The Basic Links of SCM
The Basic Links of SCM
By Lee Pender
For most of the last century, the supply chain — a company’s links to manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and customers — was an inflexible series of events that somehow managed to get products out the door. A paper-heavy adventure, it often involved questionable inventory forecasts, iron-clad manufacturing plans and hypothetical shipping schedules.
The Internet has changed all that; it has transformed this archaic process into something closer to an exact science. Think of the Internet-enabled supply chain — with its just-in-time delivery, precise inventory visibility and to-the-minute distribution-tracking capabilities — as a strategic weapon that can:
- help companies avoid costly disasters
- reap cost-cutting and revenue-producing benefits
- slice the cost of holding too much or struggling with too little inventory
That potential, so central to the operations of any business, has CIOs scrambling to find and fix the weak links in their supply chains. And it’s not easy. Automating a supply chain requires careful planning, and must start with an excellent understanding of relationships with partners and customers.
When evaluating SCM initiatives, it will pay to keep the following basics in mind.
- All the players in the supply chain should be able to react to the order.
The moment a retailer receives an order, the retailer’s supplier also sees it. The supplier checks inventory. If inventory is low, a manufacturer — also with access to the system — produces more product and ships it to the supplier via a distributor that is also connected to the system.
Meanwhile, the supplier has sent the product to the retailer for shipment to the customer. The customer, in turn, can track the shipment of the order and perhaps even check inventory to make sure an item is in stock before ordering.
With Web technology, all the players in the chain simultaneously manage inventory, control manufacturing schedules and deliver an order on time to a customer.
The goal is to develop a system that will automate inventory management, monitor parts usage by customers and replenish parts as necessary — all without employees leafing through pounds of paper reports by hand.
- Supply chain applications must link to existing enterprise resource planning applications.
CIOs should look at their existing architecture and determine how best to add supply chain applications to those already in place. ERP serves as the nerve center of the organization — the repository for storing and tracking internal information about inventory levels, pricing structures and other key supply chain factors.
Ideally, there should be a single point of visibility for inventory and order taking. Customers could place and track orders with a Web interface, and customer service representatives would have access to the same information customers see. A database would store and manage orders, and customers would be able to check inventory and order status in real time any time.
Rethink the Chain
- The customer replaces the product line as the center of the supply chain’s universe.
Most businesses established their supply chains around product lines. But today, customer orders touch multiple product lines and multiple channels of distribution. Modern supply chains focus on the customer — and on delivering one order at a time rather than moving one product line at a time.
The focus has to be on filling, delivering and managing inventory for every order that a customer places. Every order should penetrate the same system that manages inventory and connects to suppliers and distributors.
- Customers and other links in the chain have to be ready to handle Web-based supply chain technology.
When rolling out a project, companies must decide which customers and suppliers should use it first. That decision can be based on several factors.
Here the salesman’s “80/20” rule can apply: 20 percent of customers place 80 percent of orders, so companies should consider offering Web capability to that 20 percent of customers first.
Consider the IT capabilities of partners and customers. Simplicity is the key: applications that are easy to use and easy to connect to will be the most popular with members of the supply chain. Extensible markup language used in applications can provide a lingua franca for all members of the chain.
Lee Pender, Senior Writer, can be reached at email@example.com.