B2B integration: Addressing the human side of supply chain management


Even as machines take on a more prominent role in the labors of the supply chain, it is important not to downplay the importance of the people involved. While smart technologies and embedded, data-capturing tools increase equipment's capacity to perform activities and automate time-consuming, resource-intensive operations, machines do and will always present limitations. Concentrating resources on building up the human side of supply chain management is just as consequential. It can also be just as beneficial. 

describe the imageOrganizations can do this by applying human resources development strategies in the context of the technological tools now available. B2B integration provides the opportunity to address personnel and asset management in one fell swoop, harnessing a mutually beneficial relationship that ultimately drives efficiency and oversight. At a time when workers in many industries deal with the very real anxiety that they will be increasingly supplanted by machines and technologies, it's important to use tools that both renew the relationship between personnel and the supply chain and forge a more effective overall system.

Supply chain management: 'It's life'
Rapid, cost-effective production and transportation are top priorities for every member of the supply chain. However, the meaningful objectives of supply chain management go deeper than that, Yossi Sheffi, professor of engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told MIT News.

"[Supply chain management] is life," he said. "Everything you buy depends upon it."

Sheffi's observation is no mere rhetorical flourish. It gets to the heart of what the supply chain really does, and how much people and organizations rely on numerous supply chains for their livelihood. Supply chains exist in their current form due to decisions made and carried out by various agents, and all transformations have to be engineered by these contributors.

Disruptions and problems are also caused by the realities of human logistics, and must be taken into account, especially as supply chains become more globalized. These problems can be best addressed and solved by centralized management with a human context.

As an example of a supply chain intersecting with - and restricted by - human logistics, Sheffi pointed to relief efforts for Haiti in the aftermath of the disastrous 2010 earthquake. Aid poured in from around the world, but the small airport planes had to use could only handle one aircraft at a time. A ineffective but unavoidable component on the supply chain slowed relief efforts and complicated decision-making.

"How do you prepare a continuously changing, worldwide system to be continuously robust in the face of change?" Sheffi asked. "Supply chains are impacted all the time and the challenges are new all the time."

Coordinating human logistics through B2B integration
The aim of B2B integration software is to improve supply chain management functionality by standardizing communication and providing more visibility into overall performance. For an optimal effort, all supply chain actors need to be on board. Building up support for B2B integration and enabling it to maximize its potential involves implementing it in ways that reflect the way the organization already operates. There's no silver bullet without context. 

Would Haiti relief efforts have dwindled if news reports focused on the insufficient airport infrastructure? Probably not, but it could have driven supply chain contributors to adjust their strategies and look for other methods rather than shipping large quantities of goods that relief workers on the ground were not prepared to handle. Products cannot help people if they do not reach them. Implementing B2B integration software is one way to lift the burden of an inefficient supply chain stakeholder through increased transparency and centralization. Treating B2B relationships as part of a larger unified network rather than as a series of isolated connections enables all concerned parties to focus on the issue and strategize a solution.

Optimization through engagement
Instead of an implementation process that positions B2B integration software as yet another digital tool that will remove worker responsibilities and increase their need to engage with machines, it can be more usefully regarded as an appeal to the personal side of human logistics. By providing a centralized community of business partners, all members of the supply chain can communicate using a shared language. This language can rely on data as a source of conversation starting and problem identification rather than as an empty tool for rigid, hierarchical control.

The human element is vital to a sustainable supply chain, management expert Emily Pearce told Supply Management. It can be as simple as meeting the stakeholders involved. Attaching faces to names takes them off a spreadsheet and makes organizations feel more connected to overall supply chain performance. This makes it easier to bring up problems, conduct meaningful discussion and improve communication potential. Developing this visibility will help B2B integration stick.

"It's important to recognize that your supply chain is made of people who want to have successful businesses," Pearce said. "It's important you treat businesses as equals to gain that transparency and trust."

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