The Customer-Centric Supply Chain

The days when supply chain design and strategy were mainly focused on achieving the lowest possible cost of products and the most efficient distribution to stores is long gone. The new model emerging is not entirely driven by enterprise technology or supply chain innovations, but by the supply chains' customers. Becoming more agile, resilient, and customer-centric has become a critical strategy.

Today's supply chain is sailing toward a digitally driven future. Sellers need to make their supply chains more agile, resilient, and customer-centric, according to a Retail Systems Research whitepaper published by InformationWeek, a sister site (registration required).

Building customer-centric supply chains
The concept-to customer approach to supply chain management can broaden the view of companies' supply chains for improved business performance, according to an Infor whitepaper published by Supply Times (registration required).Infor defines that approach as “taking the broadest possible view of the variables impacting business.”

In other words, it's thinking of today's supply chain as multifaceted and multidimensional — something that could be summarized as the three-dimensional supply chain . That supply chain includes:

  • Internal dimensions : This is the supply chain you control. It includes manufacturing, distribution, retail capacity, and the time and costs devoted to sourcing, producing, and distributing products. Most SCM initiatives focus on improving the performance in those particular areas.
  • External dimensions : This is the supply chain you don't control — government regulations, trading partner mandates, environmental requirements, etc. Macroeconomic factors such as fuel price spikes, worker strikes, and shipping delays due to customs noncompliance, port congestion, or natural disasters can add stress on manufacturers' supply chains, logistics providers, and retailers. Delays that can occur on your suppliers' side or in your customers' supply chains definitely add some pressure, as well. Here is where supply chain visibility and responding to changes in real-time come into play.
  • Customer dimension : This is where you have influence, but you can't have total control. Here, the concept-to-customer approach help in making decisions based on a customer-centric view of the supply chain. “For a manufacturer, the customer dimension incorporates what the ultimate consumer needs, not just what the next company downstream in the supply chain needs,” Infor said in its paper. “For the retailer, it means looking upstream in the supply chain to influence the actions of manufacturers and logistics companies so consumer expectation for more availability, more choice, and faster response can be met.”

The importance of leveraging concept-to-customer supply chain management
Infor has identified eight supply chain strategies to help organizations build anticipation and resilience into their supply chains to implement the concept-to-consumer approach successfully.

  1. Dynamically adjust the network : Assess your supply chain network multiple times a year.
  2. Take a global view of demand : Evaluate customer demand on a global (or, at least, regional) level.
  3. Work the supply network : Dynamically make decisions about all the factors needed to deliver products to your customers.
  4. Boost asset productivity : Adopt an advanced planning solution designed to help manufacturers, logistics providers, and retailers beyond the limits of traditional planning.
  5. Expand your visibility : Extending your visibility up and down the supply chain will create resiliency that will help your organization adapt quickly to the forces of the external and customer dimensions. Adopt supply chain visibility solutions and technologies such as RFID to facilitate real-time visibility of inventory.
  6. Know what happens, when it happens : The sooner you know when and where there has been a catastrophic breakdown in manufacturing, the faster you can reroute products through the supply chain. Event management technologies speed up problem detection and help the organization take fast corrective action.
  7. Design to deliver : Frequently, product lifecycle management is used to get product designs right from the beginning in an attempt to reduce the incidence of failure and time to market. Introducing a third-party logistics provider into the supply chain process benefits both manufacturers and customers.
  8. Track performance for continuous improvement : Tracking how well — or not — challenges from the three dimensions across your organization are being addressed helps sustain the concept-to-customer supply chain approach.

Understanding concept-to-customer benefits
Implementing some or all of these strategies offers a variety of business benefits, from reducing operational efficiencies to allowing organizations to improve profitability, customer service, competitive stance, and organizational growth.

9 comments on “The Customer-Centric Supply Chain

  1. sureshkrishnan
    April 30, 2014

    Interesting article. Focusing supply chain strategies on customer satisfaction is good and Leveraging technology will only help businesses better their quality of service and improve efficiency. I work for McGladrey and there's a whitepaper on our website that offers good information on the above topic readers will find it helpful  @   

  2. Susan Fourtané
    May 1, 2014

    Thanks, sureshkrishnan. I checked the whitepaper, but it focuses on fashion and home furnishings companies, which we don't cover here. I am glad you liked the article. 🙂 


  3. Susan Fourtané
    May 1, 2014


    The whitepaper is legit. Are you looking for sponsors? 😀


  4. Susan Fourtané
    May 1, 2014


    “Things should be different now that we all know about being agile and resilient, and what you said.”

    You would be surprised of how many things people don't know that they should know.

    Not all sellers are experienced ones. There are some who are just starting up the business. 

    I am glad you liked the prize-winning whitepaper. 🙂 


  5. Ariella
    May 1, 2014

    @Rich Speaking of whitepapers and coloring books, I like the ones designed to wow students in science class. After you do the trick of instant color that instantly vanishes, you explain the secret of acids and bases. 

  6. Susan Fourtané
    May 4, 2014


    That's a fun way of teaching chemistry. How nice. 


  7. Ariella
    May 4, 2014

    @Susan it's an effective attention-grabber. I've seen a teacher use it at an open-house for a high school. It was just a tad misleading, though, because she was not the regular science teacher. She only works at the school part-time to prep the kids competing for science prizes. 

  8. ITempire
    May 5, 2014

    Yes, there are multiple tasks for Supply Chain to simultaneously perform rather than just sticking to manufacturing, warehousing and distributing their product. They also have the responsibility to maintain and manage the quality and quantity of products, freight charges, custom duties, inventory management, estimating supply and demand and customer satisfaction. And all this can only happen if organizations will utilize their talent and resources according to the potential offered by modern technology which in turn increases the revenue and will help grow their business further.

  9. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 5, 2014

    You could argue that customers should naturally be at the heart of the supply chain. They choose the product, they know when they want it, their buying decisions make or break OEMs. Starting by thinking about the customers seems quite natural.

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