What is a “Servitized” Supply Chain?

Last summer, the Supply Chain Quarterly published an article that defined 8 steps to a servitized supply chain. Each of the 8 steps consisted of a supply chain best practice that you should be doing whether or not you desire a servitized supply-chain, or even care about services from a revenue perspective, as each of the 8 steps is something you should be doing even if you have a product-focussed supply chain. So why would you need, or want, a “servitized” supply chain and, more importantly, what is it?

According to the article, “servitization” is defined as bundled product-service packages that provide differentiated sources of value to customers, and, as a result, a “servitized” supply chain is one that supports such offerings and, ostentatiously, is different than a product-focussed supply chain. According to the authors, such a chain is more responsive and agile, can vary degrees of service outcomes to a differentiated customer base, and increases the probability of more profitable relationships between the Supply Management organization and the manufacturers with whom it does business.

At this point, I’m a little confused because, at least in the fast-moving Apparel and Consumer Electronics industry, a successful product-oriented supply chain is extremely responsive and agile (as orders for products in demand have to met quickly and orders for products not in demand have to be cut), offers various levels of product and warranty customization (where applicable) to user-defined tastes, and increases the probability of profitable relationships between the Supply Management organization and the manufacturers with whom it does business. This is because, in these industries, the product is the service, as McLuhan’s classic statement that the medium is the message, while not always true in today’s information age where you are hit with the same message across multiple mediums, is true in the consumer product industry. For many consumers, the products they buy define who they are and create the statements and messages they want to convey. As a result, when you create a product you are also creating a messaging service that your consumers can use to, indirectly, advertise who they are. So, in effect, your offering is a service as much as it is a product and the concept of a service supply chain being different is, well, a bit foreign.

Of course, if you are in the hardware industry and selling the same old nuts, bolts, and traditional C-section joists that you have been making for twenty years, then it’s probably the case that your supply chain is not very service oriented. In this case, if you “servitized” your supply chain and listened to your customers who want frames that are lighter (as steel prices are skyrocketing), stronger (as they want to build bigger), and faster to assemble (as labour is costly), you might come up with a solution akin to the iSpan Total Joist solution. To do this, you would have to become more responsive, offer various levels of product and services (including pre-fabricated kits for warehouses of pre-defined architectures and sizes), and, as an effect, increase your profitability as your customers pay more for the solutions they want (that save them time or raw material cost). But note that, even in this situation, your supply chain would still be oriented around a product — the only difference is that you would optimize the services offerings around that product.

So, in effect, a “servitized” supply chain is just one that is optimized for products and associated services, and, that, in effect, is just an “optimized” supply chain. And an “optimized” supply chain is one that creates collaborative teams across the supply, sales, and marketing functions to drive value. And we should call a spade a spade, instead of creating more unnecessary terminology.