Closing the Loop: Tapping Internal Resources for Better Products

Many manufacturers of multiple products don't take full advantage of all the capabilities within their internal systems, including the design and supply chains units, to anticipate and fulfill customer needs.

Yet, the tools of co-creation have been around for some time and can empower companies in the pursuit of the goals of collaborative design, innovation, and manufacturing efficiences. Co-creation, by design, allows business units to leverage and benefit from the manufacturing expertise, intelligence, and resources of other divisions within the enterprise.

It also allows companies to eliminate or avoid duplicating certain steps within the process, increasing efficiencies and helping them gain some advantages against the competition. But co-creation requires trust within the company that often rarely exists. Companies already share ideas on corporate Websites and social networks like {complink 11949|Twitter Inc.} and {complink 10867|Facebook}, but they may not effectively share ideas to collaborate in creating optimal design and supply chain systems.

I recently had a relevant personal experience with an electronic product. During the weekend my 15-year old 50-inch monster box TV — built by {complink 5114|Sony Corp.} — bit the dust. So I plunked down some hard-earned cash for a 46-inch Sony flat-screen panel equipped with {complink 2294|Google} TV. I had been eyeing it for months since Google unveiled the technology and Sony, {complink 2657|Intel Corp.}, and {complink 3165|Logitech Ltd.} agreed to design the televisions, integrate the chips, and build the peripherals, respectively.

I love the ability to sign on to the Internet and surf the Web, but really, Sony you left an opening: The TV was missing a hard drive — and some other companies will pounce with the innovation to take it one step further. I couldn't but wonder who the dummy was that left out the 250-gigabyte solid state hard drive that would have let consumers download and store movies or access Google docs, write articles (in my case), and save them for review later.

Classic collaboration and a little forethought would have addressed that problem. The designers only needed to ask what other business divisions could contribute to this overall product, especially now that technologies continue to merge. Take the same approach with the supply chain by asking how the divisions can become more efficient and streamline processes to become more competitive and cut costs.

How many supply chain professionals out there take advantage of the various business units and processes within their companies? High-tech manufacturers spend a lot of time and resources developing trusting relationships with suppliers, but should they neglect doing the same inside their own four walls?

15 comments on “Closing the Loop: Tapping Internal Resources for Better Products

  1. tioluwa
    November 17, 2010

    I wonder why an organisation wouldn't want to look inside itself to maximuse every single ounce of human resource it has.

    Then again i'm thinking, the engineers, designers, logistics experts may tend to undermine the quality of ideas and suggestions that may come from other departments that are not trained to do what they do.

    But i see it as getting a first had internal customer opinion on your product.

    If sony had designed the TV and asked the opinion of their customer care unit members for example, they would get the feed back of an end user, not a SONY staff and that is indispensable.

    I have found the pure, open and objective criticism and suggestions of non-technical persons to be very helpful because they fit the profile of the end user.


  2. Laurie Sullivan
    November 17, 2010

    Tioluwa, I couldn't agree with you more. I looked at it from a consumer perspective because I made the purchase. And, then I looked at the TV from a technical point of view because I write about technology. I will be shocked if the next version comes without a hard drive built in. On Friday when it's delivered, I'll let you know if I can hook up a hard drive as an external unit.  The next best thing. Anyone know, so I'm not surprise how I might do that?


  3. SP
    November 17, 2010

    I would say as the organizations grow and grows that huge that its difficult to identify people working in different divisions by face, each division start working as separate business units. They have fixed targets to chase and in the process they neither have time and resource to take benefits from internal processes. Many companies do share best practices but its more to please senior management and showing the part of the process.

  4. Parser
    November 17, 2010

    Laurie, just look at first iPhone; it was very poor. The only thing it had was nice user interface with scrolling and bouncing menus and only one rotating browser screen. Copy and paste came much later so did user apps.

    A copy and paste seems to be equivalent to a hard drive by Sony, an obvious thing but missing. It is a balance between how soon they can be on the market and the product features. Complex product features' amount to long development time so they had to put resources into designing a chip, which would communicate to Google. Subsequent models, if market would buy into it, would have more features. Also Google’s idea may change as they see a developing market versus competition by Apple, Netflix, Amazon and others. Each company deals with local resources differently and it is the management which decides, which changes to a product are quickest and cheapest to be on the market and incite buyers. 


  5. Hardcore
    November 17, 2010

    It is always the same with consumer electronics, there comes a point where  the market needs to be targeted at a fixed point and price break.

    Chances are, that inside the set, there are facilities for all sorts of things, that just were not possible at the cost.

    It is in this area that the open source communities and hardware hackers are in their element, if the Sony product becomes popular , i would guess that you will soon see , alternative options/software and accessories that have been hacked round the sony kit.

    One thing is for sure, that putting engineers and sales people in the same room vary rarely produces good results. This is possibly why  Steve Jobs is so successful, he dictates what he wants and how it will be, then the sales people sell what is produced by the engineers, and it is all done under a massive cloud of hype,  but he does get results even if the market has been there before and product areas have been declared non profitable (pad computers).

    People may not like S Jobs or his products, but no one can deny that he drives the market and in many cases actually defines the market (ITunes)

  6. itguyphil
    November 17, 2010

    I completely agree with you on the sales + engineers mix. It almost never works out well. One is about results, the other is about solutions.

    But the Apple model is amazing. I only wish Big Steve would reveal how his marketing folks go about building all the hype and ra-ra about their products. Then once the crowd is on the bandwagon, they refuse to jump off.

  7. Laurie Sullivan
    November 17, 2010

    Parser, thanks for reminding me the design cycle is much longer for hardware compared with software and Web services. Google and other companies focused on building advertising platforms on the Web turn products around in months. The products are not less complicated to design. They just don't require the raw materials and all the extra shipping and supply chain management.  Though those that support online advertising have begun to look at supply chain best practices to manage the flow of ad inventory.

  8. Laurie Sullivan
    November 17, 2010

    Hardcore, thanks for your thoughts. Are you in sales, engineering, or perhaps another type of business unit?

  9. Laurie Sullivan
    November 17, 2010

    Pocharle, there's a veil of secrecy in everything Apple does. The PR folks rarely talk with the press, yet they seed the news, produce great promotional content, and offer great customer services, which keeps people talking in a positive buzz. 

  10. itguyphil
    November 18, 2010


    I think that's all part of the mystique of their product lines. I'd just like to have a little of the savvy-ness that they mustered up in the beginning of the wave (say the iPod). Before the campaigns started and the $$ came flooding in, what were those product management meetings like? What did they brainstorm & discuss?

  11. Anna Young
    November 18, 2010

    Pocharle, If you had that type of information on Apple you could write a best seller of amazing proportion. Business schools are dying to teach a wide range of subjects on Apple's management and marketing strategies; engineering schools would love to find out how they merge technical design with product aesthetics; branding specialists will fill the room if an Apple executive agreed to host a panel on product packaging; supply chain and procurement managers at even rival OEMs will gladly spend a year on sabbatical at Apple learning about the company's supplier and contractor management policy; and I bet a Steve Jobs speaking engagement will sell out even at $50k a pop were the Apple CEO to offer it as a fundraiser during which he would talk about his 10-year vision for Apple.

    Should I go on? Apple is a mystery, no doubt. We would all like to unwrap it but then the mystic will end, wouldn't it? Let Apple be Apple, at least for now. It's aura will eventually fade and then the industry will get its chance to unmask what I suspect is a complex but not-so magical organization led only by just another talented but also flawed individual.

  12. Hardcore
    November 19, 2010

    Hi Laurie,

    Lets just say: so far I have had an interesting life…… usually I get to define my own role , as a result my resume does not fit clearly within a normal management/ company hierarchy, employment is by word of mouth/ head hunter.


    We can say with 100% certainty that:

    1. i am not and never can be a sales person.

    2. There are never enough hours in a day to learn something new.

  13. saranyatil
    November 21, 2010

    I completely agree with you Apple always maintains high level secrecy their PR's are so strong companies should not state if they have developed any components and also the technology should not be leaked for a minimum period of 3 yrs. next everythin depends on strategy especially steve jobs has been created a wonderful strategies for all his products. A combination of engineering and sales is the best combination in order to bring a great revolution in the company hence its must to utilise the resources in the right way to come out with unique ideas. 

  14. Laurie Sullivan
    November 22, 2010

    Saranyatil, thanks for your comments and insights. 

  15. Ms. Daisy
    November 29, 2010

    Talk of good marketing strategies! The PR propaganda has been the fuel for the proverbial Apple product 'fire”, but it is the lack of news worthy topics for the press that has helped in spreading the news of Apple's products and maintained the hype. I give Apple credit for the promotional content of their advitisement which continues to keep the consumers in line for Apple products as well as their great customer services  that mantains the hype and keeps people talking in positive terms.

    That is what good marketing is about regradless of the quality of the products! 

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