How Can We Eliminate
Barriers to Supply Chains?
chains are emerging. We can aid in their emergence and assist in
their architecture. Or we can wait until they are upon us and we
have lost our competitive edge. The following ideas are designed to
help us be the architects.
ANSI X. 12 standard for electronic data interchange (EDI) is a good
place to start a supply chain. The EDI
allow companies to exchange information about inventory, schedules,
orders, invoices and so on. Many associations have sponsored the
development of standards beyond the basic ANSI X.12 series that are
specific to a given industry. This provides a level playing field
from which companies in a supply chain can share data.
our example of the two co-workers above, however, EDI represents the
lowest common denominator in information sharing. To move to the
next level—a step that I believe must be taken—will require
techniques for identifying shared data and for designing systems
to facilitate interfacing systems throughout the supply chain
network. These techniques are combined in a series of five
fundamental principles contained in a body of knowledge called
Business Information Technology Deployment (BITD). The five BITD
principles (see Table 2) define, in broad terms, how information
systems must be designed in order to support, among other things,
effective supply chains.
of BITD is not easy.11 One task is to define key data elements
for the supply chain. Then, using a technique called "the
grammar of data," a normalized data set can be defined. Another
technique is to create Business Process Maps (BPMs) of critical
processes. Business Process Maps include not only the key steps in a
process, but who performs them and what informational resources are
required to complete the task. Creating Business Process Maps can
help organizations within the supply chain identify informational
and other resources that should be shared.
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a Business Process Map, or any other effort in which multiple
companies are involved, will require skills in working
collaboratively. These skills, unfortunately, are hard to find. We
have learned our lessons well: watch your back side, don't be the
first to trust, avoid divulging too much. Collaborative work
requires us to be open, to have faith in our working partners, to
treat others as we would wish to be treated. This is a new paradigm
of business and will take time to adopt.
Table 2. Business
Information Technology Deployment: Five Fundamental Principles
1. The Business Information Technology System must model the
organization it serves.
2. Data stored within the Business Information Technology System
must be normalized.
3. The Business Information Technology System must automate and
informate the organization's processes in such a way that adherence
to desired procedures (and thus accurate and timely production of
data) is achieved.
4. Access to the Business Information Technology System's data
must be deployed in such a way that information is easily produced
to answer all questions, both known and future.
5. The Business Information Technology System must be designed in
such a way as to anticipate and facilitate changes as the
organization evolves and the organization must develop its
individuals so as to facilitate their ability to adapt to and
exploit these changes.
To begin learning how to collaborate will
necessitate each of us learning skills in group dynamics.
Organizations that are using self-directed team principles will have
a jump start here. Where individual corporations each have their own
executive officers, supply chains have no single boss. When
companies meet to form supply chains, the individuals involved
will have to be adept at getting things done when no one is in
charge. This requires a sensitivity to the needs of each party, the
ability to identify strengths and weaknesses of each member, and a
knowledge of how to forge a team out of a disparate group of
One vital element of this effort will be the
articulation of a vision for the supply chain. I often use the
analogy of a lighthouse: a lighthouse on the coast helps ships steer
safely toward their destination. When the seas are rough— just as
they are in the global economy—a lighthouse keeps ships on course.
A shared vision will keep the formation of a supply chain headed
toward a common destination, even when there are disagreements.
Since the global economy will certainly throw
corporations from different nations and ethnic backgrounds together,
understanding of other cultures must not be overlooked. The better
those working to forge supply chains are able to understand the
cultures of their fellow workers, the smoother the work will go.
Thus people who are multi-lingual and who can adapt to other
cultures will be at a premium. Wise companies will assist their
people to develop these skills.
One other area needs to be mentioned: the legal
requirements to support supply chains. The legal profession has
not been noted as an architect of collaborative agreements. Supply
chains will require a sharing, rather than protectionist,
philosophy. The global economy will present an opportunity for
attorneys to assist in the creation of equitable agreements in
which resources (including resources such as information and
expertise) are shared between companies in the supply chain.
Supply chains won't happen because they are the
latest idea. They may not even be known by that name. But there will
certainly be some form of macro structure in the global economy that
organizes corporations as we know them today into affiliations
integrated by a common business purpose of adding value alongthe
chain from raw materials to the end customer.
Supply chains require that we become much better at doing some of
the things we already do. They will also require that we learn how
to do some new things that we are just beginning to recognize. The
coming years will be exciting. They will also be profitable for
those who learn first how to create supply chains and to eliminate
barriers to the integrated global enterprise.
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