Supply chain management Featured

6:25pm EDT October 20, 2004
As technology professionals, we often get lost in the bits and bytes of our respective environments. But as business executives tasked with furnishing and supporting the strategic direction of our companies, we must learn to combine our technical and business sides unlike any other member of our organizations.

This responsibility becomes ever so evident when faced with supporting your company's supply chain.

From an IT perspective, it's sometimes hard to keep up with the acronyms and buzz words of our industry. But in the case of supply chain management (SCM), it's time to pay attention. Supply chain management is a complex process that can have directors and line of business managers beating down your door looking for answers that will distinguish you and your company.

Those companies that implement SCM by adapting technologies in the correct way often take the upper hand in cost reduction and customer relationships. A cleanly implemented and cost-effective supply chain is an asset to you and your customers.

As a basic primer, the definition is broad and can seemingly take up the whole of your enterprise. A common description, called cradle to grave, is that the supply chain starts at the origin of the raw material and ends when the final product has been fully utilized, discarded or recycled by the end user.

The "chain" includes managing supply and demand, sourcing raw materials and parts, manufacturing and assembly, warehousing and inventory tracking, order entry and order management, distribution across all channels, logistics and delivery to the customer. As technologists and information systems executives, you realize quickly that this incorporates nearly the entire enterprise.

And not surprisingly, while your company has a supply chain, it is also part of one. Those areas of your enterprise not directly a part of the supply chain are subsequently affected, or in turn, affect the chain in various ways.

What the organization will really be asking for -- or at least should be asking for regarding the supply chain -- is a better way to:

  • Increase communication along all nodes of the supply chain to create an uninterrupted flow of materials
  • Decrease inventory (costs) while maintaining high customer service levels
  • Standardize parts as much as possible in order to reduce the amount of inventory required
  • Reduce the supplier base
  • Develop cost-effective supplier relationships in order to reduce overall costs

Though these objectives are often achieved with sophisticated technology, the latest in Web services and slick software with neat logos, they don't always have to be. They can also be initiated through procedural control, better communication, better utilization of existing applications and a common understanding across the enterprise of the complete goal of the supply chain. That's where the marriage between business and technology becomes of utmost importance.

When embarking on a technology solution, you will more often find success meeting your objectives by partnering with or utilizing internal supply chain professionals who fully understand your specific vertical and those of your suppliers and customers. Too often, the temptation is to lean on the latest technology, enlisting programmers and integrators, and then look at the requirements.

Instead, the first task is to fully understand business requirements and how technology can be used instead of how it can use you. That's the marriage between business and technology, and finding that marriage in yourself as a technology professional and in your partners as domain and technology experts will go a long way toward helping you master SCM and implement a solution that is full of functionality and usability instead of bells and whistles.

Scott Skillin is practice manager, manufacturing solutions, for BravePoint, a supplier of e-business and enterprise IT solutions. Reach him at Skillin@Bravepoint.com or (770) 449-9696, ext. 3031.