Alleviating supply chain costs with managed services


lightwellb2bgearsfromgroundup-1Supply chains are costly to operate - there's no way around that. The sheer number of stakeholders, connections, processes and objectives necessitates a resource-intensive enterprise. The difference, of course, is how effective businesses are at directing their resources, personnel and time at their supply chain efforts, and whether they're bottom line can be kept stable, and even growing, in the face of evolving challenges. It's a constant balancing act, and many enterprises live in something like perpetual anxiety, with the knowledge that an unplanned data leak, security compromise, objective failure or external force - like the weather - could derail their best-laid plans and batter the bottom line.

Managed services give companies more than just insurance against potentially costly unforeseen events. They also provide a wide spectrum of solutions that empower organizations to build better architectures, develop smarter supply chain strategies, make order management efforts more effective and do better business dealings with current and future partners. Between outsourcing key back-end infrastructure management to developing sustainable tactics for dealing with shifts in market forces, a managed services provider can offer the far-reaching, long-range support that supply chain stakeholders can thrive on.

Case in point: Building sustainability during uncertain times
One major phenomenon supply chain operatives have dealt with over the last few years is sustainability as a business practice. Between regulatory pressures, "going green" initiatives and the real effects of weather on transportation and customer fulfillment efforts, keeping environmental issues from negatively impacting the bottom line has proven a challenge for many enterprises. While it's just one issue, it's an instructive one for companies that want to see how a managed services provider can offer key support. 

The Guardian contributors Cory Searcy and Payman Ahi recently wrote about the proliferation of sustainability metrics in the supply chain sector. There are more than 2,500 such metrics that companies use to report on their own development, including energy use, air emissions and greenhouse gas emissions. One of the major issues in developing any sort of overarching conclusions, or even evaluation, is that there are so many different measurements for similar things, and many companies have systems of reporting that make it hard to compare reported results side by side in a truly meaningful way. The profusion of data is great, but it can be hard for companies to determine what information means, or how to use it to make changes in their own organizations. Such uncertainty can mean that a lot of work, money and resources are going into gathering information and assessing performance, but with little actionable effect. 

"Identifying priorities and tracing impacts in chains that can encompass potentially thousands of players can be extremely difficult," Searcy and Ahi wrote. "Alongside this, collecting data in a complex supply chain is difficult, particularly aligning data collection and reporting systems. There may also be little existing capacity to collect such information at various points in the chain. There also must be some level of comparability in reporting and data collection boundaries need to be transparently communicated."

However, the fact that the information is there in the first place can set up enterprises to benefit, if they know how to use it. Managed services can help organizations wield their data more effectively.

Building a supportive architecture, one data byte at a time
One of the benefits of a leveraging a trusted managed services provider is that it is skilled in the art of data, and knowing how certain information can ultimately be reinserted into company operating protocols for the biggest advantage. Supply chain operators, as CFO Magazine contributor J. Michael Kilgore pointed out, constantly deal with the flux between managing inventory and transportation costs. As anyone tasked with order management strategy in his or her organization can attest, it is a constant effort to ensure that the many facets that go into order management are tweaked and reoriented, in as close to real time as possible, to maintain stability and growth. The addition of sustainability metrics into the equation, to cite the above example, creates more potential issues for things like production, transportation and facilities, all of which impact order management. But enterprises can use them to their advantage.

A managed services provider can serve as a partner during the process of developing more cost-efficient order management strategies. It can take stock of the organization's current environment, then help implement a customized solution, train users and develop metrics to ensure that the new architecture is operating effectively. With a supply chain/order management solution in the IBM Sterling family, a business can gain access to state-of-the-art tools that will help make their supply chain data more actionable.  A managed services provider can also deliver end-to-end benefits with back-end infrastructure oversight, proactive security tools and constant support for turning data into decisions.

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