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A Successful Supply Chain Needs Collaboration & Co-Creation

The notion of supply chain collaboration, in its purest form, always held so much promise. When people spoke of it, I used to imagine this great coming together of brainpower, resources, and creative problem-solving insight. Collaboration — most believed, myself included — hinted at better supply and demand alignment and a less intense bullwhip effect.

Also, as Barbara Jorgensen has pointed out here, supply chain collaboration could help avert legal compliance and thorny social responsibility issues. (See Don’t Dictate – Collaborate.)

Undoubtedly, companies have had many collaborative successes, and I would be the first to applaud those efforts. Hyper-popular products, like {complink 379|Apple Inc.}’s iPhone, can only reach the mass consumer market as quickly as they do because of dynamic, well oiled supply chain practices and partnerships.

But, frankly, while I’ve held onto this rosy interpretation of what collaboration is supposed to mean for quite some time, I have to fess up. I don’t think collaboration goes far enough. Really, how effective is collaboration if the biggest supply chain partner in any given ecosystem dictates the rules of the game and requires suppliers to implement obligatory procurement and logistics management programs? There will be a natural breaking point to those kinds of relationships.

Let me whisper an idea into your ear: Co-Creative Relationships.

I’m willing to bet more such business-to-business interactions will show up in the near future. I say this because, just in the last few weeks in other parts of my life, I’ve had several high-level personal and professional conversations with people across various industries who want to breathe life into this concept. (Honestly, by the time something like this reaches a reporter’s ears, you know more people are already talking — or at least thinking — about it.) Besides, co-creativity is already happening in the retail world, so why not carry it over to the business side of the fence?

For the record, I’m still researching this idea and can’t yet quote the folks I spoke to about this. But here’s my take on what it means in a general way and how it can be used by the electronics supply chain. Co-creativity extends the opportunity for all partners, suppliers, customers, internal functional teams, and stakeholders to play a bigger game. It engages participants in constantly evolving idea-generation and idea-sharing practices that allow individuals or companies to capture innovative thoughts and effectively execute ideas.

It’s like an endless feedback loop that keeps fueling product refinement, enhancement, and growth. This involves creative next-generation supply chain thinking and execution strategies: Build on the pre-established collaborative base; continually assess on-the-ground problems, solutions, and risks; take advantage of new media tools; and extend as many existing practices as feasibly possible to some not-yet-defined limit. The potential results will surely light up a supply chain executive’s eyes: lower risk, reduced costs, greater productivity, improved supplier-customer trust, and even more creative solutions to common problems.

In the B2C world, social networking tools have been instrumental in the rapid-fire communication crossover between end customers and corporate marketing or product development teams. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging platforms have amped up the business-consumer connections and given end-users a more decisive voice in long-term product planning. Empowered consumers, now accustomed to spirited interactions and instantaneous results, aren’t shy about communicating their desires to companies. And, companies that truly want to develop products consumers will buy have found ways to use this kind of interaction to their advantage.

Co-creativity, therefore, links people and ideas together in a vibrant way, and tears down the walls that have traditionally separated the makers from the buyers.

Perhaps, co-creative practices will finally deliver what supply chain collaboration promised but hasn’t fully achieved. Let’s think it through some more.

This week’s challenge: What are you hearing about co-creativity? Could this feasibly be the next-generation of supply chain collaboration, and how do you envision it coming together? What are you doing to be a co-creative force to reckon with, and what’s at stake if you and your team can successfully pull it off?

5 comments on “A Successful Supply Chain Needs Collaboration & Co-Creation

  1. DataCrunch
    October 21, 2010

    Jennifer thanks for whispering this idea, as I feel it may remain a whisper for quite some time.  Unfortunately, true supply chain collaboration is still in its infancy, with so many disparate systems in place.  The best many organizations can hope for is a supply chain visibility layer to report metrics and performance indicators on top of these systems. Fortunately, this presents a lot of opportunities for existing solution providers and potential startups to fill in the gaps.  Like you, I have no doubt that a major aspect in the future for successful supply chains will include true integrated collaboration and “Co-Creation.”  At this point in time, the industry is still trying to wrap their hands around RFID and other wireless technologies, while many companies have yet to even implement barcoding and get off paper processing within their supply chains.  The future of supply chain is ripe with opportunities.

  2. Jennifer Baljko
    October 22, 2010

    Hi Dave,

    I agree to some extent, but I don't know if co-creation is so far down the road. The co-creative concept, in its purest form, is gaining momentum in various business and personal development areas. I think as it becomes more mainstream, forward-thinking executives will seek out cross-industry insight, experiment with it to leapfrog existing hurdles, and identify best practices around it. That how’s collaboration became embedded into supply chain vernacular and real-word practice, and it didn’t take much time for the idea take hold and for resources to be allocated to such projects. Once a few bold companies tried it out, the rest of the industry followed to some degree or another.

    In the near-term, I imagine co-creation and collaboration will likely exist in parallel because they serve different needs and functions. I first heard about visibility, RFID, barcoding, and performance measurement back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was working on EBN's print version; I'm sure they been discussion topics for years before that. As you point out, all these years later, the industry still has a long way to go to effectively address them. Collaboration and bridging disparate systems were – and still are – widely talked about as critical solutions for these issues, but they have only gotten the industry so far, and I would add, not far enough. There are several missing links, and maybe co-creation fills some of those gaps.

    Even so, the fact remains that the inherent problem is not that people don’t want to work together or that the tools don’t adequately work. The problem is that companies don’t really want to be transparent. It’s not in their competitive interest to put their inner workings on semi-public display. Until that perspective shifts, the supply chain will remain in its infancy on many fronts.

  3. bolaji ojo
    October 23, 2010

    Jenn, In some ways I feel that co-creation as far as the supply chain is concerned will remain a myth. It's tough enough getting supply chain managers and executives to talk about their competitive efforts and strategies, try getting them to dive even deeper into how they plan jointly with suppliers and contractors. In the meantime, such information come to light within the group only when a company acquires a competitor and finds out one of them had been in an unfair pricing situation, for instance. Should businesses pursue co-creativity? Certainly. Will they do it? Possibly, but very hesitantly.

  4. Ariella
    October 23, 2010

    I like the way you put it, Jenn, “Co-creativity, therefore, links people and ideas together in a vibrant way, and tears down the walls that have traditionally separated the makers from the buyers.” Sometimes I see companies refer to this idea by saying something like, “You talked; we listened.”  I, certainly, do see customers trying to communicate with companies through social media platforms, whether they are the companies own site with comments and reviews or their Facebook pages.  And some of the companies then respond to complaints in the same public forum to at least show that they are paying attention and may modify what customers are unhappy about in future.

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 25, 2010

    I've seen the idea of co-collaboration work within a company's four walls, where feedback is measured, suggestions weighed and then implemented if they are beneficial. As far as the supply chain as a whole, though, I think the feedback “loop” only goes one way: from the end-customer back through the supply chain.

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