10 Strategies for Improving a Supply Chain

Supply chains are about to undergo titanic changes as new technologies reach maturity. Tools like connected sensors, machine learning, big data analytics, augmented reality, and geolocation mapping all promise to transform the way the supply chains of the future operate. But the new capabilities that this tech will create will be balanced by new challenges and complexities, meaning that effective supply chain management will still be a major priority.

Here are 10 strategies for improving a supply chain in the present while also preparing it for the future.

  1. Eliminate Ineffective Tools – Many supply chains still rely on tools like spreadsheets that require a lot of input, are hard to digest, and difficult to share. They may seem like a necessity, but at this point they are mostly an obstacle.
  2. Examine Supplier Capabilities – You chose your suppliers based on their ability to deliver something specific, but they may have value to offer beyond that. Take a deeper look at the various suppliers you rely on to identify if there are any resources of capabilities there that could be an asset now or in the future.
  3. Gain Information Agility – You can’t approach your data from just one angle and hope to extract its true value. The ability to slice, dice, reformat, and reconfigure information is crucial for leveraging all its insights.
  4. Select the Right Tools – There are hundreds of tech tools on the market that promise to improve supply chain management, but out-of-the-box capabilities rarely create an advantage. The best tools to rely on can be customized or mapped to aspects of your supply chain so that they deliver deeper value in less time.
  5. Commit to Benchmarks – Tracking performance is a bigger challenge than most supply chains would like to admit. The biggest step is to identify the metrics that matter most, then establish benchmarks for success and failure. Making improvements is impossible without an objective way of tracking progress.
  6. Gain the Edge Over Data – Too many supply chains spend a ton of effort on information management and not enough effort leveraging the true value of information. A system in place that will automate and streamline the collection and analysis of data lets managers focus on the important end points rather than the process that leads there.
  7. Embrace All Insights – Top-down decision making rules the data in supply chain management, but everyone involved with the process has a valuable perspective to add. Typically, changes that are only made with the needs or wants of managers in mind overlook opportunities and encounter pitfalls.
  8. Work Cooperatively – When a supply chain communicates and collaborates with sales, marketing, and finance teams, the flow of goods/services is able to keep perfect pace with demand. Everyone’s interests are served when the supply chain works actively with other departments.
  9. Streamline Solutions – It is possible to introduce dozens of new technologies each designed to fine tune one small aspect of the supply chain. But this creates huge costs, lots of new complexity, and uncertain rewards. In general, it’s better to rely on fewer solutions with more expansive or overarching capabilities. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) supply chains are a good example.
  10. Leverage Insights – A supply chain is a pipeline of information about what customers want and how they like to buy it. This data contains some of the most valuable insights your company has about acquiring and nurturing customers.

Embracing one of these strategies will have an impact, and all ten will lead to a transformation. The challenge becomes introducing the broadest number of improvements with the least amount of cost, confusion, and disruption. Don’t look for solutions that reinvent the wheel. Look for solutions that eliminate setbacks so that your supply chain can focus on getting batter rather than simply catching up.