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Apple’s Fantastic Supply Chain Management

Apple’s Fantastic Supply Chain Management

As regular Rickscloud readers know, the capabilities of modern cloud computing are staggering, reaching into most every industry imaginable. Valerie Harris’ article, which appears below, discusses how the cloud may allow people with specialized supply chain management training to make cross-border transactions more efficient and cost-effective than ever before. Harris is something of an educational expert, and spends most of her time compiling resources for students asking — Is a grad degree right for me? Her take on supply chain management MBA programs is fascinating and relevant as we look to a future of increasingly digitized business dealings.

Mastering the International Supply Chain with a Specialized Degree and Help from the Cloud

With greater customer sophistication, increasing network fragmentation, and fast-paced globalization, the primary role of supply chain management, along with the coordination of material, information and cash flows, has become complex. A survey of around 350 supply chain executives from across the globe conducted by the consultants at PRTM in 2010 revealed that most of the participants expect the future business growth to come primarily from new international customers and/or products that are customized to meet customer needs. “As a result, more than 85% of companies expect the complexity of their supply chains to grow significantly by 2012,” said the report. Supply Chain Council also articulated customer service, cost control, planning and risk management, supplier/partner relationship management and talent acquisition as the five biggest global supply chain challenges.

In lieu of this growing complexity and the challenges of the international supply chain, it is incumbent on companies to dramatically improve the performance of their supply chain operations in order to stay competitive. Thus demand for students with specific supply chain management knowledge and skills is on the rise, encouraging more and more students to gravitate towards MBA in supply chain management. A wave of interest in the field is pointed out in Bloomberg Businessweek article titled “Supply Chain Management: The Next Big Thing?” The article quotes William Verdini, an associate professor and chairman of the Supply Chain Management Department at Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business. “Businesses don’t compete; supply chains compete. Now, supply chain officers are getting in on the strategic decisions that are being made,” Verdini said.

Supply Chain Strategies are the critical backbone to Business Organizations today.
The success stories of companies like Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, UTC, and others bear testimony to the fact that effective supply chain management is an important step that needs to be taken by the companies to increase profit and market share. Many organizations are in the process of redesigning their supply chain systems and configurations in response to market and strategic changes. Companies are realizing that the skills of their supply chain function are both prized commodities and core competencies. The companies are therefore looking out to hire individuals with a high level of team-based skills, strategic planning skills, effective communication, and relationship management skills.

Earning an MBA with specialization in supply chain management provides necessary skills and training, which can qualify students to be at the heart of those supply chains that can help the companies capitalize on the growth opportunities. It helps students understand the basic principles and concepts of supply chain management, identify key areas, players and activities of the supply chain, understand the current industry trends and equip them to deal with the question of international supply chain management.

The challenge of managing increased complexity and variability in their worldwide supply chains is leading many companies to turn to logistics services available through the cloud. According to an article in Knowledge@Wharton, “These services reduce supply-chain costs by making it faster and easier to share information about shipments with suppliers, transportation providers and end users, and then processing that information with the latest, most powerful software tools.” The article further states that in the opinion of the experts, with the ongoing boom in transportation and trade-related services — spearheaded by such independent vendors as GT Nexus, Descartes Systems Group and Management Dynamics — the companies gain access to a logistics platform they could never afford to build or maintain by themselves.

By using the cloud, the experts say, companies also acquire a strategic advantage over those old-fashioned competitors who still rely on inefficient tools like Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, e-mail and Electronic Data Interchange formats to manage their trade compliance, transportation and logistics processes. The article quotes Martin Christopher, emeritus professor of marketing and logistics at the Cranfield School of Management in England, who remarked, “Thanks to the cloud, even companies that operate on a modest technology budget can collaborate with their suppliers to make more accurate delivery forecasts, minimize excess inventory build-ups and avoid nasty last-minute surprises for their end users.”

The use of cloud computing in supply chain is also advocated by Steve Dowse, CTO of International Asset Systems in his article. Steve notes that today’s cost- and resources-constrained business world requires executives and IT managers to constantly find new ways to innovate, and the potential that cloud services offer continues to be attractive. He points out that recent study from the research firm IDC predicts that of the projected $27 billion in net new IT revenue in 2013, 27% will come from IT cloud services. The supply chain industry, according to him, is prime for the cloud because of the sheer number of partners and suppliers that must collaborate to make products.

There are a few companies that serve as excellent examples of improved and effective supply chain management. The Gartner eighth annual Supply Chain Top 25 for 2012 identified Apple, Dell, P&G, Amazon and McDonald’s as the global supply chain leaders. Highlighting the best practices of these companies, the report revealed that among the key trends that emerged among the leaders was continued focus on supply chain resiliency, simplification and “multilocal” operations.

In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive global environment, companies need supply chains that are agile, savvy, and adaptive. This can best be accomplished if the companies hire a highly skilled and trained workforce to manage the supply chain. Using the cloud can also ensure that customers, suppliers and trading partners get information immediately and that the right products arrive at the right location at the right time.

This is a guest post from Valerie Harris, freelance writer from the Seattle/Tacoma area.

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