Let's be straight: collaborative working is hard work. It takes everyone involved to be fully committed and it requires on-going attention and it needs support in order to sustain it. It's even harder as more people get involved: people from different organisations, with different objectives than yours and different cultures, locations and different reasons for even existing.
All of this complexity is typical of a supply chain. So, given that complexity and given how difficult it is, you'd be forgiven for asking, why even bother? Can we not just do our thing like we always have? Why do we need to work closely with a supplier?
Well, there are many reasons and it’s these reasons that make it worthwhile. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 5.
Reduction in Inventories (no need to hold stock/supplies that can move quicker)
Cost Reduction (Economies of Scale)
Improved Speed (ideas happen and are executed faster)
Maximum Customer satisfaction
Then there's benefits like...
Projects getting delivered on time and under budget (and hey presto you get paid quicker), you're more likely to get repeat business and with a clearer focus on direction if your work force is happier.
So, in theory, there's nothing stopping you from reaching out to your supply chain and exclaiming 'let's work better together, let's collaborate with each other to deliver better results for the client.'
In theory, to quote baseball legend Yogi Berra:
"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
Many problems lie ahead...
- There's the problem of traditional hierarchical thinking, The thinking that delivers the 'let’s collaborate better' message from upon high and then is never heard from again.
- There's the problem of getting buy in from everyone in the chain and across the chain. No easy task. Add to that dissipating levels of enthusiasm as you move through the chain.
- The message you hear on the front line might not be anything like the original message. Communication will get lost in translation.
- Then there's the lack of investment in infrastructure, people and tools needed to facilitate more collaborative working.
6 Tips for Better Supply Chain Collaboration
Build on Your Strengths
In practice, the most successful collaborations build on strengths rather than compensating for weaknesses. Only collaborate with partners if they add value to what you are already doing. A vendor looking to work closely with an analytics firm must have the capabilities, in-house, to use that date effectively.
Invest in Infrastructure
Is the management team committed to the process? Are in house IT processes robust enough to facilitate real time communication? Do meeting spaces have the bandwidth and tools to facilitate real time content creation? How easy is it actually to share information and ideas with people from another company?
Biggest May Not Mean Best
Many companies aim to collaborate with their largest suppliers or customers because they assume that the greatest value is to be found there. In many cases, however, this turns out not to be true. Collaboration may be of more interest to a smaller partner, which might invest more time and effort in the program than a very large one that is already juggling dozens of similar initiative.
Devote Extra Resources
Disconnects can create problems. As mentioned, there's the dilution of messages down the chain or ad-hoc collaborative partnerships at lower levels could be stopped by someone pulling rank and saying it should be done another way. On the flip side, collaboration could be flavour of the month today but usurped by the next big middle management initiative.
Collaboration needs extra resources like a steering committee at senior level that's made up from stakeholders from right across the organisations. This team should create and communicate a detailed design of the programme with departmental champions and are responsible for day-to-day implementation and reporting.
Balance Short Term and Long Term
Supply Chain Collaboration is not a short term process it takes patience, effort and stamina to overcome early hurdles and there’s a need to build a long term vision BUT at the same time show quick wins to show that the process is delivering value. For example making meeting spaces more collaborative by adding solutions that allow people from different organisations to quickly connect communicate and work together.
At DisplayNote Technologies we provide solutions to make it easier for organisations to connect and work together on ideas regardless of location, device and space. To see those tools in action and to discuss how we can help you work more collaboratively across your supply chain, get in touch with us here.
Alternatively, you can register for our Montage webinar to view how to use a Wireless Collaboration and Presentation system to collaborate across your supply chain.
You may also be interested in our blog post A Simple Framework for Enterprise Collaboration