Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Retiring "Supply Chain"

I'm ready for the term/phrase/whatever "supply chain" to be retired. Today a state agricultural department representative was talking about a "supply chain project" which included looking into community-supported agriculture (CSA). Previously, I've written about how it's not a supply "chain" but a chain link fence if we must attach a metaphor. I've also written to APICS and Harvard Business Review publications. I did not offer an alternative till now. Why not call it a "supply network" and have a research project on the agricultural supply network?

Supply chain keeps our vision of the world narrow; we view our business relationships with blinders on. No corporation is an island (to paraphrase John Donne, the British poet from a long time ago). Thinking of the our relationships as a chain assumes that the suppliers are there to serve us...and no other customers. It assumes we might be the end, or at best the penultimate link in the chain with our customer(s) as the end of the chain. The term encourages us to ignore external factors and players in the business world. (I'm not saying every "supply chain project" ignores external factors, but the title can initiate the limits on the scope of the project.)

A supply network includes the multiple market segments of customers, and the competitors. It includes regulatory agencies that influence interactions and effectivity of the relationships. It includes the supply choices, and asks the question about our competition for the suppliers' attention and resources.

While we're at it, let's jettison "supply" from consideration and look at "input networks" or "resource networks". In many industries, the customer is or can be the supplier. If we look "backwards" at the suppliers, we can forget what a wonderful resource our customers can be as an input into our processes. Let's involve them in our "resource network projects".

Realize that "resource network project" isn't any more cumbersome than other business jargon phrases.

So if you start reading about resource networks, remember you heard it here first...and help me by discontinuing use of supply chain (for your own good) and open your eyes and mind to all the inputs into our businesses.

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