What is The Price of Flexible Supply Chains? Part V: Eternal Vigilance

In this post, I’m going to discuss highlights from the CPO Executive Debate on the price of flexible supply chains and focus on why you have to be eternally vigilant.

Getting straight to the point, in response to how does emergence from the recession affect supply chain flexibility, Andrew Vaughan noted that there is a dynamism in the whole supply chain piece and therefore you have got to keep reviewing it constantly. Raw material shortages can bring an end to a product’s life, earthquakes can take out factories, and bankruptcies can take out suppliers literally overnight. One day your supply chain is running like a well-made Swiss timepiece … the next day it’s brought to a screeching halt as your fine tuned Ferrari slams into a brick wall.

Even if you, as Colin Davis points out, maintained a reasonably broad supply chain during the recession and maybe compromised some of the commercial advantages you could have taken in those situations so that you can then call on people as you go forward, if your suppliers or partners are in worse shape than you are, despite their good intentions, they might not be able to respond to the call. The safety net you think you have can be taken down at any time. Just like that information flow you painstakingly set up can disappear over night if you built it on a proprietary copper network which was just dug up and sold for scrap.

Furthermore, you need to keep an eye on the entire supply chain, which, as Andrew Vaughan points out, doesn’t necessarily end when you get the product delivered to the installer or customer. For many products, there is also the service chain to consider. Whereas many customers will just as happily trade up to a new model when their current cell phone dies, most customers want to keep their cars and high end (Apple) computers for a few years (or more). You need to be able to provide them with parts and services quickly when they need maintenance or repairs … because it all affects your image as a provider of quality goods and services.

Furthermore, not only do really advanced procurement supply chain organisations understand today the ripple effects that a natural disaster, or an epidemic, has on their overall supply chain, and take immediate preventative action even though only a sub-tier supplier to their main supply base is directly affected, as Martin Hogel notes, but these organizations also know that a ripple effect can start anywhere … even in the retail stores. For example, retailers can notice that product sales for a new category of product, like e-readers, is heating up across the board. They place orders into distributors for more product, who place orders into manufacturers for even more product, who place orders into component suppliers for much more flash memory, which is in limited supply. In this classic bullwhip effect scenario, the flash manufacturers will quickly sell out of all available inventory, and an artificial shortage will be created in the market. Those manufacturers who are not vigilant will not be among the first to get their orders in, their products will be delayed, and this will likely result in lost sales.

All in all, the need for eternal vigilance — in addition to strategy, customer obsession, and a strong supply base — is pretty clear and the debate was quite an interesting one. If you haven’t yet done so, and can spare the time, I’d strongly recommend that you check the entire debate on the price of flexible supply chains and join in the discussion. It’s your supply chain on the line.

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