In late March, cloud-based collaborative execution technology provider and Supply Chain Matters sponsor  E2open released the results of a research project with SCM World that was titled: Collaborative Execution: Speed, Innovation and Profitability.  This research, which was a survey involving 374 supply chain professionals, explored various challenges related to supply chain wide collaboration and provided a number of key findings that can be noted within a commentary penned by E2open product marketing director Andrew Atkinson.

Among the summary findings, Supply Chain Matters readers should pay particular attention to the finding that indicates that while collaborative processes yield measurable business benefits, responses indicate some frustration with the quality of information and the overall speed of problem resolution. The report states: “By more than a ratio of 2:1, supply chain professionals agree that slow issue resolution processes inhibit collaboration”, particularly where the process involves needs to synchronize execution processes among a group of networked partners. This barrier is best described as the absence of a systemic approach to capture and institutionalize any lessons learned during day-to-day process activity and/or exception related events. Yet, when the same respondents were asked the inverse question, namely to validate the largest benefit of a network focused collaborative process, 92 percent of respondents agreed that quick problem resolution was a benefit to good collaboration, with slightly more than 68 percent indicating a 1.5-2x improvement in process resolution. Timeliness of information has been a constant barrier for supply chain teams, but the challenge can be more difficult when external organizations and people are involved.

Too often, organizations enter into a new supply chain focused collaborative planning and execution process with the same frame of reference as the former internally focused process. Process participants and reporting relationships are known, language, nomenclature, metrics, data sources or the hierarchies of internal participants are somewhat understood, and quality of information can be improved through internal organizational leverage.  When external partners enter into the process, such clarity may not be initially determined, and the issues of trust among external players, often surfaces as an initial barrier.

Successful multi-functional processes such as sales and operations planning (S&OP) will often invest meaningful time in defining the process, the common metrics, a means to capture and record decisions, open questions and actions related to each phase of the overall process.  Trust is established by the leadership and commitment of senior management to insure that process participants are measured by their ability to make the process meaningful and successful, including the accuracy and timeliness of data.  We believe that active and ongoing leadership and commitment is the key factor.

The same should apply to any collaborative driven process. Investing the time up-front to clarify roles, agreed upon metrics, sources of data and means to capture actions and responsibilities can yield many benefits for the process going forward.  Trust is a two-way perspective, and an understanding that a supplier may have more informed knowledge goes a long way in establishing trust. Technology plays an important role in the ability to facilitate the process in providing enhanced capabilities to assimilate data housed across multiple systems, add more intelligence to that data and overcome barriers of time, distance, complexity and timely decision-making.  But as pointed out by Andrew in his commentary, a truly collaborative trading network involves knocking down many barriers.

But, as has always been the case, without the up-front investment in the process, the common data flows and accuracy that will make the process meaningful, the technology can only go so far.

What about your experiences with collaborative supply chain planning and execution processes? What actions and efforts helped to accelerate the business benefits of the process for your organization?

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: E2open is one of multiple sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog.