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Supply Chain Management 101: An Executive Guide to Supply Chain Management (SCM)

Supply Chain Management 101: An Executive Guide to Supply Chain Management (SCM)

Supply Chain Mangement topics covering definition, objectives, solutions and the impact of globalisation.

What is supply chain collaboration?

Let's look at consumer packaged goods for an example of collaboration. If there are two companies that have made supply chain a household word in the US, they are Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble. Before these two companies started collaborating back in the '80s, retailers shared very little information with manufacturers. But then the two giants built a software system that hooked P&G up to Wal-Mart's distribution centres. When P&G's products run low at the distribution centres, the system sends an automatic alert to P&G to ship more products. In some cases, the system goes all the way to the individual Wal-Mart store. It lets P&G monitor the shelves through real-time satellite link-ups that send messages to the factory whenever a P&G item swoops past a scanner at the register.

With this kind of minute-to-minute information, P&G knows when to make, ship and display more products at the Wal-Mart stores. No need to keep products piled up in warehouses awaiting Wal-Mart's call. Invoicing and payments happen automatically too. The system saves P&G so much in time, reduced inventory and lower order-processing costs that it can afford to give Wal-Mart “low, everyday prices” without putting itself out of business.

What are the roadblocks to installing supply chain software?

Gaining trust from your suppliers and partners.
Supply chain automation is uniquely difficult because its complexity extends beyond your company's walls. Your people will need to change the way they work and so will the people from each supplier that you add to your network. Only the largest and most powerful manufacturers can force such radical changes down suppliers' throats. Most companies have to sell outsiders on the system. Moreover, your goals in installing the system may be threatening to those suppliers, to say the least. For example, Wal-Mart's collaboration with P&G meant that P&G would assume more responsibility for inventory management, something retailers have traditionally done on their own. Wal-Mart had the clout to demand this from P&G, but it also gave P&G something in return-better information about Wal-Mart's product demand, which helped P&G manufacture its products more efficiently. To get your supply chain partners to agree to collaborate with you, you have to be willing to compromise and help them achieve their own goals.

Internal resistance to change.
If selling supply chain systems is difficult on the outside, it isn't much easier inside. Operations people are accustomed to dealing with phone calls, faxes and hunches scrawled on paper, and will most likely want to keep it that way. If you can't convince people that using the software will be worth their time, they will easily find ways to work around it. You cannot disconnect the telephones and fax machines just because you have supply chain software in place.

Many mistakes at first.
There is a diabolical twist to the quest for supply chain software acceptance among your employees. New supply chain systems process data as they are programmed to do, but the technology cannot absorb a company's history and processes in the first few months after an implementation. Forecasters and planners need to understand that the first bits of information they get from a system might need some tweaking. If they are not warned about the system's initial naiveté, they will think it is useless.

In one case, just before a large automotive industry supplier installed a new supply chain forecasting application to predict demand for a product, an automaker put in an order for an unusually large number of units. The system responded by predicting huge demand for the product based largely on one unusual order. Blindly following the system's numbers could have led to inaccurate orders for materials being sent to suppliers within the chain. The company caught the problem but only after a demand forecaster threw out the system's numbers and used his own. That created another problem: Forecasters stopped trusting the system and worked strictly with their own data. The supplier had to fine-tune the system itself, then work on reestablishing employees' confidence. Once employees understood that they would be merging their expertise with the system's increasing accuracy, they began to accept and use the new technology.

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