supply-chain

Supply Chain In A World Driven By Bits

The supply chain is the set of steps between the sourcing, manufacturing, distribution of a product up to the steps it takes to reach the final customer. It’s the set of step it takes to bring a product from raw material (for physical products) to final customers and how companies manage those processes.

Supply chain in a nutshell

The supply chain represents the set of steps it takes to bring a product from raw to finished. And together with it, it also represents the set of steps it takes to bring the product to the final customers.

All the activities needed to fulfil this mission are part of a supply chain.

Imagine a Starbucks espresso. Before it turns into it, it follows a whole supply chain from bean to cup of coffee. All the steps taken from bean to cup of coffee in a Starbucks store will represent the supply chain for that product.

Supply chains vs. Value Chains

Value chains were first described by Michael Porter in his 1985 book Competitive Advantage. 

Here’s is how a Porter’s Value Chain looks like.

porters-value-chain-model
In his 1985 book Competitive Advantage, Porter explains that a value chain is a collection of processes that a company performs to create value for its consumers. As a result, he asserts that value chain analysis is directly linked to competitive advantage. Porter’s Value Chain Model is a strategic management tool developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. The tool analyses a company’s value chain – defined as the combination of processes that the company uses to make money.

He believed that the business must first identify its activities and then analyze the value added for each in the context of competitive strength.

Porter split these activities into two primary categories.

Primary activities

  • Inbound logistics – the receipt, storage, and distribution of inputs.
  • Manufacturing operations – where inputs are transformed into a finished product.
  • Outbound logistics – the storage and distribution of products and services to customers.
  • Marketing and sales – any activities that create product awareness among the general public.
  • Services – those activities that increase the value of the product itself.

Support activities 

As the name suggests, these are any activities that support primary activities such as HR management, technology, procurement, and infrastructure.

Thus, to recap the difference between value chains and supply chains, in the classical sense:

  • A value chain comprises the activities a company performs to create value for customers and maximize its competitive advantage. Supply chains describe the network of entities that source raw materials, transform them into products via manufacturing, and distribute and sell them to customers.
  • According to Michael Porter, value chains comprise activities that can add to a firm’s competitive strength. These include primary activities such as inbound logistics and manufacturing and any secondary, support activities.
  • The notion of value chains arose from business management, but supply chains have their roots in operational management. The latter is more concerned with conveyance

Beyond distribution

In some cases, supply chain and distribution are used interchangeably. However, distribution’s main focus is to bring the product in the hands of final customers, supply chain represents all the steps to make and also distribute that product.

direct-vs-indirect-distribution-channels

Yet, depending from the position in the supply chain distribution can take on several forms, all depending to how the customer looks like.

In short, distribution is a marketing activity skewed toward the final customer. If you’re a producer who doesn’t sell its product directly to customers, then distribution will be primarily about dealing with wholesalers, that in turn will distribute the product downstream, until it reaches the final customer.

digital-marketing-channels
A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

The supply chain instead comprises all the processes that go from raw materials, sourcing, logistics, and distribution.

Upstream vs. downstream

The supply chain comprises all the steps from raw materials to final customer. Companies can expand within the supply chain by moving upstream (controlling more steps toward production and manufacturing) or downstream (by covering more steps toward the final customer). When moving downstream the company will get closer to final customers through the supply chain. If it goes upstream it will get closer to the sourcing and production.

Why do companies move upstream?

When companies move upstream, they have more control over sourcing and manufacturing of the product. That can give the company more control over the quality of the product. Also, by moving upstream the company can retain more margins, and take advantage of economies of scale.

Why do companies move downstream?

When companies move downstream they get closer to customers, thus gaining more control over customer experience. Any integration, either upstream or downstream can be expensive, yet companies gain more control to ensure the quality of the product (upstream) and the quality of the customer experience (downstream).

Moving both ways

In some cases, companies move in both directions, to enable a fully integrated vertical strategy. The Luxottica case study is a good example of integrating both upstream (toward production) and downstream (toward the sale to final customers it its own retail stores).

Upstream integration case study: Google starts to make its own devices

For years Google had been looking into building its own smartphones. Being the owner of Android, Google now had the chance to take a step upstream the supply chain of data by manufacturing its own phones.

And yet, the first official launch of the Pixel phone only happened in 2016. Google moved upstream by building its own devices, which also led it to be a step closer to customers’ value chain.

The physical phone, part of the Google’s supply chain could be used as the basis also of acquisition of users’ data, in line with the Google business model.

Therefore, when Google got upstream in the supply chain. It also got downstream in the “data supply chain” as it could gather data closer to users.

Downstream integration case study: Apple starts to build its stores

Back in 2001, Apple launched its own stores. As it highlighted at the time:

“The Apple stores offer an amazing new way to buy a computer,” And Steve Jobs, continued, “rather than just hear about megahertz and megabytes, customers can now learn and experience the things they can actually do with a computer, like make movies, burn custom music CDs, and publish their digital photos on a personal website.

This downstream integration, over the years, also worked as a powerful distribution strategy that enhanced customer experience for Apple’s products.

apple-distribution-strategy
In 2021, most of Apple’s sales (64%) came from indirect channels (comprising third-party cellular networks, wholesalers/retailers, and resellers). These channels are critical for sales amplification, scale, and subsidies (to enable the iPhone to be purchased by a larger number of people). While the direct channel represented 36% of the total revenues. Stores are critical for customer experience, to enable to provide the service business, and for branding at scale.

While Apple’s stores are extremely expensive to build and maintain, and they do not represent the majority of Apple’s sales. They worked as iconic locations where customers could recognize the Apple’s brand at scale.

And also the place where Apple could build a set of ancillary services for its own devices.

Supply chain vs. customer value chain

horizontal-vs-vertical-integration
Horizontal integration refers to the process of increasing market shares or expanding by integrating at the same level of the supply chain, and within the same industry. Vertical integration happens when a company takes control of more parts of the supply chain, thus covering more parts of it.

Where the supply chain comprises the steps and actions needed to bring the product from production to sale.

The customer value chain is about the actions the customers take when acquiring a product, and the values they get at each step of the journey.

Supply chains in the bits world

vertical-integration
In business, vertical integration means a whole supply chain of the company is controlled and owned by the organization. Thus, making it possible to control each step through consumers. in the digital world, vertical integration happens when a company can control the primary access points to acquire data from consumers.

Vertical integration can also work in the digital/bits world. Where companies get closer to the customer both upstream and downstream.

In the “data supply chain” the hardware is the closest thing to the customer, therefore we can also consider it to be downstream.

data-supply-chain
In a data supply chain the closer the data to the customer the more we’re moving downstream. For instance, when Google produced its own physical devices. While it moved upstream the physical supply chain (it became a manufacturer) it moved downstream the data supply chain as it got closer to consumers using those devices, so it could gather data directly from the market, without intermediaries.

Breaking down the supply chain as a business strategy

entry-strategies-startups
When entering the market, as a startup you can use different approaches. Some of them can be based on the product, distribution or value. A product approach, takes existing alternatives and it offers only the most valuable part of that product. A distribution approach, cuts out intermediaries from the market. A value approach offers only the most valuable part of the experience.

When companies remove steps in the supply chain, thus making it shorter, this is a process of disintermediation.

disintermediation
Disintermediation is the process in which intermediaries are removed from the supply chain, so that the middlemen who get cut out, make the market overall more accessible and transparent to the final customers. Therefore, in theory, the supply chain gets more efficient and, all in all can produce products that customers want.

In some cases, supply chain might change over time, as those same companies that disintermediated some steps, they might introduce new logics to an existing supply chain.

For instance, in the last-mile problem we saw how Amazon might be disintermediating existing and dominating delivery services, to reintroduce new mechanics of last-mile delivery.

reintermediation
Reintermediation consists in the process of introducing again an intermediary that had previously been cut out from the supply chain. Or perhaps by creating a new intermediary that once didn’t exist. Usually, as a market is redefined, old players get cut out, and new players within the supply chain are born as a result.

Tesla integrating and disintermediating

tesla-business-model
Tesla is vertically integrated. Therefore, the company runs and operates the Tesla’s plants where cars are manufactured and the Gigafactory which produces the battery packs and stationary storage systems for its electric vehicles, which are sold via direct channels like the Tesla online store and the Tesla physical stores.

A good example of both integration and disintermediation, is how Tesla controlled more steps of the supply chain, from production to distribution. While at the same time, it disintermediated the traditional car dealer, by selling its vehicles directly in its Tesla store, and on its e-commerce.

Luxottica integrating and intermediating

vertically-integrated-business-model

Luxottica is a good example of a company that took control of more steps in the supply chain, while positioning itself as the go-to licensor for luxury brands, from Bulgari, to Prada, Chanel and many more that produce their sunglasses through Luxottica.

AI, data and flipped digital supply chains

vertical-integration
In business, vertical integration means a whole supply chain of the company is controlled and owned by the organization. Thus, making it possible to control each step through customers. in the digital world, vertical integration happens when a company can control the primary access points to acquire data from consumers.
ai-supply-chains
An AI supply chain starts with the sourcing of data, which is produced by consumers. As this data gets stored on hardware, it goes through a first refinement process via software. Then it’s further refined, and repackaged by algorithms, and stored in data centers, which work as the fulfillment centers.

Connected Business Concepts And Frameworks

Supply Chain

supply-chain
The supply chain is the set of steps between the sourcing, manufacturing, distribution of a product up to the steps it takes to reach the final customer. It’s the set of step it takes to bring a product from raw material (for physical products) to final customers and how companies manage those processes.

Data Supply Chains

data-supply-chain
A classic supply chain moves from upstream to downstream, where the raw material is transformed into products, moved through logistics and distribution to final customers. A data supply chain moves in the opposite direction. The raw data is “sourced” from the customer/user. As it moves downstream, it gets processed and refined by proprietary algorithms and stored in data centers.

Distribution

whats-distribution
Distribution represents the set of tactics, deals, and strategies that enable a company to make a product and service easily reachable and reached by its potential customers. It also serves as the bridge between product and marketing to create a controlled journey of how potential customers perceive a product before buying it.

Distribution Channels

distribution-channels
A distribution channel is the set of steps it takes for a product to get in the hands of the key customer or consumer. Distribution channels can be direct or indirect. Distribution can also be physical or digital, depending on the kind of business and industry.

Vertical Integration

vertical-integration
In business, vertical integration means a whole supply chain of the company is controlled and owned by the organization. Thus, making it possible to control each step through customers. in the digital world, vertical integration happens when a company can control the primary access points to acquire data from consumers.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Integration

horizontal-vs-vertical-integration
Horizontal integration refers to the process of increasing market shares or expanding by integrating at the same level of the supply chain, and within the same industry. Vertical integration happens when a company takes control of more parts of the supply chain, thus covering more parts of it.

Horizontal Market

horizontal-market
By definition, a horizontal market is a wider market, serving various customer types, needs and bringing to market various product lines. Or a product that indeed can serve various buyers across different verticals. Take the case of Google, as a search engine that can serve various verticals and industries (education, publishing, e-commerce, travel, and much more).

Vertical Market

vertical-market
A vertical or vertical market usually refers to a business that services a specific niche or group of people in a market. In short, a vertical market is smaller by definition, and it serves a group of customers/products that can be identified as part of the same group. A search engine like Google is a horizontal player, while a travel engine like Airbnb is a vertical player.

Entry Strategies

entry-strategies-startups
When entering the market, as a startup you can use different approaches. Some of them can be based on the product, distribution, or value. A product approach takes existing alternatives and it offers only the most valuable part of that product. A distribution approach cuts out intermediaries from the market. A value approach offers only the most valuable part of the experience.

Backward Chaining

backward-chaining
Backward chaining, also called backward integration, describes a process where a company expands to fulfill roles previously held by other businesses further up the supply chain. It is a form of vertical integration where a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations.

Market Types

market-types
A market type is a way a given group of consumers and producers interact, based on the context determined by the readiness of consumers to understand the product, the complexity of the product; how big is the existing market and how much it can potentially expand in the future.

Market Analysis

market-analysis
Psychosizing is a form of market analysis where the size of the market is guessed based on the targeted segments’ psychographics. In that respect, according to psychosizing analysis, we have five types of markets: microniches, niches, markets, vertical markets, and horizontal markets. Each will be shaped by the characteristics of the underlying main customer type.

Decoupling

decoupling
According to the book, Unlocking The Value Chain, Harvard professor Thales Teixeira identified three waves of disruption (unbundling, disintermediation, and decoupling). Decoupling is the third wave (2006-still ongoing) where companies break apart the customer value chain to deliver part of the value, without bearing the costs to sustain the whole value chain.

Disintermediation

disintermediation
Disintermediation is the process in which intermediaries are removed from the supply chain, so that the middlemen who get cut out, make the market overall more accessible and transparent to the final customers. Therefore, in theory, the supply chain gets more efficient and, all in all, can produce products that customers want.

Reintermediation

reintermediation
Reintermediation consists in the process of introducing again an intermediary that had previously been cut out from the supply chain. Or perhaps by creating a new intermediary that once didn’t exist. Usually, as a market is redefined, old players get cut out, and new players within the supply chain are born as a result.

Coupling

coupling
As startups gain control of new markets. They expand in adjacent areas in disparate and different industries by coupling the new activities to benefits customers. Thus, even though the adjunct activities might see far from the core business model, they are tied to the way customers experience the whole business model.

Bullwhip Effect

bullwhip-effect
The bullwhip effect describes the increasing fluctuations in inventory in response to changing consumer demand as one moves up the supply chain. Observing, analyzing, and understanding how the bullwhip effect influences the whole supply chain can unlock important insights into various parts of it.

Dropshipping

dropshipping-business-model
Dropshipping is a retail business model where the dropshipper externalizes the manufacturing and logistics and focuses only on distribution and customer acquisition. Therefore, the dropshipper collects final customers’ sales orders, sending them over to third-party suppliers, who ship directly to those customers. In this way, through dropshipping, it is possible to run a business without operational costs and logistics management.

Consumer-To-Manufacturer

consumer-to-manufacturer-c2m
Consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) is a model connecting manufacturers with consumers. The model removes logistics, inventory, sales, distribution, and other intermediaries enabling consumers to buy higher quality products at lower prices. C2M is useful in any scenario where the manufacturer can react to proven, consolidated, consumer-driven niche demand.

Transloading

transloading
Transloading is the process of moving freight from one form of transportation to another as a shipment moves down the supply chain. Transloading facilities are staged areas where freight is swapped from one mode of transportation to another. This may be indoors or outdoors, depending on the transportation modes involved. Deconsolidation and reconsolidation are two key concepts in transloading, where larger freight units are broken down into smaller pieces and vice versa. These processes attract fees that a company pays to maintain the smooth operation of its supply chain and avoid per diem fees.

Break-Bulk

break-bulk
Break bulk is a form of shipping where cargo is bundled into bales, boxes, drums, or crates that must be loaded individually. Common break bulk items include wool, steel, cement, construction equipment, vehicles, and any other item that is oversized. While container shipping became more popular in the 1960s, break bulk shipping remains and offers several benefits. It tends to be more affordable since bulky items do not need to be disassembled. What’s more, break bulk carriers can call in at more ports than container ships.

Cross-Docking

cross-docking
Cross-docking is a procedure where goods are transferred from inbound to outbound transport without a company handling or storing those goods. Cross-docking methods include continuous, consolidation, and de-consolidation. There are also two types of cross-docking according to whether the customer is known or unknown before goods are distributed. Cross-docking has obvious benefits for virtually any industry, but it is especially useful in food and beverage, retail and eCommerce, and chemicals.

Toyota Production System

toyota-production-system
The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Six Sigma

six-sigma
Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Scientific Management

scientific-management
Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Poka-Yoke

poka-yoke
Poka-yoke is a Japanese quality control technique developed by former Toyota engineer Shigeo Shingo. Translated as “mistake-proofing”, poka-yoke aims to prevent defects in the manufacturing process that are the result of human error. Poka-yoke is a lean manufacturing technique that ensures that the right conditions exist before a step in the process is executed. This makes it a preventative form of quality control since errors are detected and then rectified before they occur.

Gemba Walk

gemba-walk
A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

Jidoka

jidoka
Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

Andon System

andon-system
The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Read Also: Vertical Integration, Horizontal Integration, Supply Chain.

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