Supply Chain Adaptability: Is it Impossibly Difficult?

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Your organization’s supply chain is adapting indirectly in real-time, even if you’re not actively participating in the process, because some or all of your suppliers are actively pursuing adaptability which forces your supply system to evolve accordingly. Consider this passive adaptability.

Your active participation in your supply chain adaptability will have the same effect on your supplier’s supply chain, as they will have to adjust their processes in response to yours. Yours will be driven primarily by (in no particular order):

  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New partnerships
  • Laws and regulations
  • Product/service portfolios
  • Competition
  • Technology
  • New markets, and
  • Customer/client preferences.

Supply Chain AdaptabilityAs such, you must embrace being reactive to all these forces in your business model, as you have little, if any, control over them. That said, you cannot allow these supply chain influencers to control your business model–wag the dog. Instead, you must anticipate, even develop a keen sense for what variables can be expected from these influencers, and evolve your supply chain to meet them, or beat them to the change so your business model is driving your processes, not theirs.

Difficult? indeed, but not remotely impossible. Just embrace your knowledge, your data.

Let’s simplify the whole Big Data/Internet of Things (IoT) for a minute–put it in user-friendly reality. All those influencers above have been telling you how to improve your business, how to conform to their wishes, needs, demands, and rules for as long your business has existed. It exists now because you listened, made that your knowledge base–your big data (and theirs) available instantly via the IoT–and changed your business model to maximize opportunity there from.

Now use what those influencers are telling you about their wishes, needs, demands, and rules involving:

  • Demand
  • Forecasting
  • Planning
  • Procurement
  • Production
  • Warehousing
  • Transportation
  • Distribution
  • Returns, and
  • Customer service.

Make that your supply chain adaptability knowledge base. Capture it, modify it, and respond to it–your supply chain big data available instantly via the IoT.

Armed with your big data knowledge and your IoT one-click access to it, you can systemize how you anticipate, even sense, where you need to adapt your supply chain by applying the ” three A’s of the Supply Chain: Agility, Adaptability and Alignment” (Hua Lee, Harvard Business Review 2004):

  • Consider adaptability your long-term ability to effectively respond to changes in the key elements of your supply chain as listed above.
  • Agility is your ability to react quickly and effectively to those changes–including rapidly addressing and correcting any wrong adaptation decisions that are made (remember that you are better off quickly reacting based on your knowledge than taking the wait-and-see approach which can snowball a small adjustment into a big problem).
  • Critical to the effectiveness of every supply chain adaptation is your active, ongoing, and eager alignment with your influencers (see first list above). They are your collaborators and you are theirs–take advantage of their knowledge, supply chain optimization techniques and technologies, and share yours with them.

Adaptability in your supply chain is a state of mind. The minds of you and your collaborators. There exists a limitless legion of technological tools available to manage your knowledge–there is something that fits every business regardless of scale or budget. There is no shortage of really talented people who can train a supply chain management team to be on top of incremental, and sometimes grand-scale adjustments based on real-time knowledge and instant access to it.

The only thing that makes supply chain adaptability impossibly difficult is resistance to the reality of it. It’s as much a part of your business as whatever it is you’re selling.


Additional Reading

Operational Excellence for Agile and Adaptive Companies

“Sustainable Adaptability”: Possible or Impossible?


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