Supply Chain Orchestration: Key Tips
As with many supply chain topics over the last three years, orchestration has become an important issue area. It involves coordinating your entire supply chain, by connecting production, inventory, transportation, and logistics, as well as your supply chain or supply network partners.
It’s well-known that orchestration provides increased visibility, connectivity, and real-time responsiveness to disruptions. An article from earlier this week highlights that, “Supply chain orchestration graduates from theory to leading practice.”
In a past blog, we went into some detail about which KPIs are essential to track when aiming for supply chain orchestration. However, we know that KPIs and metrics are just part of the equation. In this blog, we’ll be going over some of our key tips for achieving supply chain orchestration.
- Start with the customer experience and work backward
- Focus on culture, people, and processes, in addition to technology
- The biggest obstacle can often be coordinating with organizations outside of your own
Start With Customer Experience and Work Backwards
“From supply chain shortages to shifts in customer channel preferences, organizations have struggled to catch up and keep pace with customers’ evolving needs and expectations.”
-Harvard Business Review, 2023
We believe that rather that it is essential to never lose sight of the experience you’re aiming to deliver to your customers. There is a need for alignment at the company level about this, and
from there, organizations should ensure that supply chain is tied to this goal and that cross-communication is happening within an organization.
Without this alignment, the supply chain team can get caught up in tracking the wrong KPIs, or tracking KPIs without sufficient context. For example, one team might feel pressure to reduce time as much as possible, but if this goal is pursued incorrectly, it can create more work for other teams, ultimately keeping the overall effort level the same, or even making it higher.
An example provided by one of our team members might be skipping over detailed reporting–for example, on inventory or orders–while tasks are being carried out. This saves time in the moment, but creates more work for another team that needs to “clean up” reporting, and can also introduce errors into the process.
On the other hand, focusing on your customer experience can not only be a useful guide, but can bring new efficiencies. For example, if you are implementing a whole new platform, don’t try to copy your manual standard operating procedure. Take that as an opportunity to revisit each operating procedure in terms of the result and the data you want to collect in order to achieve or track your results, and that should drive the process.
Build A Team Culture That Celebrates the Right Wins
“Supply chains must ensure that they are investing in their people to get ahead of employee engagement problems and stay resilient in the face of continued change.”
-Supply Chain Management Review, 2023
Culture can be another way of ensuring that your organization is making strides toward supply chain orchestration.
In the words of our VP of Sales, Kaitlin Mercier, “What do you celebrate at the end of the day? What are the wins that your team talks about?” If an entire team is empowered to be customer-centric, solutions and new ideas will naturally be geared toward this area.
Your team’s culture can play a key role in how smoothly things such as digital transformation occur. If a team is strongly married to the idea of doing things the way they have always been done, the process and technology changes needed to achieve supply chain orchestration will likely take place slowly and less successfully.
In our experience, companies seeking to orchestrate their supply chains succeed when there is a leadership team in place that is comfortable with changes, continuous improvement, and challenging themselves and others to make improvements.
Combine New Processes With Technology
“We’re seeing organizations struggle with technology investments because they haven’t changed the way they work alongside that tech. Instead, they’re prioritizing increasing efficiency and cutting costs alone.”
-Supply Chain Quarterly, March 2023
In our opinion, technology is about supporting and empowering teams to make better decisions. It should put data in the hands of decision-makers. However, technology is only beneficial if it is used, and data is only beneficial if it is correct and accessible.
This is, once again, where the benefits of having a customer focus and team alignment come in. If leadership ensures that each team member understands the benefits of new processes and technology—like how quick it makes invoicing or pulling reports for clients or their order status—and team members do not feel too pressured by other KPIs, like pick time, to follow the new tech-enabled processes correctly, then buy-in will be much stronger.
“If everyone supports the idea of good data, the system flows,” Kaitlin notes. On the other hand, “if the platform is there, but it is not being prioritized, it won’t." Taking steps to ensure the correct alignment and having the right people and processes also ensures that you get the most ROI on your investment.
For more detail, check out our past blogs on professional services and technology or why your tech partners should also be strategic partner for your business.
Get A Company-Level View of Key Data
“And in the area of supply chain in particular, given the challenges of the pandemic, wars, chipageddon and everything else, the ability to leverage that data and create transparency up and down your entire supply chain, and run analytics on it, is the game changer now occurring.”
It’s hard to achieve orchestration without visibility. This is where the data you’ve captured through better processes, technology, and prioritization come into play.
Accurate, timely data allows you to make the best possible decisions at the organizational level or chain/network level. This allows you to break away from siloed, team-focused KPIs to get a broader picture.
The right AI and ML tools can help you analyze the data you’ve collected to develop actionable insights and new goals, as well as to respond to challenges.
The Biggest Challenge In Supply Chain Orchestration: Orchestrating Separate Partners
“Integrating technology systems can actually be relatively easy compared to getting partners to agree on standards for data, service level, and compliance.”
-Kaitlin Mercier, Routeique
The Importance of Aligning With the Right Partners
So far, most of our points have focused on things you can do inside your organization–after all this is the area where you have the most control over your supply chain.
According to our team, one of the biggest challenges to achieving supply chain orchestration comes from working with multiple partners in your supply chain.
It is often common for organizations to work with external parties rather than owning every single step in their supply chain. This model is common among businesses ranging from small e-commerce companies that opt to work with a 3PL partner, as well as large enterprises that don’t want to own all of the trucks delivering their product–but want to operate as smoothly as they do.
However, each organization in your supply chain can easily have its own conception of customer experience, KPIs, processes around data, and culture. Sometimes, these may align with your own organization, but at other times, they may not.
According to our team, integrating technology systems can actually be relatively easy compared to getting partners to agree on standards for data, service level, and compliance.
Additionally, when working with partners, it is important to keep an eye on your customer experience goals. For example, we’ve noticed there is often a tendency to view pallet positions as commodities, and to place an emphasis on pricing at times even above service level. This can result in shorter-term partnerships, which creates more work in the long run.
In a network view, long-term partnerships are better for the system and working on sustaining and evolving those relationships. Additionally, strong partnerships can boost your resilience: Supply Chain Management Review notes, “Collaboration and transparency can help identify potential risks and disruptions in the supply chain, and enable businesses to take proactive measures to mitigate them.”
According to our team, the best way to overcome this potential obstacle is to take a long-term view and partner with organizations that are on the same page in terms of value, service delivery, and more.
Once these are established, achieving your supply chain orchestration goals becomes much more straightforward.
Get In Touch With Our Team
Are you ready to orchestrate your supply chain? Get in touch with our team to learn more, and stay tuned for our future blogs about supply chain orchestration.
Up next week: learn about how supply chain and network orchestration can solve many common issues. Follow us on LinkedIn or sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop.