There has been a lot written about using a platform approach to improving supply chain management. However, without a consistent definition of what a platform is—and what it is not—practitioners may struggle to select an approach or vendor for supply chain solutions that best meets their needs. Today I’m offering a framework that will allow you to objectively compare platform alternatives and decide whether a given approach does or does not constitute the right platform for you.
The five criteria I will discuss for platform comparisons are:
- Single-user interface
- Extended functionality
- Role and task-based workflows
- Embedded analytics
- Flexibility and scalability
How can you tell if a platform is really several applications stitched together? Take a look at the user interface (UI) for each function. Multiple UIs are harder and more confusing to work with, increase training time and can lead to processing errors. A platform with a single UI across key functions such as supply chain planning and optimization enables associates to complete their tasks intuitively with fewer errors and less training required.
Even platforms built with a single UI won’t do much good if the functionality provided doesn’t support your needs. That has always been the Achilles’ heel of ERP vendors when they venture beyond their core back-office competencies. The platform must have the breadth of functionality to support the interrelated disciplines of supply chain planning, optimization and analytics as a single process to support real-life workflows. The platform must also have the depth of functionality within each function to handle the complexities of your supply chain without custom code or manual workarounds, which take longer to implement, are less productive, and increase the total cost of ownership (TCO).
Role and Task-Based Workflows
Most software applications were developed to solve discrete problems. They grew up in the same types of silos that pervade most organizations. But that isn’t how work actually flows through companies. These silos of technology are why companies have struggled trying to automate end-to-end business processes.
One of the problems with silos of technology is that users must conform to how each application works rather than having the technology support the workflow requirements of each user. A supply chain platform should support task workflows based on each user’s role, enabling associates to perform all of the steps for a given business process regardless of the application boundaries that must be crossed. Role-based task workflows enable your associates to seamlessly, intuitively and efficiently support your business processes so they can be more productive, provide better service to your customers, and reduce the cost of doing business.
With the velocity of today’s markets and supply chains, you need to know about changes and disruptions right away. Traditional analytic systems, which analyze the data after the fact and store results in a separate database, don’t help you make corrections fast enough to recover before problems cause major damage.
Supply chain excellence is delivered through analytics embedded within the processing platform to immediately alert you to changes or disruptions. Embedded analytics continuously monitor supply chain operations and report critical information in real-time so you can see and react to changes. This allows you to quickly adjust your approach to avoid serious damage or lost revenue rather than using postmortem analysis to determine what and how things went wrong.
Scalability and Flexibility
Of course, embedded analytics won’t do much good if you can’t quickly react to what you learn. You need answers in minutes, not days or weeks. Older batch-based approaches or systems that run for hours can’t give you the immediate input you need to analyze problems or disruptions, do “what if” analysis and scenario planning on your options, and then provide the optimal response based on what is best for your business at that moment. This scalability and flexibility can have a profound impact on your ability to serve your customers better and faster than your competition, giving you a competitive advantage.
So there you have it – my top five criteria for evaluating whether a supply chain platform can deliver the business value you are seeking. While I don’t believe there is one right answer for everyone, if the systems you are considering don’t exhibit the five criteria I just outlined, you may want to widen your search before making your final decision.