Supply Chain Drivers
Supply chain capabilities are guided by the decisions you make regarding the five supply chain drivers. Each of these drivers can be developed and managed to emphasize responsiveness or efficiency depending on changing business requirements.
The five drivers provide a useful framework for thinking about supply chain capabilities. Decisions made about how each driver operates will determine the blend of responsiveness and efficiency a supply chain is capable of achieving. The five drivers are illustrated in the diagram below:
This driver can be made very responsive by building factories that have a lot of excess capacity and use flexible manufacturing techniques to produce a wide range of items. To be even more responsive, a company could do their production in many smaller plants that are close to major groups of customers so delivery times would be shorter. If efficiency is desirable, then a company can build factories with very little excess capacity and have those factories optimized for producing a limited range of items. Further efficiency can also be gained by centralizing production in large central plants to get better economies of scale, even though delivery times might be longer.
Responsiveness can be had by stocking high levels of inventory for a wide range of products. Additional responsiveness can be gained by stocking products at many locations so as to have the inventory close to customers and available to them immediately. Efficiency in inventory management would call for reducing inventory levels of all items and especially of items that do not sell as frequently. Also, economies of scale and cost savings can be gotten by stocking inventory in only a few central locations such as regional distribution centers (DCs).
A location decision that emphasizes responsiveness would be one where a company establishes many locations that are close to its customer base. For example, fast-food chains use location to be very responsive to their customers by opening up lots of stores in high volume markets. Efficiency can be achieved by operating from only a few locations and centralizing activities in common locations. An example of this is the way e-commerce retailers serve large geographical markets from only a few central locations that perform a wide range of activities.
Responsiveness can be achieved by a transportation mode that is fast and flexible such as trucks and airplanes. Many companies that sell products through catalogs or on the Internet are able to provide high levels of responsiveness by using transportation to deliver their products often within 48 hours or less. FedEx and UPS are two companies that can provide very responsive transportation services. And now Amazon is expanding and operating its own transportation services in high volume markets to be more responsive to customer desires. Efficiency can be emphasized by transporting products in larger batches and doing it less often. The use of transportation modes such as ship, railroad, and pipelines can be very efficient. Transportation can also be made more efficient if it is originated out of a central hub facility or distribution center (DC) instead of from many separate branch locations.
The power of this driver grows stronger every year as the technology for collecting and sharing information becomes more wide spread, easier to use, and less expensive. Information, much like money, is a very useful commodity because it can be applied directly to enhance the performance of the other four supply chain drivers. High levels of responsiveness can be achieved when companies collect and share accurate and timely data generated by the operations of the other four drivers. An example of this is the supply chains that serve the electronics market; they are some of the most responsive in the world. Companies in these supply chains, the manufacturers, distributors, and the big retailers all collect and share data about customer demand, production schedules, and inventory levels. This enables companies in these supply chains to respond quickly to situations and new market demands in the high-change and unpredictable world of electronic devices (smartphones, sensors, home entertainment and video game equipment, etc.).
Obstacles to Achieving Strategic Fit
Increasing Variety of Products: In the era of mass customization production variety is increasing.
The customers becoming increasingly demanding. Today’s customers are demanding faster fulfillment, better quality, and better performing products for the same price that they are paying today.
The supply chain is getting fragmented. At one time vertical integration was the order of the day. But the present trend is to concentrate on core competence and outsource more activities. Thus the supply chain is more fragmented now.
Globalization is creating global supply chains and hence physical distance is increasing between a company and its suppliers and a company and its customers.
While creating a strategy is difficult, executing it is much more difficult. Many companies understand Toyota Production System now, but still find it difficult to implement and operate.