In the manufacturing, consumer goods and retail sectors, the companies that have been most successful in navigating the COVID-19 crisis were those that had highly responsive and flexible supply chains. They were also notable for having strong warehouse and transportation management capabilities, robust underlying technology and high degrees of integration.
Firms that had “elasticity” built into the configuration and deployment of their supply chain software allowed them to respond to changing needs in a resilient and flexible manner. We define “elasticity” in this context as the optimal balance of standardization and customization of supply chain software. When companies embrace the concept of elasticity to guide software implementation, responsiveness and flexibility can be designed directly into core supply chain operations and instilled into underlying technology platforms. We view these attributes as the next level of agility and adaptiveness as well as the keys to achieving excellence in supply chain execution.
Our latest report, Supply chain elasticity: driving successful transportation and warehouse management (pdf), breaks down what elasticity means, why it matters and how companies can embrace it in their supply chain technology and processes.
We believe we’ve reached a tipping point, where the convergence of a business-first focus and a strong technology solution can provide the capabilities and integration necessary to achieve excellence in supply chain execution. Further, we believe elasticity is critical to realizing this vision and ensuring the needs of multiple stakeholders – business executives, IT and end-users of supply chain tools and technology – are satisfied.
The pendulum swings between standardization vs. customization
For decades, IT and the business have battled over the best way to use technology. Typically, IT leaders want to run standardized processes on centralized technology platforms for as many core functions as possible (including supply chains). IT’s historical perspective has been that the fewer the number of systems, applications and vendors to manage and support, the better, because managing many different systems increases security risks and administrative costs. Plus, efficiency and accuracy increase when supply chain systems can connect directly to finance and other core systems.
For their part, business users want features and functionality geared towards doing what they need to do in the way they prefer to do it. Businesses often had very good reasons for wanting specific functionality. However, it’s also true that some platforms offer too much flexibility and functionality.
This state of affairs led to fragmented technologies across the supply chain. Supply chain planning and supply chain execution were thought to need their own technologies because the conventional wisdom held that they should be managed separately. Even warehouse management and transportation management were largely treated as independent functions, rather than as complementary and overlapping processes – the reason often being the lack of integrated technology solutions.