Lean: It’s Not About Pens and Pencils Anymore
Traditionally, Lean has been considered a "pen and pencil" technique. But today it is a key enabler of an efficient supply chain that links lean thinking with available and affordable systems and technologies to get the most out of improved processes.
This "traditional" view is understandable. In the past, Lean was more often than not applied within a single company's manufacturing processes, often the shop floor. This is definitely not the case anymore as a result of today's extended, complex, and often volatile global supply chain.
We live in exciting times with many activities and advances converging: a global marketplace and supply chain; the growth of the internet and e-commerce; omni-channel marketing and distribution; enterprise and point software solutions in a variety of shapes and sizes; and new hardware technologies to gather, analyze, and disseminate information.
This new world brings with it many risks and challenges—globalization's increased complexity, higher transportation costs, deteriorating or insufficient infrastructure, weather disasters, and terrorist threats. Organizations that can navigate this new world successfully gain a distinct competitive advantage, while those that don't manage well face potential failure.
Like many aspects of Lean thinking in the supply chain, technology can enable improved processes and help to retain and acquire new customers. It's no surprise, then, that when used to collaborate with supply chain partners, technology can significantly reduce risk.
As the number of partners and length of shipments increase, so does the degree of complex, multi-enterprise interactions and the need for seamless integrated visibility and responsiveness across multiple enterprises. A lack of automation and visibility handcuffs companies with longer lead times, bigger inventory buffers, budget overruns, and continued demand-supply imbalances.
This supply chain evolution has resulted in both increasing value-added services and cost reductions enabled by integration and collaboration with a wide range of technologies. Innovative organizations are embracing new collaboration and automation technologies to help overcome inefficient and error-prone manual processes.
Specifically, the benefits companies can derive from supply chain technology can include:
- Added competitive advantage
- Increased visibility
- Increased efficiency
- Better customer relationships
- Improved responsiveness
- Better decision making
- Optimization of supply chain operations
In my new book due out this winter, I discuss how the SCOR model of Plan, Source, Make, Deliver, Return, and Enable can be used as a framework to identify current and future opportunities and provide examples of how technology helps to make global supply chain processes more flexible and efficient.