Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Drives Your Supply Chain?

The objective of presenting the supply chain’s sphere of influence was to establish a very basic, though often missed, fact that supply chains can directly affect only these four components that they directly control. Therefore, any strategy we formulate for supply chain design must directly establish the behavior of one or more of these four components. Of course, one of these four components must be identified as the primary driver to resolve plan conflicts and to establish the pecking order among the supply chain processes.
image Which one of the four components should ideally drive the supply chain in a firm? Should it be demand, supply, inventory, or resources? The answer depends on a number of factors, some of which we have seen in the review of the existing supply chain strategies. The industry segment, types of products, attributes of demand, attributes of supply, and finally, the selected business strategy are all factors that need to be analyzed to answer the question of what must drive a supply chain. A grocery firm with cost as the business strategy will have a dramatically different supply chain compared to that of a grocery store that selects differentiation as its business strategy. Both supply chains will have some common characteristics because they are both in the same industry segment (retail, grocery). For example, they will both require the ability to replenish their stores frequently for fresh produce and perishables, they will both have to develop temperature controlled distribution capabilities, and so on. However, the grocer with differentiation as its business strategy may decide to differentiate itself by developing a supply chain for its produce that tracks its whole life cycle from the farm-to-the-shelf and provides this visibility to the customers to verify the claims of freshness, organic growth, sustainable farming, fair labor, or any similar differentiators that the customers may pay for. While development and maintenance of such capabilities will add supply chain costs for this grocer, it would also create a passionate and loyal customer base for them. In contrast, the supply chain capabilities for the grocer with the cost-based strategy may simply focus on more traditional ways of sourcing from the cheapest suppliers, optimizing inventories and shipping costs, and discounting products near their expiration dates.
The differentiation based business strategy, therefore, drives its own requirements for the supply chain capabilities that are different from those of the cost based business strategy, while both the firms must also have a basic set of common capabilities. In this example, what is driving the two supply chains? While both of the grocery retailers need to be demand-driven, the one with differentiation as their business strategy must balance this against the supply driven aspects, simply because they will have to manage many more constraints on the supply side, controlling quality through the assortment they carry, the sourcing that must support their policy of freshness, fair labor practices, organic fertilizers, and so on.
Unlike the current strategies that tend to conclude that the supply chain must be lean or agile, speculation- or postponement-oriented, thinking through the core sphere of supply chain influence generally points to a process group belonging to one of the four components, which becomes the focus for creating competitive capabilities. This allows a specific guidance from the strategy to design, rather than providing a high-level general directive of being lean or agile. By process group, I mean the collective supply chain processes that are used to manage any one of the four components of the supply chain sphere of influence. In the example of the two grocers, the grocer with the cost-based business strategy will likely focus on inventory and resource process groups to leverage cost advantages, while the grocer with the differentiation business strategy will focus on supply process group. Remember though that these process groups only identify where the firm has the most potential to create advantages, even though they will have to develop capabilities in all process groups that bring them up to par with the competitors.
In this view of supply chain strategy, one of the four core spheres of influence is identified to be the primary sphere. This helps the firm identify where they can derive the most competitive advantages and operate optimally. For example, the demand-driven supply chain will evaluate all alternatives in response to a change with the view of minimizing their impact on the demand plans, a supply-driven supply chain will do the same to minimize their impact on the supply plans, and so on.
Retail supply chains are great examples of demand-driven supply chains. Examples for supply-driven supply chains would be in industries where supplies are limited or controlled tightly by a small set of suppliers – for example, Toyota’s manufacturing plan in China making batteries for their hybrids that needs rare-earths which are controlled by the Chinese government. Resource driven supply chains are those where the resource skills are rare or capital costs are high (requiring very high utilization) or set-up changes very expensive – for example a steel manufacturer with blast furnace whose supply chain will be managed around the furnace utilization and set-up changes. A good example of inventory driven supply-chains will be an airline’s maintenance operations where the availability of critical spares for their planes can impact their profitability in a substantial way by keeping their productive assets out of service.
In one of my next posts, I will explain how the main supply chain driver (from its sphere of influence) must be leveraged to align with the business strategy of the firm to create a practical supply chain strategy that can actually support your business requirements while simultaneously creating competitive advantages.
Looking for an alternate way to design effective supply chains? The answer does not lie in adopting theories in the hope of finding the right answer, but to build your own supply chain capabilities driven by your business strategy. To find this new approach to build effective supply chains, understand the supply chain sphere of influence, find out what drives your supply chain and the new design imperative to build supply chain capabilities that directly support your business strategies.
This article is adopted from my book, Supply Chain as Strategic Asset: The Key to Reaching Business Goals. You can continue reading more about the subject in the book.
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© Vivek Sehgal, 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Want to know more about supply chains? How they work, what they afford, and how to design one? Check out my books on Supply Chain Management at Amazon.

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