Some Takeaways from the E2Open sponsored SCM World Collaborative Execution Study

SCM World recently released a study on Collaborative Execution (defined as two or more parties working together to improve supply chain performance by continuously solving real problems with better information), focussed on Speed, Innovation and Profitability, overseen by Kevin O’Marah, and sponsored by E2Open that had some rather interesting, and in a few cases, surprising results. First off:

For suppliers, collaboration is primarily a means by which their customers share demand information, with 73% strongly agreeing this is a key aspect of collaboration.

For buyers, an overwhelming 83% believe collaboration revolves around the supplier sharing availability information (e.g. capacity, lead times, etc.).

In other words, both sides agree that collaboration centres on information sharing and, furthermore, the study also found that,
both sides need visibility and want a dedicated problem solver

This means that the primary barrier to collaboration between most supply chain partners is the fact that companies struggle to share information effectively, with 54% seeing lack of data visibility across trading partners as a perennial problem. Furthermore, the next biggest barrier was speed of issue resolution, with almost 50% agreeing that this was a barrier to effective collaboration. (In addition, 92% agree that quick problem resolution is part of good collaboration.)

But the most surprising result of the survey was that trust, governance, and benefit sharing were not the biggest barriers to collaboration, as commonly suggested, but the ability to connect trading partner information flow, insure quality of information, and synchronize that information for quick problem solving. (For example, almost one half of respondents felt granularity of data was a problem, speaking to the quality issue, and almost one half of respondents saw timeliness of information as a problem.) This says that, for the most part, it is not lack of desire, trust, or willingness to collaborate that is the problem, but a lack of technology to enable collaboration. (And this is a shame, considering that such technology has existed in more than adequate form for at least five years now for even the largest of multi-nationals with the most complex supply networks. It may take some effort to get used to some of the technology, which is only now maturing on the usability front in some cases, but how much of a barrier is it really to spend a few days learning a technology that is going to cut your issue resolution time in half and decrease your risk substantially?)

Given that:

  • collaborative relationships were more cost effective,
    55% of respondents agree
  • good collaboration minimizes risk, and
    75% of respondents agree
  • learning is faster in a collaborative environment
    70% of respondents conclude that the rate of leaning increases by at least one-and-a-half times

Acquiring the technology that your organization needs to take collaboration with your trading partners to the next level should be a no-brainer. (Especially since the last finding means that any operational metric targeted such as inventory days, total landed cost, cash to cash cycle time can be expected to improve one and a half times as quickly as would be the case without collaborative execution. Thus, any appropriate technology acquisition is going to give you a very quick ROI.)

The only other point of interest was the not-so-surprising result that management by exception it seems is still not part of a “truly collaborative” trading partner relationship for a substantial number of companies. This would indicate that collaboration, even among market leaders, is still not very mature. In a mature relationship, each party trusts the other to do what they do best and only gets involved when a deviation is detected or an idea is devised to improve the process or product. But still, it’s nice to know that both buyers and sellers do not see trust as a barrier to collaborating for mutual gain.