For decades companies have been told that simply automating a flawed process will only result in making more flawed products, faster. The same, it appears, applies to supply chain management.
Businesses globally invest over $19 billion annually on information technology systems solutions to improve their supply chain performance, yet nearly half of these companies are disappointed with the results, a new study by management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found.
The study–from the company that coined the term– indicated that most efforts to improve supply chain efficiency fall short because they do not challenge the fundamental structure of the supply chain, but instead attempt to improve performance within existing limitations, often by installing expensive new technology. CEOs can play a key role in improving the supply chain – the study found that greater CEO involvement in designing the supply chain strategy brought improved performance.
A supply chain is the set of operations and processes that a company uses to obtain materials, transform them into finished products, and distribute these finished products to customers.
Booz Allen received nearly 200 survey responses from manufacturing and industrial companies with assets or annual sales over $1 billion in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Respondents included Chief Operating Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Administrative Officers, Manufacturing/Operations Vice Presidents and Directors and Logistical/Shipping Directors.
The study found widespread unhappiness in IT-focused efforts to improve supply chain effectiveness. Despite a $19 billion worldwide market for supply chain systems solutions, nearly half (45%) of the respondents were dissatisfied with the level of performance of their IT systems against expectations. The most common reason for expectations not being met given by respondents was an inability to forecast effectively (56%). Other reasons include implementation issues and delays (48%), and unrealistic expectations about the impact of technology (44%).
“Despite major advances in technology, supply chains still cost more than they should and tie up more inventory, and the underlying reasons haven’t changed in twenty years,” said Booz Allen Vice President Dermot Shorten. “The message is clear – companies looking for improvements must break the mold, not just polish the mold,” said Shorten.
According to the study, companies were able to achieve a higher level of supply chain efficiency when they were willing to break the constraints limiting performance, by relocating factories, outsourcing non-core functions or making other fundamental changes. Efforts to improve performance within existing constraints, such as installing a new IT system, were less effective.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is the most popular systems investment choice at 71%, followed by systems for inventory and warehouse management (54%) and order management (40%). The most frequently-cited benefits companies expect from IT systems solutions are not lower costs, but rather lower inventory levels (80%), increased customer satisfaction (71%) and better delivery reliability (69%).
CEO participation helps unlock supply chain improvement, the study found. Companies that treat supply chain management as a CEO-level item achieved annual savings improvements of 8.0% in their cost to serve customers, nearly double the 4.4% savings of firms where responsibility for the supply chain resided lower in the organization. In addition, purchasing savings improved significantly (5.9% vs. 5.0%) for companies at which the CEO is personally engaged in setting the supply chain agenda.
“This is a wake-up call for CEOs to go ‘back to basics’ and pay closer attention to operations,” said Shorten. “Supply chain efficiency improves when CEOs roll up their sleeves and get involved.”
Other themes consistently emerged among the companies that were most successful in improving supply chain performance. Lessons from the strongest performers included: involve purchasing, sales, engineering, manufacturing and top management in supply chain decisions; track well-defined metrics; make explicit delivery promises to customers; and share forecasts with suppliers.