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PRTM Study: Five Key Supply Chain Challenges – Challenge 1

In my previous post, PRTM study highlights five key supply chain challenges, I highlighted a recent study by the supply chain management consulting firm. In this post, I want to delve a little deeper into those key challenges. Again, the highlighted challenges were:

    1. Supply chain volatility and uncertainty have permanently increased
    2. Securing growth requires truly global customer and supplier networks
    3. Market dynamics demand regional, cost-optimized supply chain configurations
    4. Risk management involves the end-to-end supply chain
    5. Existing supply chain organization are not truly integrated and empowered

Supply chain volatility and uncertainty have permanently increased

So what is the situation with supply chain volatility and uncertainty?


Survey results clearly show that concerns about continued demand volatility hamper companies’ ability to effectively manage supply chains in an upturn. In fact, three-fourths of respondents consider demand and supply volatility and poor forecast accuracy to be the biggest roadblocks they currently face. Volatility concerns were not assuaged during the recession, nor have most companies successfully implemented strategies for managing volatility in the years ahead. Recent shortages, such as those in electronic components and selected raw materials, indicate that many companies do not have the flexibility to meet an increasingly volatile demand. The rapid ramp up or ramp down of capacities seems to be a big challenge for many study participants.

The biggest roadblocks faced by respondents are demand and supply volatility and poor forecast accuracy. But surely, one is the cause of the other and this can only be exacerbated in a global supply chain with long manufacturing and transportation lead times. Does not poor forecasting of demand beget supply volatility whereas demand volatility is a function of the economic cycle? Now, when both situations occur simultaneously, then it is quite believable that firms are in for a rough time.

The actions that respondents plan to take doesn’t make much sense to me – they don’t hurt but more importantly, they don’t help. The action items can be broken down as follows:

The best-performing companies have already taken steps to improve supply chain response time and visibility across all supply chain partners.

I believe this is the key to cutting down volatility – reducing the supply chain response time and if no reduction is possible, then at least making certain of it. Both the magnitude and variation of supply chain response time create uncertainty (and consequently volatility).

Others plan to implement new strategies within the next two years. Companies are focusing primarily on deepening collaboration with key customers to reduce unanticipated changes in demand.

I believe that this is a no-go. Key customers themselves face volatility and therefore partnering with customers to reduce one’s own volatility is unlikely to bear fruit unless the key customer’s customers are not creating volatility. The first point above i.e. reducing supply chain response time is the more important factor.

Half of participants plan to implement joint “real-time” planning with their key customers by 2012, and nearly half plan to develop processes for improved demand sensing—that is, understanding the market rate of demand in real time, rather than having to wait for after-the-fact reporting.

Again, real-time planning is quite useless when you cannot obtain real-time response. You can create a plan as soon as a trend/micro trend is recognized but if you cannot create a response to it, then you’re just printing numbers.

About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

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