Supply Chain Matters continues with its featured market education series of commentaries directed at the goal of providing broader education to the concepts, business benefits and capabilities being articulated by industry supply chains in their evaluating and deploying of Supply Chain Control Tower initiatives.
The goal of this series is to provide broader education for our readers by featuring interviews with those closest to this emerging area of interest. Our interviews include technology and service providers along with supply chain functional teams evaluating the deployment of control tower capabilities.
In light of this week’s unprecedented storm impacting the entire U.S. Northeast, this topic and the capability remains very timely.
In this posting, we provide highlights from an interview with Rich Becks, General Manager, High Technology Business Unit at E2open, Inc.
Question: How would you describe the current market and/or customer interest level regarding Supply Chain Control Tower capabilities? Are current interest levels coming from specific industries or specific supply chains?
First, I think it’s important to define what we mean by “Supply Chain Control Tower.” The ongoing conversations I’ve had with supply chain practitioners have made it clear to me that today’s top manufacturers and brand owners aren’t in the market for a single, “cure all” product. Rather, they are interested in developing a core competency in end-to-end collaboration and process management that will enable them to make the best decisions based on the best available information. Within this framework, Supply Chain Control Towers should provide real-time transparency and exception management, tools for operational and financial evaluation of potential course corrections, and an integrated system for decision execution.
Interest in Supply Chain Control Tower functionalities is building quickly across a spectrum of industries. The utility and telecommunications industries have been using Control Tower capabilities for years to monitor the ongoing “health” of their networks. Chemical companies and process industries have relied on similar capabilities to manage equipment and formulation steps—either centrally or across complex manufacturing operations.
The current wave of Supply Chain Control Tower implementations is largely concentrated (although not exclusively) among high tech and telecommunications equipment providers that are trying to solve multi-tier visibility problems. We are also seeing a great deal of interest coming from more traditional industrial and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies as they struggle to expand their supply chain footprints globally.
Question: Are current interest levels stemming primarily from supply chain functional teams, their associated IT teams, or both?
Interest is definitely coming from the supply chain functional teams, and they’re looking for support from IT. But because IT organizations aren’t traditionally close to supply chain issues and systems, it can be difficult for the functional teams to gain traction with their IT counterparts.
That being said, one effective way to create better alignment is to frame the conversation in the context of IT network management. After all, these IT organizations manage complex, multi-national networks of ERP and best-of-breed functional applications—and they certainly don’t do it via spreadsheet, phone, and fax! The best supply chain-IT partnerships are developed around a shared understanding of the complexities and interdependencies of modern network management, whether the network is within or outside the four walls of the enterprise.
Question: What advice can E2open share regarding how firms can best be prepared for a Supply Chain Control Tower roadmap initiative? Are there important organizational, change management and IT implications that firms need to be cognizant of?
Ensuring cross-functional alignment and partner adoption is critical to the long-term success of any Supply Chain Control Tower program. While most supply chain practitioners will tell you that SCM is an inherently multi-functional discipline, few organizations take advantage of cross-functional teams when it comes to resolving critical supply chain problems. For Control Tower programs to be successful over the long term, full-time representation from the planning, order management, order fulfillment, and logistics functions—as well as members from key trading partners—is imperative. Furthermore, this dedicated team needs the authority and proper escalation procedures necessary to make final decisions and ensure expediency.
When laying the foundation of a Control Tower program, it is also useful to anticipate the development of multiple “segments” of customers with different levers for course corrections. Some customer segments may value responsiveness over cost and efficiency, while other segments will always consider efficiency to be most critical. Control Tower programs can provide the level of granularity and configurability needed to more effectively meet the needs of a diverse customer base.
Finally, I would emphasize the importance of developing an exception management framework, which should outline the metrics to be tracked based on business needs, the tolerances that trigger alerts, and the workflows that implement corrective actions. A continuous improvement mindset is also critical to ensure that the exception management framework is assessed and improved on a regular basis.
Question: When supporting an overall Supply Chain Control Tower business process and technology enablement roadmap, what are the top three areas that customer implementation teams should focus on to ensure a successful rollout?
(1) Define a strategy and set expectations. Before tackling specific operational and technology issues, define the scope and objectives of the Control Tower project. Involve cross-functional stakeholders early on and set realistic expectations. For each stakeholder, try to answer the questions, “What’s in it for me?” “Why should I be invested in the long-term success of this program?” Outline a plan to onboard partners to the program in manageable “waves” based on similar geographies, maturities, interest, or willingness.
(2) Lay a solid foundation. Successful Supply Chain Control Tower initiatives are built on, and sustained by, good information. In the context of global manufacturing, that means having reliable access to real-time, cross-network data. This class of information begins with a solid, scalable integration platform that connects all trading partners in the extended network. From E2open’s perspective, the cloud serves as the perfect environment for this type of connectivity, offering fast, cost-effective integration regardless of the geographic location or technical sophistication of individual participants.
(3) Leverage the collective brainpower of the network to make decisions—and then execute! Once timely, end-to-end visibility is established, the focus shifts to problem identification (and ultimately, resolution). Control Towers should provide a collaborative platform—plus automated processes and workflows—to enable cross-functional team members to work proactively with external partners to resolve the most pressing issues. The most sophisticated Control Towers will provide real-time dashboard visibility for multiple partners—as well as cutting-edge analytics to assess the operational and financial impact of changes, and “what if” decision support to preempt issues or resolve problems rapidly.
We want to thank Rich for taking time from his busy schedule to participate in this Supply Chain Matters market education series. Readers can view an additional video perspective on overall capabilities delivered by supply chain control towers by visiting the E2open web site.
If readers have specific thoughts and/or needs in the area of control tower initiatives, or if your organization wants to contribute to this market education series, please send us an email: info <at> supply-chain-matters <dot> com.
Past interviews in this this education series can be accessed by double clicking on the below web links.
Bob Ferrari, Executive Editor
Disclosure: E2open is one of other named sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters Blog.