Supply chain executives, even in senior and top management positions, often reminisce about the temper tantrums their boss would throw at them when they were budding supply chain professionals. For them, it was not merely bad communication, but a malefic attempt at nipping their creativity in the bud. Creative ideas have always been the basis of all innovation and the chain of those ideas put to productive use in business is what actually constitutes the system of supply chain. This cannot be more relevant than now, in this day and age of disruptions and innovations in the globally integrating supply chain.
A network of transportation, manufacturing and warehousing facilities functioning to procure materials in one form, transform them into the desired form and distribute them to desiring consumers that supply chain is, it involves rigorous interaction of multifarious functions mainly Sales, Marketing, Demand Planning, Sourcing, Transportation, Procurement, Inventory Control, Manufacturing, Warehousing and Finance, supported by Asset Management and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Optimizing performance of all these oft-conflicting inter-departmental functions and environmental variables requires resolving conflicts of objectives and bridging understanding gaps almost all the time. Communication is the only effective mechanism for achieving it.
In a simple situation as an example, only purposeful communication between a purchasing manager and a sales executive, can justify to the former the need for procuring a set of raw materials by an expensive express shipping service defying his Key Result Area (KRA) of saving costs, as it can justify to the latter the need for negotiating either a higher sales price or longer delivery lead time with the customer, threatening her Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of account growth. Aligning respective functional objectives with common organizational goal of customer delight needs a conscious attempt to bridge any likely gaps in understanding the supply chain transaction holistically. Communication helps bridge such gaps.
Effective supply chain operation significantly impacts both revenues and margins of any business. Effectiveness of supply chain is determined by the regularity and agility in the flow of both materials and information. The uninterrupted advancement of this flow rests almost entirely on communication.
All success criteria in business ultimately converge at customer delight, an experience which surprises the customer by exceeding his or her expectations. Since the emotional value of this positive experience exceeds any other type of value, machines or technology alone cannot produce it. Information systems, enterprise business applications and communication technology can only be tools to ensure continuous flow and timely availability of sourced and calculated information, at best. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Blockchain can further augment the operational efficiency and security of supply chain. Understanding how to use all that information and augmentation, however, to keep delighting the customer in a variety of changing and challenging situations can be achieved only through consistent interaction. That is the most vital aspect of business communication.
While notifications on status updates from software systems can only alert stakeholders, they may likely mean providing information at the expense of customer relationship. Executing on customized communication plans on delays in procurement, production, contracting, delivery or any such scenario that can destabilize the flow of activities in supply chain, adds an important emotional ingredient of responsibility, commitment and sense of service towards the customer.
Most organizations, large and small, rely on consulting advice of subject matter experts in their respective areas for strategic guidelines and control measures in supply chain management. Interpreting changes in compliance norms in a dynamic business and regulatory environment and articulating it for all stakeholders in the supply chain underscores the value of any such consultant. All knowledge, otherwise, merely reduces to idle information. Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Communication brings about this understanding.
Good communication builds reliability and reputation, positively influencing customer beliefs and behaviour. Surprising the customer by exceeding his or her expectations creates a positive emotion which triggers the word of mouth. And a brand gets created. Supply Chains live and thrive on brands. The popular belief, “If supply chain had an arch enemy it would be called ‘Bad Communication’” aptly explains it.