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In Search of the Supply Chain Holy Grail

Just as the “Holy Grail” has long been sought after for its great significance, supply chain leaders are eternally looking for a Holy Grail specific to their needs—real time, end-to-end visibility for making decisions.
* By Doug Reed *

Merriam-Webster defines the term “Holy Grail” as “an object or goal that is sought after for its great significance.” And what could be more significant in supply chain than the achievement of end-to-end visibility—in real-time—for making decisions that increase efficiency, reduce cost and/or create an amazing customer experience?

But Merriam-Webster also defines “Holy Grail” as “the cup or platter used according to medieval legend by Christ at the Last Supper and thereafter the object of knightly quests.” Wait—a legendary goal that ultimately turned out to be fruitless pursuits? Does that make end-to-end supply chain visibility an unobtainable myth?

Well, kind of, according to the five experts MHI Solutions interviewed about this state of supply chain nirvana. But that doesn’t mean the undertaking isn’t worthwhile. Rather, there are numerous opportunities and benefits to be realized from what should be considered an ongoing journey to vanquish the barriers associated with achieving this state.

The reason is three-fold, said Pawan Joshi, senior vice president of products and strategy at E2open. “First, technological innovations never cease, which means the opportunity for more process improvements—and greater visibility—will continue to happen. When process improvements continue to happen, the supply chain will become more efficient and even further optimized.”

Second, he continues, the nature of the products companies bring to market is constantly changing, and those changes are occurring at a much faster pace than even just five years ago. “When product innovations and lifecycles continue to accelerate, companies will seek out newer trading partners—whether in manufacturing, component or ingredient suppliers, or distributors—to both make and take those products out to market,” Joshi said. “As a result, supply chains themselves continuously evolve.”

Third, ongoing mergers, acquisitions and divestments endlessly impact the breadth and depth of supply chains.

“When companies become too big, they look to divest parts of their business, splitting a single entity into two or three—which then re-evaluate, reorganize and restructure to their own individual optimized supply chains,” he added. “The same is true for acquisitions. Merging two smaller supply chains into a single one leads to process changes, as well as the addition or elimination of trading partners. That’s why companies seeking the supply chain ‘Holy Grail’ need to adopt an approach that supports constant innovation and evolution on the path to end-to-end visibility—the ‘Holy Grail’ may never be attainable, but the journey to constantly strive for improvements is what results in making companies successful.”

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Leading manufacturing and supply chain executives agree that technology is the key to future success. As they digitize their supply chains they are generating more data than ever before, giving them the power to leverage that data to see their businesses in new ways and to make better decisions. These early adopters are creating real and measurable competitive advantage. When it comes to technology investment start small but think big. Build on your successes and learn from your failures. By investing wisely, you’ll create additional value in your supply chain and widen your advantage over the competition.

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