Unravelling the cat’s cradle

Cambashi’s Ralph Seeley reckons that a single software solution cannot possibly serve the whole supply chain in the manufacturing environment.

Management consultants invariably advocate structure, organisation, process and discipline for their clients. But when it comes to their own businesses it’s different. Managing consultants is like trying to herd cats – difficult at best, impossible at worst.

And it’s hardly surprising that people who are self-confident, self-motivated and intelligent take direction poorly, when career success depends principally on imposing their ideas and opinions on others.

CRM fails at the same hurdle. OK for routine scripted telesales and telesupport, poor when applied to the guy at the sharp end already running at 125% of capacity and currently in a foreign hotel room with a fading laptop battery.

According to many industry pundits, companies that fail to integrate and e-enable their business processes will fail to thrive in the 21st century.

An e-enabled company will already be exploiting B2C and B2B web technologies and it should also have a CRM front-end and ERP backend closely coupled, if not seamlessly integrated with a supply chain system. Its design department will be part of a virtual collaborative team that spans the globe on the back of advanced modelling and visualisation software and high-bandwidth communications.

Why does this vision still look like a distant mirage and why are manufacturing companies particularly slow to translate vision into reality?

Supply chain software promises much, but begs more questions: Whose supply chain is it? Who benefits from its optimisation? Who, if anybody, loses? On what basis are the inevitable trade-offs made? Of course, supply chain synchronisation is only partly a zero sum business. Better information can provide benefit all round.

But to do so information must travel quickly and accurately. That means that either a single system should serve the whole supply chain – the solution favoured by software vendors – or that rival systems should interface effectively. But since practical supply chains have no beginning and no end, and are in reality networks, a single vendor solution is impossible.

Back in 1995, Microsoft largely discounted the Internet. A standard Windows 95 implementation provided few tools to access the Internet. Netscape was the dominant Internet browser.

A year or so later, Bill Gates was betting everything on it and now it dominates Microsoft strategy. Microsoft turned on a sixpence within a period of twelve months.

Had it not done so, it would now be dead.