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Webinar notes: Supply Chain Resilience for Competitive Advantage

I attended the Supply Chain Resilience for Competitive Advantage seminar by Professor Yossi Sheffi today. Some notes from that webinar:

  1. Examples of disruptions that companies have faced and a firm’s reaction to them:
    • Disruption of the electronic supply Chain illustrated through the March 2000 Philips fire and the effect that it had on Nokia and Ericsson supply chains. More information about this story can be found here in one of my previous posts: Creating the Optimal Supply Chain – Review (Flexibility in the face of Disaster : Managing the risk of supply chain disruption).
    • Another case, UPF Thompson filed for bankruptcy and its effect on Land Rover because UPF was a sole supplier of chassis for Land Rover Discovery. Recounted here: Land Rover calls for legal change.
    • February 1997, The fire which disrupted the sole supply of proportional valves to Toyota (12 hours for all Toyota plants to come to a halt because of JIT model). All the other suppliers of Toyota raced against time to manufacture proportional valves for Toyota – two weeks to bring all Toyota plants back to round the clock operation. A good review of the disruption, recovery and participants can be found in this article: Exploring Knowledge Emergence: From chaos to organizational knowledge (Pg 9-10).
    • September 1999, Taiwan Earthquake disruption of semiconductor equipment manufacturers.
    • August 2001 dialysis filter deaths problem at Baxter
    • February 2001, Foot and Mouth disease in the UK. 6 million animals were killed but more importantly the UK govt. closed down tourism to UK countryside, the financial impact of which was much higher than the initial problem.
  2. Why are some companies more resilient than others?
    • Culture
      • Continuous communication (informed employees, environment, status)
      • Distributed power – which is driving decision making to a lower level within the organization.
      • Passion for work and the mission
      • Deference to expertise
      • Conditioning for disruption
    • Culture Change
      • Safety
      • Quality
      • Many others (smoking, drinking-and-driving)
  3. What kind of resiliency should one aim for in procurement?
    • If you have a single supplier – work towards a deeper supplier relationship, it has to be an investment.
    • If you want a shallow relationship – you need multiplier suppliers.
  4. The development of and investment in Supply Chain resilience is very hard to justify because like insurance, it isn’t needed until is needed.

The part that Professor Sheffi didn’t get into was Competitive Advantage – perhaps because of the numerous disruptions in the webinar itself – Ahem!!. However, it is a barely hidden point, it can be inferred readily. But I don’t think that it is competitive advantage here but relative advantage and there is a crucial difference. Why is it relative advantage and not competitive advantage?

If you look at one of the examples above – Ericsson vs Nokia with respect to the Philips fire, better relationships with suppliers can be had easily if not within an organization context but at least in a process context (procurement process, if you’d like). There is no real barrier to copying such advantages and so it doesn’t rise to the level of a true competitive advantage. However, organizational culture is a different beast which can be a source of competitive advantage simply because the disruption example was in the context of procurement here. What if the disruption was in the context of assembly or transportation or even financing? Properly, organizational culture and its effect on supply chain resilience as well as competitive positioning is a good indicator of which firms will survive the inevitable hit just as national culture is a good indication of resilience in the face of adversity.

Disruption of the supply chain, as was presented in the webinar, can be cast into a quadrant based on High-Low Impact and High-Low probability, Similarly Relative Advantage can be cast into a quadrant against High-Low disruption of the supply chain. You may even go to the extent of scenario planning and training and that is better than not engaging in it but you have no way of knowing which part of the organization is going to be the leading edge as it encounters new adversity/disruption i.e. the first point of contact with the initial rumbling of a disruption which if not contained/dampened/prepared for will snowball into a wide-scale disruption. In this case, you need to fall back on the only real insurance policy there is – a team of talent properly tasked, engaged, authorized and networked.

One symptom of such organizations should be easy to identify and I must thank Professor Sheffi for highlighting it, in individuals – a character trait, in organizations – a cultural trait and in nations – a traditional trait. “Those who succeed are praised for their success but those who fail are not reprimanded for it. Failure becomes a point of reexamination and reflection.”

Now, take a step back – take a wide eyed view of events that transpire in your life, firm and nations. Resilience? Or are you being taken with the current?

Category: Strategy, Supply Chain Management


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April 2009