor mechanic who’s faking the knowledge of the type of motor that you’re repairing or you’re a heart surgeon or any job in between. Faking it is definitely not going to make you happier or more successful for the simple reason that your customer will always be uneasy with you. Furthermore, in your heart you will always know that you are faking it, which is not the best thing for your self-confidence and self-respect.
Supply chain management is not a unique field which requires a large amount of trust between people to collaborate. In fact, trust is a fundamental requirement for all collaboration, cooperation and joint activities between human beings.
It becomes even more significant in supply chain management where it is both individual trust and institutional trust.
Why is trust so important anyway?
There is an important reason why I mention it.
As supply chains become more and more sophisticated, as they become more entangled and evolve into business networks, the need for trust within the supply chains becomes more and more intense.
Let’s take a specific example to make this generic statement more real.
Suppose you are a soft drink manufacturer, and the suppliers of empty cans has a captive plant right next to your bottling plant, you have a good chance of hearing about their business ups and downs and know well in time about events that might affect your supply. Now just substitute this captive supplier of packaging by a bunch of suppliers half way around the earth who might have significant cost advantage (because of manufacturing cost, for instance), and see how important it will be for you to keep open clear lines of communication in order to run your business smoothly and efficiently.
Companies typically want to engage with supply chain partners who will be able to deliver on what they promise, barring a totally unanticipated event. If your business network partners are not fakes themselves, most likely they will not engage with you further when they find out that you’re faking it.
Although trust in supply chain management is a very popular topic, it is evident that establishing trust within the business network can be very challenging. It takes time, patience and effort of each and every supply chain partner. It can be even more difficult to maintain trust over time. As the concept of trust is rather abstract, it is also hard to measure. At the same time, despite all the difficulties and efforts you can be sure that developing trust with your suppliers and customers is worth the efforts.
So what is trust and what are the components of it?
How to make sure that there is enough trust between you and your supply chain partners?
Is it always worth the investment of your time and effort?
Is there such thing as too much trust within the business network?
First of all, trust in supply chain management, as in any other cooperation between people, includes numerous factors.
You should maintain good communication at all times between you and your partners. Communication also means honesty and openness. Fairness and loyalty can also be very helpful in establishing trust. Another integral part is the competence and your openness about whether you are qualified for this particular job or not. This kind of relationship requires goodwill and willingness not to exploit your partner’s vulnerabilities. This is even more important because of the confidential information which is shared between supply chain partners and with management consultants.
My colleague, who was at the meeting mentioned at the start of this article, wondered aloud about the advisability of trying to create some websites to generate additional leads for our training business.
And my answer was an unequivocal “no”.
The reason was very simple.
I like to make it real – and keep it real.
I gave my colleague an example of the difference between level of trust required for a pharmacist, a general practitioner and an open-heart surgeon.
When you go and buy a medicine from a pharmacy, you do need a certain amount of trust. You need to be confident that the pharmacist will indeed give you the formulation that the doctor has prescribed. You need to be sure that it is pure, unadulterated and sold at the market price.
However the level of trust required from a general practitioner is much higher. Because you will have to literally remove your clothes in front of him. In this case you need the confidence that your general practitioner is able to examine you, to find out what was wrong.
This trust requirement further multiplies when we are talking about a heart surgeon. You need to be completely sure of your heart surgeon as you need to entrust him your own body, because he will be actually cutting you open and looking literally at your heart. Imagine a heart surgeon who lives with the philosophy mentioned earlier.
In the situation where people need to share confidential information, where the profitability of your business depends largely on the competence and honesty of someone else, it is critical to make efforts in order to develop trust. A low level of trust in this case may give a bit more independence and space at first but later on it will definitely result in lower productivity and profitability in supply chain.
Management consultants by their nature need to establish a very firm bond of trust with their customers. The clients need to be able to entrust them with a lot of confidential data and information as well as their innermost strategies so that management consultants could work successfully and effectively.
To be able to establish this kind of firm bond of trust you have to make sure that there is no possibility that your customer misunderstands any of your marketing messages. You should be unambiguous about your market position. It takes us to the next point.
It is always better to say clearly and honestly if the required skills or competences for a particular project are not within your company’s skillsets.
Let me make it real with another example. Very often when we formulate segmented supply chain strategies for our clients’ business, we need to understand the customer segmentation criteria. As part of that activity we need market research data, which is obviously outside the competency set of our business. I am very clear with my clients when such situations arise. I also say that I am in a position to recommend a few good market research firms, if necessary, but customers are welcome to choose any others that they want to use so long as the required segmentation data is available at the end of the exercise.
Sophisticated clients always appreciate a consulting company which is honest about where their competency starts and where it ends. On the other hand there are consulting firms who pretend that they are able to magically do everything.
In most cases they end up doing nothing well enough, and in the long term they usually lose not only the trust of their clients, but also their own self-respect.
Looking beyond management consulting, as mentioned before, trust is important for collaboration between supply chain partners. When you are working with your supply chain partners – suppliers and customers – in innovation, in order to create new products faster, in enhancing the profitability and reducing the cash-to-cash cycle, you know that relying on fakes will only come back and bite you at the worst possible time.
Typically deep understanding of customer segments is required to be able to configure a segmented supply chain so that the end-to-end business strategy is in coherence. This activity obviously requires an immense amount of trust running all the way through the entire business network.
However, similar to the example comparing a pharmacist, a general practitioner and a heart surgeon, the required trust will always depend on the situation and on the level of collaboration that we need from each participant within the 5-STAR Business Network.
Organizational silos are based on the division of labor, on organizing the labor in such a way that each individual specialized in what he/she knows best, so that it can all be integrated in such a manner that a cohesive whole which is created in the result is much better in quality and much cheaper in price. This gift of the industrial age to humanity allows to make a production must better in quality and must cheaper in price. Indeed, because of the period of time, the person will become very good at his production and work at a much faster rate, even if the technology is the same. Each employee will make his work much faster, and he would make it much better quality than if he was making the whole product.
By the 70’s, the division had been carried too far, in fact, so far that each person would pretend that as if he has nothing to do with the other employees. To give you an example, I was working in a business transformation project in a mid-sized airlines and I was sitting in the office of the person in charge of maintenance planning of the aircrafts. At one point in the conversation he dug out and e-mail exchanged with his colleagues from across the room and this e-mail exchange had been carried on over a period of 18 months. This trivial matter could have been solved by just walking across the room in an authentic spirit of give-and-take and collaborating across the silos. People in both silos have entrenched themselves into such a position where no action could be taken, the decision-making was extremely slow and people were pointing fingers at each other.
In fact, every organization we have seen, to some extent or other, suffers from this silos mentality. The bureaucratic organization of supply chain 0.0 leads each department to become a pyramid. Any information which needs to be passed from one department to another would have communicated with the head office of one department to another. Imagine the time wasted and the problem of information distortion in the process. By killing the spirit of collaboration, it hampers efficiency and effectiveness.
No wonder this kind of organizations find it very hard to compete against even rudimentary supply chains, such as supply chain 1.0. Many companies struggle with one business transformation after another without addressing the root cause of information holding and silos in supply chain 0.0. If the company stays stuck in organizational silos, no appreciable improvement will be seen: Information holding will become rife and selective information sharing, the norm. Blame will be the name of the game in such a situation.
Below are 20 questions that every executive should ask about the supply chain in their business:
There are already plenty of nude photos in the cyberspace. No matter how attractive these celebrities are, their photos are not worth what is at stake. News Reports have been taken over by the celebrity nude photo celebration. Here is a good summary, in case you missed out:
” MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Explicit photos of dozens of female celebrities have been dumped on the internet in what’s believed to be one of the biggest celebrity hacking scandals to date. Jennifer Lawrence, the Oscar winning star of the cult movie the Hunger Games, is among dozens of high profile Hollywood actresses to have naked images posted on the internet by hackers. The incident has raised serious questions about the security of internet storage systems.
So far I have not made an attempt to see the leaked photos. Come to think of it, I have seen enough of them (when I was working in merchant navy) to last me a lifetime – so I will do this either. Is it really that big a deal? These people had posed for the photos, so assumedly they did not mind some people seeing them in those poses.
It is really of question of which people, and in what circumstances. When I posed for this photo, I did so with full knowledge that some people will look at it, and it might perhaps even leak from my cloud account. I do not mind if it happens; though now that I have put it here in this blog, hacking them will be purposeless. If you have photos of yourself in the cloud that you would not like people to see, delete them or make them public. Privacy is a luxury that does not exist in the global village.
We are all Kardashians now. But, the purpose of this blog is not to decry the loss of privacy – in my view it is overrated anyway. Plus, that bus has departed long ago. Purpose, of this blog is to make a direct appeal to the hackers to not kill the cloud. Too much is at stake. Global economic integration, supply chain 3.0 planning, collaboration, concurrent engineering, even cool products such as the next generation of phones, watches and tablets – none of this will be possible anymore with data residing in cloud and enabling So dear hackers – you will lose your cool products.
You will lose the low prices for great things – cost of everything will go up massively, if supply chain 3.0 planning and collaboration cannot be accomplished. And, you will lose your own ability to send huge files across the internet to your friends. Would you like to see that happen? A few photos of scantily clad (or unclad) bodies are not really worth that much.
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Business Networks are important to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization. It is imperative to learn from the evolution and success of business networks. Business structures have evolved radically to such a degree that nowadays, most businesses have no option but to create business networks.
Naturally your business infrastructure is fixed, rigid and cost accruing. Your business networks, on the other hand, are evolutionary, flexible and revenue accruing.
Those businesses which had the most responsive and resilient business networks were the ones to recover from any downfall the quickest. See who survived the global economic downturn during 2008 – 2009.
Data is visibly conclusive that in times of cash crisis, the quality of their business networks saves companies. Those with more robust business networks have far more superior cash conversion cycles, nearly 6 times better. In fact, as pointed out by Aberdeen Group, business network masters improve their cash to cash cycle leading up to the Global Financial Crisis while the rest of the industry went backwards.
Even relatively smaller businesses can achieve remarkable results quickly based on the responsiveness of their business networks. In economic booms, whether accompanied by economic volatility, or economic stability, business networks allow you to realize higher profits, quickly. The potential of your company’s capabilities are multiplied many times over, by the leverage effect provided by your business network. This is only possible through extensive utilization of business networks that the company has built, nurtured and managed effectively. Most executives grossly under-estimate the value and efficacy of business networks in ramping up capacity rapidly in boom times.
Especially during times of extreme volatility, we see airlines and shipping companies forming global service alliances to ride out the season and economic peaks and troughs. In such volatile business environments, budgeting and planning can become a nerve-racking exercise for all companies except those which use their business networks to cushion the lean periods with long term contracts and find scarce capacity during boom periods. Supply chain is unique to every company and industry, formulated over a number of decades in many cases, and is worth several trillions of dollars in value.
Estimates range into trillions of dollars, and yet may be underestimating the full extent and power of these hidden business resources. The magic of business networks has made it possible to design, build, launch and sell revolutionary products in less than one-third time of the industry. If you cannot make your business networks more visible and manage them more proactively, you may be silently yielding the competitive advantage to others who can. It is, after all, the obtainable magic.
Want to start now? Create your own 5-Star Business Network today.
Supply Chain Segmentation Drives Today’s Digital Marketing – This is how I explained the situation to a group of a senior executives of the company I was consulting to recently.
The profitability was falling, and customers were abandoning the company (I cannot go into too much specifics of the case for obvious reasons of confidentiality). Let us say that each customer segment was unhappy.
They would place or order and get a very mediocre service (from their point of view). I do not want to go into too much detail of their frustration because I do not want to reveal more details of the company. But suffice it to say that the experience was akin to paying for a sports luxury vehicle, and getting a cheap low-end vehicle.
This was surprising! Everyone in the client’s team was astonished to see the data. But the truth could not be denied. A number of focus groups revealed that they were unhappy because they could get the same product for much lower price elsewhere.
The results were predictable – high customer churn, accompanied by falling profits.
The main reason was that all these various customer segments were being served by a single supply chain that was a happy medium of all their requirements.
No wonder, none of the customers felt that they were getting what they deserved. The company was clearly not showing their customers that they cared for them, and as a result most customers simply voted with their feet.
So, what is the solution?
Clearly, a segmented supply chain is required to demonstrate to each customer segment that the company is going beyond the marketing and positioning statements, to actually serve them with care that evokes trust and loyalty. This is not the only company that is in this situation. About 60% (estimate) companies I observe are not very far from this reality.
It is relatively easy to segment the market and come up with catchy marketing slogan for each segment that resonates with them. The hard work involves to follow up that marketing message with a tailored supply chain that delivers what your promised.
Recently I did a small but quite interesting thought experiment with one of my sons.
We were discussing the invention of electricity and he asked me: “Dad, what would happen if there was no electricity?”
Since I actually had such an experience, I recounted to him my life in a remote village in Himalayas when my mother had taken a one-year assignment to teach economics to children in a school nearby.
I told my son that there was no internet, no computers, no telephones, no television, no radio and no light bulbs. Even more so, there was no electricity in that village at all. As a result, the whole village would get up at sunrise, go through their daily routines and were go to bed just after the sunset. People used kerosene lamps to light up for an hour or so after dark and only in case of necessity.
My son is only 8 years old, and grew up in Australia. Hence, obviously enough he found this life almost completely incomprehensible.
On my part, this conversation inspired me to think about life without supply chain management.
I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity of working closely with Dr. Wolfgang Partsch – who is one of the co-inventors of supply chain management (SCM) in the early 80s. I have had a number of discussions with him about how the business life has changed compared to the life before SCM was invented.
No doubt, the division of labour was one of the biggest and most popular concepts which came out of the industrial revolution. The principle is that every job is divided into its constituent parts to the lowest possible level, so that each person can specialise in what he does best, this would increase the productivity of the overall system immensely. By the late 70s, the division of labour had totally taken over the business as well as governmental work.
Unfortunately, bureaucratic complications combined with the division of labour had created a world in which every department within any company was running as a small fiefdom.
Imagine that a purchasing clerk would issue a purchase order. Then he would let his boss know that he has issued the purchase order as per the boss’s instruction. Then his boss will countersign the purchase order and would inform his boss that such and such item has been purchased, who would then inform his boss, who would most likely be the head of purchasing.
The department head of purchasing would inform the head of manufacturing, who would inform his subordinate, assistant head of manufacturing, who would inform his subordinate, the factory manager, who would inform the manufacturing planner that the purchasing order had been issued.
There were 6 to 8 different links in this communication chain running from the purchasing clerk to the manufacturing planner or production planner. Each message would go up the chain in a department, right up to the department head, and then across to another department head who would filter the message down all the way to a person who would act on it. In such a world with these eight or more different links in the chain, the time difference by itself was enough for the message to lose its effectiveness.
Combine that timing issue with the possibility of a message getting garbled in a long chain of communication, due to the differences of intentions and possibility of misinterpretations of messages, suddenly you realize what a nightmare it would cause.
Not only that, the departmental heads were almost always the biggest bottlenecks in such a communication scheme where nothing would go up, down or sideways without a departmental head’s approval. Obviously, their capacity to process information was only limited by how much time they had.
Now before you think of this as a ludicrous, and imaginary situation – let me add that I encountered exactly this situation in an Island airlines where I had the opportunity to participate in a business transformation exercise a few years ago.
Many other organisations I have had the opportunity to serve exhibit at least some symptoms of the same malaise.
So, what would be the typical complications you could encounter if there was no SCM?
You would notice that some easy five-minute jobs could quite possibly take days to accomplish, for a simple reason of the lengthy communication chain required to get the cooperation. You would also see a lot of confusion, because of the possibility of the message getting misrepresented. You would see some coordination, but not a lot of it because of the nature and length of the communication chain.
You would see a lot of bureaucratic nonsense with people hoarding information and only giving it to their bosses or their subordinates in a very selective manner. In many cases, this information hoarding would be pointless and even harmful. The rationale behind the behaviour might simply be a cultural norm or an expectation in such a hierarchical organization.
You would also see too much command and control in this type of organization, for the simple reason that when everything has to pass through a departmental head, he becomes an ultimate arbiter of what information filters through and what does not.
You would also see that the departmental head would have to make all the decisions. Even the smallest scheduling decisions, or planning decisions, or execution decisions, which could have easily be made by people several layers lower than him/her, would need to be made by the departmental heads themselves, again for the same reasons.
You would also see such systems as very rigid with no adaptive capabilities to changing needs of the market place. If you notice any of these symptoms within your company, then there is bound to be a problem with how the supply chain functions in your company.
No matter whether you have somebody with a title of supply chain director or vice-president, your company does not act as an organization with an effective supply chain which cuts across the departmental silos.
As this is a very important subject, in another article I will talk about how supply chain helps to alleviate the silos mentality and integrate departments to act as one company.