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
I need to tell a true story which is about 16 years old.
Jon had just left the secure world of a senior role in a multi-billion dollar global corporation to accept the role of the CEO in a mid-size family-owned company. He had always been a go-getter, who had progressed fast in his previous roles.
He always showed impatience with the bureaucracy endemic in such large
So, I was not surprised when announced his plans to take command of the mid-size Australian company. Because he was not very close to me, I was a bit surprised when he sought me out, saying that he might contact me for a project once he was settled in his new role.
True to his word, and style, he did not let the dust settle before he called me up and requested a meeting. He gave me some details of the situation, and asked for a proposal to revamp the procurement department – which he saw as the weakest link.
Because the story is old, I can share some contextual information while changing other details. The company itself has been sold multiple times since; none of the information is confidential or identifiable.
Jon explained to me that he was the first external CEO in the business – which had so far been run by the founder. The company had been reasonably successful in the mining
Jon, being the go-getter, was just the right man for the job. He was promised total autonomy by the founder/ past CEO – who had stepped back to the role of the Chairman.
In my first meeting with the Chairman, I found him to be an extremely astute man, who had built a strong company through difficult circumstances. Granted that the recent boom had made things easy for the industry, he was not the kind of man who could easily relinquish control.
It will take a long narrative to describe exact details of the project, and these are not even relevant. Suffice it to say that Jon, who had taken his bosses assurance of total autonomy on face value, found it very hard to operate the company as a CEO.
Almost all the crew was used to go to a single man for every decision. For the past 25 years in the company, all decisions were made by a single man – the founder.
Despite the appointment of the new CEO, this continued to happen in our transformation project, as well as in the business-as-usual operations.
It became amply clear to us that our project proposal terms were unlikely to be honoured. There was no way to get the co-operation from the management team because everyone was afraid of what the procurement data might reveal about the past and present.
We requested a meeting with Jon and expressed an inability to continue with the project under the circumstances. He apologised to me about misreading the situation and putting us in very difficult circumstances.
The Chairman thanked us profusely for showing the direction to ‘his’ team and after getting
However, more ominously, within weeks, it was clear to Jon that he had jumped from a chiller to a freezer. Within weeks he moved on to a new role as the CEO of a different, more progressive, company.
I will talk about how the story ended later on in this article. Here, I want to come to the main point of this article.
There are many similar situations when you MUST not hire management consultants because it will only waste time and money.
In my last article titled – “How To Get The Most Out Of Your Management Consultants While Spending The Least On Them?” – I wrote
The Quality of Your Management Consultants Will Decide The Heights You Eventually Climb To
A number of people wrote back, objecting to the presumption that every situation is amenable to getting management consultants.
While I did not say any such thing, when I thought about the topic, I recalled this story.
Leading from it, I can think of other situations where we did not start a project just because the person leading the project was really not in control.
This can happen due to title inflation in some countries where people get titles without commensurate powers and abilities.
In many Asian countries, family owned corporations continue to be run by the family members, despite there being a whole cadre of professional managers in place.
It is very interesting to watch the dynamics of these organisations in practice. The problem arises when many foreigners are misled by titles, not too dissimilar to the rare Australian situation quoted above.
Unions are a fact of life in almost all big corporations – and they have a role to play in balancing the scales.
Yet, in some circumstances, they acquire so much power that any positive change is impossible. I quote one such very personal story in this article.
The point is simple – if the management is totally powerless against the unions they should not substitute analysis for action by carrying out one management consulting project after another.
That would be just throwing good money after bad.
If you adhere to these simple rules of the thumb then I can truly say that:
Coming back to the story that started this article:
The company went through two more CEOs, and an industry-wide government inquiry before the chairman finally relinquished control of the operation. At this point, the company was a popular target for take-over.
If you are in Australia, it is more than likely that you already know this saga. If you are not in Australia, or do not follow the news cycle, take a look at the video below:
Several years ago it was this:
Some band-aid solutions are rolled out – mostly to restore public confidence and get the demand up again. However, a comprehensive supply chain security regime is never put in place.
Having done large scale supply chain transformation projects for companies as sensitive as explosives, chemicals, fertilizers, food stuff, soft commodities, bakeries, meat, dairy, livestocks, and many others, we have seen both – the vulnerabilities and some really cutting edge supply chain security in practice.
Unfortunately, supply chain security, in conceptualisation and training, has not kept paced. There is no university course that covers this topic sufficiently. Conferences skirt this topic. Books cover it sketchily. Regulatory framework is patchy and officious.
And after complying with the regulatory burden most people relax in the belief that they have done enough.
Yet, dozens of incidents have demonstrated that regulatory framework is never enough. Each company has to develop its own supply chain security framework, based on its own particular circumstances. Even compliance with insurance requirements is not enough. Reputation damage to your business is a non-insurable loss in most cases.
Complying with regulatory and insurance requirements is a good start. You also need a more robust, holistic and comprehensive supply chain security framework that provides the guidelines for your own company’s supply chain security model.
Our report titled SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY – A COMPREHENSIVE, HOLISTIC FRAMEWORK provides the information to get you started.
Better still – run a one day workshop based on the content of the report. It will be the best 20K your company ever spent.
At a first sight it looks like a puzzle.
But, when you think about this a bit more your realize that most CFOs are so good at their job, that moving them to a bigger and better role would be a huge loss to the organisation.
If you are a CFO (or in a position close to being a CFO), in this blog post I am not going to show you how to get worse at your job so that you can fill bigger shoes.
Instead, I am going to unpack this phenomenon (some of the observations and stories come from my book UNCHAIN YOUR CORPORATION), so that you can move into bigger roles with an equal ease.
Let us start with a real life story (critical details are disguised a bit to make sure we protect the identities of the people involved).
When I flew into the big city with the continental HQ for our client, it was middle of winters. As it so happened, the next day was scheduled for the monthly senior management meeting. The business had been under-performing for last three years, and everyone was looking for a turnaround, or a scapegoat.
The CEO, and all the regional heads, were strongly sales oriented individuals. They were all cut from the same cloth – strong personalities, heavily market focused and not very analytical.
Other two people in the room were the head of finance, and the head of supply chain. As they all saw it – one of them was charged with making the deliveries, and the other was charged with doing the numbers. A very simple arrangement in their scheme of the world.
No wonder the company was losing money hands over fist in almost all markets.
Almost all negotiations with the customers were based on seat-of-the-pants calculations made from half baked numbers.
Bluster was common, and in face of threats to use of competitive products, significant price discounts were made available to the large customers who formed bulk of the revenue base.
Not only that, nimbler supply chain partners, well aware of the analytical deficiencies, were milking away the system.
The monthly management meeting was an appalling show of solidarity between the regional heads and the CEO who blamed the heads of supply chain and finance (again) for the monthly under-performance. Almost all problems were attributed to one of two things:
The facts that sales staff were making promises that could not be kept even by supermen at prices that would never make any profits, and that the operations field staff were regularly circumventing the workflow to reduce their work load, and many other similar happenings, were conveniently overlooked.
In this meeting, in my presence, the CEO ended with an ominous warning that one of the two heads who carried the blame would lose their job if the business did not turn around in the next 3 months and came within an acceptable variance to the budget.
On the supply chain side, we worked very hard for verifiable turn around of the supply chain (and demonstrate that bulk of the problems originated from the lack of sales discipline). A number of projects were conceptualised, planned and executed in a short time frame to get supply chain out of the jail house.
On the finance side, I do not know what kind of number massaging was expected from the CFO, but I was unhappy to learn that after a few months he did indeed move on from the organisation.
There are more details which I am not including so that I can focus on the key points of this story.
Because I believe if he had done something similar to what we did on the supply chain side of the business, he would have clearly demonstrated that the problems did not originate in the finance department – in the way financial discipline, budgeting and variance calculation was structured and executed.
Unfortunately, all the way through he restricted his thinking to accounting data, and its analysis without getting into the nitty-gritty of the business side of the equation too much. Even when he attempted to get into business side of the discussion he was thwarted.
That incident got me thinking quite a bit. I suddenly realised how your history could easily anchor you. Consider the following figure:
You start into a role in finance or accounting at the bottom of the pyramid, and as you get more experience and capability you rise towards the top. Only those individuals who are exceptionally good at almost all functions in this pyramid will rise to the very top, to get the crown of CFO.
The problem is that what brought you here, will not be enough to keep you here. And, most certainly, it will not take you any further.
So what kind of thinking is required?
Because, more than ever before, today, one of the most pressing concerns of every board of directors is CEO and executive succession. Clearly, the boards want C-LEVEL executives who can step into a CEO’s shoes at a moments notice, if necessary.
So, what distinguishes a C-LEVEL functional expert from a near C-LEVEL?
It is their ability to see the BIG PICTURE. This is not a cliche.
In other words:
Here is one simple example of a financial tool for business transformation. No school will teach this:
There are many such tools, but most importantly, you will need to design and create your own tools. They all ask (and answer) some common questions.
Clearly, it is not easy to do all this. But, neither was it easy to come up the pyramid to the top. Here is a tool which will make it easier – but, in the end, as usual only your own effort will get you there.
If you want more examples such as the smile curve above, I got my assistant to make a 104 page document with sanitized selections from our past projects executed over the last 18 years. It may give you more ideas for similar tools for your business. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for the document (available selectively).
Most CEOs and CXOs think about how to improve supply chain. They are surprised to discover that what they thought was a well-functioning Supply Chain turned out to hide such a tremendous amount of problems.
The big companies are often confronted with this problem. The different departments of the firm are not sharing information properly, and in case of failure the departments tend to evade responsibility.
The quality of the service is directly affected by a broken Supply Chain. Customers are not only looking for a good quality offer but also reliable one. Brand image is at stake here.
The weakness of the reliability of the supply chain makes the work of the sales force more difficult as the brand image of the product is becoming less attractive. Even low prices are less appealing to the customers, because the competitors win on service. And, when you win by reducing pricing, you encounter the next problem.
A broken Supply Chain is a handicap that hits on both fronts. Rising logistics cost raises the cost of the goods sold. At the same time, poor service can only be overcome by lower prices.
The company faces a dilemma. Either raise the price to maintain the margins at the risk of losing sales, or accept the drop in profitability. Most companies opt for the second option – and blame the competition. Only a few recognise the root cause – the broken supply chain.
Many CEOs are surprised to find both the problems at the same time – overflowing warehouses, and missed deliveries. The reason is simple – their supply chain carries the wrong type of inventories, and in the wrong places. People do their best – by hunting around for the right inventory in the shortest period of time, and by expediting. But, a better solution is to carry the right inventory in the right place.
Boasting exponential growth since its inception in 2012, Jumia became the first e-commerce site to bring the coveted Play Station 4 to Nigeria. The company announced the offering after just two days of the release in the US. The Nigerian would-be Amazon is following the global giant’s footsteps in becoming a super networked business, although there is still a long way to go.
Jumia started with a relatively similar aim and manifesto to Amazon, which puts customers at the heart of its operation. In the same vein, the Nigerian site also reaps benefits from being one of the pioneers in Africa’s emerging online retail market. “Being first is good, but it is not everything. What fuels Jumia’s success so far is somewhat akin to Amazon’s evolution into a Five-star business network” – said Vivek Sood, CEO of Global Supply Chain Group.
Jumia is not shy of innovation either, given the fact that people are still skeptical about online retailing as well as online payment in Africa. The Lagos-based retailer launched a range of online payment options but steers its technology-shy consumers by accepting cash on delivery and offering free returns. “It’s very important that people know it’s not a scam,” said co-founder Tunde Kehinde. They even take a step further and deploy a direct sales team of 200 to educate Nigerians about secure online shopping, which also serves as a means to build trust. Now with pick-up stations spanning over 6 locations, a warehouse facility, 200 delivery vehicles in Nigeria and 4 other country-specific microsites, Jumia seriously strives to become a one stop shop for retail in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Here you are collecting cash and reconciling payments almost like a bank desk, here you are building a logistics company,” said co-founder Raphel Afaedor.
Both co-founders and Harvard Business School graduates built the business from $75 billion in funding and are bringing “a couple of million” dollars in monthly revenue, a growth rate of nearly 20%. Vivek Sood, author of the book “Move Beyond the Traditional Supply Chains: The 5-STAR Business Network”, said: “Jumia is taking the right steps towards building the five cornerstones of a super networked business: innovation, efficiency, profitability maximisation, product phasing and result-oriented outsourcing. With the promising results so far, perhaps we could see the next perfect example of a 5-star business network besides Amazon.”
19 years ago, when studying for MBA, our Professor in Change Management, Dexter Dunphy told us that Change Management is nothing but management of downside. I understood that his point was every change has a downside – and as a change manager, the most important job you have to do is to understand the downside of the change being proposed, and manage it well enough. When I became a management consultant with a top-tier strategy house after my MBA, I took his dictum to heart, and it served me well through several change management projects. Those who were most affected by change appreciated the fact that the change was managed in a sensitive and caring manner – rather than imposed abruptly.
After a few years, when we started our current boutique consulting house, I started to notice another pattern. This was that many companies could accelerate their change management by skipping one entire generation of Supply Chain Management (SCM) in their efforts to make their businesses more modern. In other words, change management would entail moving from SCM 0.0 to SCM 1.0 or from SCM 1.0 to SCM 2.0 or from SCM 2.0 to SCM 3.0. On the other hand, many companies would want to take up an accelerated path – jumping 2 steps at a time – e.g. SCM 0.0 to SCM 2.0 or from SCM 1.0 to SCM 3.0.
This enabled them to frequently leapfrog their competitors, and transform their businesses rapidly and systematically. This was nothing different from many companies skipping a generation of Microsoft Windows when they upgraded their operating systems – for example skipping Windows Vista and jumping from Windows XP to Windows 7.0. The reasons were different, yet the methods were similar.
While change management entailed managing the downside for those who were affected by change, business transformation was more about understanding and managing resistance. By now, downside management has already become a big enough industry – just look at the number of large outplacement consulting houses, HR consultancies, and the booming business they do through the ups and downs of business cycles. Business Transformations will lead to a second boom in these.
If a business keeps up with the SCM evolution and moves with it, there will be a greater need for leadership training, corporate cultural adjustment, collaboration training and less outplacement and redundancies. And, there will be a need for understanding, managing and using resistance to further business transformation. What is the nature of resistance? What is the reason? How to identify 4 different types of resistance? How to use resistance to accelerate positive business transformations? That will be the topic of my next blog.
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:
So what are these 5 key cornerstones of the super networked businesses that lead to these networks being called the 5-STAR Business Networks? As an aid to memory, I have given them mnemonic names in order, shown below (see the complete structure in the book):
5 STAR Business Networks enable businesses to do these regular activities in a much better manner than would have been possible otherwise. As we will see with the help of several examples and cases studies, aided by technologies, an open collaborative mindset and a focus on the bottom line, these businesses are achieving better results through superior methods.
We will examine each of these five cornerstones of the 5 STAR Business Network in great detail in the five chapters in the book. In this article, we will use an example of one company that is positioning itself as the super networked business of this century by using all five of these very astutely.
When Amazon was founded in 1994, it was but one of the hundreds or thousands of businesses aspiring to make it big on the Internet. Just like all its peers, initially the markets and analysts were starry-eyed about Amazon’s success, and later, when the dot-com bubble burst, and the trend reversed, few people gave it much chance of success. Yet it defied the naysayers and continued to sell at PE ratios exceeding 100 on the stock markets.What is the secret of Amazon’s success? What allowed Jeff Bezos to build the largest online retailer in the world, where customers can acquire anything that they desire over the Internet?
Admittedly, the company started with a first-moved advantage in its segment: books. Amazon was one of the first major companies to sell books online. The business was founded in 1994 and by 1995 the website was launched. Initially, the company was exclusively an online bookstore. However, it transformed to sell millions of products to a large and valuable consumer base. Today, the company sells everything from electronics to clothing, furniture and even food.If you had to ask this simple question to 100 people – “Who on earth today is the world’s most customer-centric corporation?”
Amazon would figure very high on the list. Amazon has achieved low prices, a wide inventory selection, convenience, and truly gives customers what they want. As a result, Amazon has evolved into a Fortune 500 business and continues to grow as a world-class electronic commerce platform.The company grew its annual revenue from US $19 billion in 2008 to US $24.5 billion in 2009 to US $48 Billion in 2011, all the while continuing to invest in future businesses and maintaining a healthy cash flow. How does it do this?
In an article in Forbes (April 2012) Jeff Bezos offers some tantalizing clues. Bezo’s main message is to base his strategy on tings that will not change.For Amazon, their purpose is simple: offer wider selection, lower prices and quick, dependable delivery. Another significant lesson Bezos reveals is obsessing over customers.
Amazon starts with the customer and subsequently works its process backwards. The company even designates specific roles performed by trained employees known as customer experience bar raisers. This is one topic that Bezos takes exceedingly serious.
But, to some extent, every corner store does these things just as well. Why, then, is that would a corner store owner be lucky to grow his lowly sales by a couple of percentage points, while Amazon grew its sales to $48 billion from $24 billion in just 3 years.
Let us take a more in-depth look behind the curtains.
Jeff Bezos, on the record, said that you have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time. While several of Amazon’s designs look like a bust at first, if the new idea makes strategic sense to him, Bezos goes for it knowing full well that people will initially misconstrue the design. In general, this is what innovation is – people are going to misunderstand it because it is new. Overall, the business philosophy is rather simple: make online shopping simple and suitable so that the customer does not think twice about buying instantly with one click (Anders, George. “Jeff Bezos’s Top 10 Leadership Lessons.” Forbes. 4 Apr. 2012).
The complexity lies in how this simple business philosophy is translated into consistent action, resulting in nearly a billion customer visits a year. There is nothing simple in the complex execution of this simple business philosophy. Therein lies the dilemma of the modern business world – the quest for simplicity at the highest level, underpinned by the highest level of sophistication reminiscent of Nano-technology under the hood.
Almost all successful businesses do this dance of 5-STAR business network well, but Amazon does it exceptionally well on almost all 5 fronts. There are many other businesses – well-known ones – that could be a poster child for the emerging trend of global business networks we showcase in the book “The 5-Star Business Network”. However, no one is more successful, more visible, has higher potential and is more assured of its role in this revolution. That is why Amazon is a prime example of the 5 STAR Business Networks, demonstrating FAR Innovation, $t$ Efficiency, TOP, APP, and lastly, ROM.Continue reading
There is a common assumption that every company’s supply chain should be similar, if not the same. Even learned professors at august institutions write highly prescriptive articles in highly regarded magazines such as Harvard Business Review saying these things. For example see this article by a Stanford professor, on which I had a running correspondence through Harvard Business Review. My rebuttal of the article was published in the next issue of the same magazine.
The reality, encountered in the rough and tumble of the real business world is very different. Especially in the world of start-up companies – even the unicorns – the supply chain looks very different.
In fact, our supply-chain maturity model shown in figure describes four stages of supply-chain, where each stage of product life-cycle is paralleled by a maturity stage of supply chain. As figure below shows, there are four relevant zones of operations determined by two key factors on product maturity and supply chain maturity. Zone 1 is the foundation zone in which both the product and the supply chain are quite immature. As the name implies, in this zone the foundation for the future business is being laid. The next zone on the top left quarter of the matrix – the Innovation zone – implies a relatively mature supply chain, but a developing product. As the name suggests, this is the zone where both product and process innovations are rapidly taking place. The profitability zone on the top right quadrant is where both the product and the supply chains are relatively mature and while incremental innovation might be still possible. This zone is primarily focused on enhanced profitability. Finally, the twilight zone on the bottom right corner is when the product is reaching the end of its profitable life cycle and the supply chain becomes brittle.
Needless to say the more time spent in the profitability zone the more a company can reap rewards of its efforts. However, to maintain fresh product lines, to constantly stay on cutting edge and to retain long term leadership, companies will have to also spend some time in the innovation zone. Intuitively, companies want to spend time in the top two quadrants and minimize their time in the bottom two quadrants. In fact, overlapped on the four zones is a typical supply chain maturity cycle we observe. We will discuss this conundrum in more detail in Chapter 11 where we observe the Advanced Product Phasing strategies of the 5-STAR Network businesses.
Initially, in the introductory stage of the product life-cycle, the supply chain is still very basic. In this improvisational stage of supply-chain, the key focus of supply-chain team is to really just gather enough material somehow, from somewhere, to make the product or to keep the research and development team supplied with raw material. They are not doing any advanced planning at this stage. They are not even aware of all the raw materials or all the parts, which will be required for making this product. Bill of Materials may not exist or, if it does, it is incomplete. There is no supply-chain planning mechanism besides this Bill of Material. There is no supply-chain control mechanism either. Even a budget does not yet exist, or it might be just a very rudimentary budget. At this stage of supply-chain maturity, the companies are not worried about its efficiency at all. There is no supply-chain collaboration with its partners for this simple reason: we don’t even know who they will be.
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