Without mindful and strategic investments, a company’s supply chain could become wedged in its own proverbial Suez Canal, ground to a halt by outside forces and its inflexible, complex systems.
It’s a dramatic image, but one that became reality for many companies in the last year. Supply chain failures aren’t typically such high-profile events as the Suez Canal blockage, but rather death by a thousand inefficiencies, each slowing business operations and affecting the customer experience.
Delay by delay and spreadsheet by spreadsheet, companies are at risk of falling behind more nimble, cloud-enabled competitors. And as we emerge from the pandemic with a new understanding of how important adaptable, integrated supply chains are, company leaders have critical choices to make.
The Hannover Messe conference (held online from April 12-16) gives manufacturing and supply chain executives around the world a chance to hear perspectives from industry leaders and explore the latest manufacturing and supply chain technologies available.
Technology holds great promise. But if executives don’t ask key strategic questions to supply chain software vendors, they could unknowingly introduce a range of operational and strategic obstacles into their company’s future.
If you’re attending Hannover Messe, here are a few critical questions to ask:
It’s important to go beyond the marketing. Is the vendor actually promoting pilots of advanced technologies that are simply customized use cases for small parts of an overall business process hosted on a separate platform? If so, it may be up to your company to figure out how to integrate it with the rest of that vendor’s applications and to maintain those integrations.
To avoid this situation, seek solutions that have been purpose-built to leverage advanced technologies across use cases that address the problems you hope to solve. It’s also critical that these solutions come with built-in connections to ensure easy integration across your enterprise and to third party applications.
If a vendor’s solution for a key process (like integrated business planning or plan to produce, for example) includes applications developed over time by a range of internal development teams, partners, and acquired companies, what you’re likely to end up with is a range of disjointed applications and processes with varying user interfaces and no common data model. Look for a cloud solution that helps connect and streamline your business processes seamlessly.
Update schedules for the various applications could also be disjointed and complicated, so customers can be tempted to skip updates. But some upgrades may be forced, causing disruption in key areas of your business at various times.
And if some of the applications in the solution were written for the on-premises world, business processes will likely need customization, making them hard-wired and inflexible. The convenience of cloud solutions is that they can take frequent updates more easily, resulting in greater value driven by the latest innovations.
A lack of integration between and among applications within the supply chain and beyond means that end users don’t have visibility into the company’s operations—and that directly affects the quality and speed of business decisions. When market disruptions or new opportunities occur, unintegrated systems make it harder to shift operations—or even come to an agreement on what shift should happen.
And because many key business processes span multiple areas—like manufacturing forecast to plan, order to cash, and procure to pay—integration also increases efficiency. If applications are not integrated across these entire processes, business users resort to pulling data from the various systems and then often spend time debating whose data is right.
Of course, all of these issues increase operational costs and make it harder for a company to adapt to change. They also keep the IT department busy with maintenance tasks rather than focusing on more strategic projects.
Ask for clarity on which products within the solution belong to the vendor and which were developed by partners. Is there a single SLA for the entire solution? Will the two organizations’ development teams work together on a roadmap that aligns the technologies? Will their priority be on making a better solution together or on enhancements to their own technology? Will they focus on enabling data to flow easily across the supply chain solution, as well as to other systems like ERP? Will they be able to overcome technical issues that arise and streamline customer support?
It’s critical for supply chain decision-makers to gain insight into these crucial questions. If the vendor is unable to meet these foundational needs, the customer will face constant obstacles in their supply chain operations.