At the beginning of last year, we asked the question: Is 2018 the Year of Supply Chain Networks? We have since established that the answer is not only a resounding yes, but that these growing ecosystems now have a name: multi-enterprise supply chain business networks. They have become such a prominent staple of the industry that Gartner recognized them with a dedicated Magic Quadrant. Toward the end of the year, we ruminated on Why Multi-Enterprise Business Networks Add Value & How to Choose Wisely, which began to touch upon two important queries posed in the former article: What’s the best way to build and connect these networks? And what considerations should we take into account?
As we step into the next cycle, it’s time to contemplate the greater implications of this new landscape, as well as where we are now and how that aligns with where the industry is headed. But first, let’s revisit the main points of the article that kicked off last year.
Key Takeaway From 2018
In 2018, we acknowledged that the concept of the supply “chain” is essentially obsolete, and that B2B ecosystems or supply chain collaboration networks have redefined the industry landscape. We also insisted that the supply chain network is only as good as what you can do with it – an idea is well-worth revisiting as you assess your business strategy going forward and resolve to improve upon past inefficiencies:
You’ve connected with suppliers, carriers, manufacturers, warehouses, and so on, but how well do you collaborate with these parties? It’s typical to hire a vendor to patch a pain point – usually one that specializes in that given area. When another challenge arises, the company will again recruit another specialized vendor, and so forth. While each new addition is valuable in its own right, this process of patch-and-play creates silos. Each vendor enables visibility and control within their sphere, but not across the supply chain. In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, operating this way is akin to recruiting the world’s best musicians for your orchestra, but never having them play together.
Another key question you should be asking is whether you’re optimizing your network. Like the supply “chain” model, analog systems are reaching obsolescence. The future is, without question, digitized and automated. Moreover, to make the most of your resources, that technology should enable orchestration. Returning to the metaphor, even the best musicians need quality instruments and conductors to turn them into an orchestra. Similarly, systems that orchestrate monitor processes and ensure harmony across all flows – spotting inconsistencies and anticipating delays and errors – to master the delivery.
How diverse is your network and can you expand it as needed? Many companies are too mired in their current needs that they don’t adequately plan for the future. Whatever tomorrow brings, there are several facts you can be certain of: There is always a need for new and better resources; you should always strive to make lucrative partnerships; you’ll need tools in place to easily integrate these new systems and parties.
Most businesses will have plenty of overlap with their supply chain goals: eliminate wasteful spending and processes, increase predictability, keep up with the Amazon effect, boost retention and loyalty, and perhaps even embrace technology – without which, the other aims are not really possible. For those who are ready, goals may also include strengthening their e-commerce and global trade capabilities.
If 2018 was the year of defining multi-enterprise supply chain business networks, then 2019 will be about what you do with the ones you have. Make 2019 the year you strengthen your capacity for supply chain collaboration, optimization, and scalability – because these features are what effectively drive all your other goals. It will be about recognizing that the future network is not something to wait for, but something that industry leaders are already building, and to keep waiting is to be left behind.
There's no time like the present to start making the most of your business network. If you're looking for a good place to start, begin by choosing the right control tower for your digital supply chain.