How Do You Define “Closed Loop” in the Indirect Supply Chain?

Yesterday, in reference to an article on 8 steps to a servitized supply chain that appeared last summer in the Supply Chain Quarterly, we asked what is a servitized supply chain? It was a good question that merited a good answer. However, if you read the article, which finished by noting that the most powerful benefits of this business model arise from integrated teams that can provide closed-loop feedback from the customer all the way back to the suppliers, you are led to another question. Namely, what does closed-loop really mean when you are talking about services, and, when you are sourcing such services, how do you define closed loop in the context of the indirect supply chain that provides the umbrella that services normally fall under?

In the direct space, a closed-loop supply chain is one where Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) reintegrate their returned products into their own production network. The entire life-cycle, from cradle to grave, is effectively and efficiently managed to insure waste is minimized, value is maximized, and sustainability is achieved. A closed loop supply chain considers raw materials, production, distribution, warranty, returns, disassembly, and reclamation of raw materials. It designs for easy repair, reuse when possible, and disassembly / recycling when not. When properly designed, such a closed-loop supply chain maximizes value.

So what is the equivalent in the indirect space? For starters, it must be a supply chain that maximizes value over the life of the indirect supply chain. In addition, it must cover everything involved in the creation, production, delivery, and recovery of those services. Creation is rather straight-forward — it is the design of the services. Production is rather straight-forward — it is the creation of the materials and processes for the delivery of the services. Delivery is rather straight-forward — it is the distribution of the services to the end client. But what is recovery? In indirect, in addition to the reclamation and recycling of any materials produced for the purposes of delivering the services, it is the collection of feedback designed to improve the services in the next iteration.

For example, lets’s say the service is training on a new supply management solution you just purchased. In this services supply chain, the creation is the design of the curriculum; the production is the creation of the specific syllabi, texts, presentations, walkthroughs, videos, and guidebooks, etc.; the delivery is the in-person hands-on training course; and the recovery is the collection of any materials distributed for re-use and feedback on what was good about the course, what was not very effective, and what could be added or done differently in the future.

In other words, in the indirect space, the closed-loop is the creation, distribution, collection, and recollection of knowledge gained in order to increase the value delivered while improving the sustainability of the supply chain.

Do you agree?

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