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Is the linear concept of global supply chains still relevant?

Posted on 22nd July 2015 by YmeriHart

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What do most people visualise when they hear the words ‘global supply chain’? Probably a straight line starting at the supplier of raw materials and finishing at the end consumer, with a variety of manufacturing, marketing, IT and transport processes along the way.

Mark Millar, a well known industry expert based in Hong Kong, looks at it in a different light as evidenced by the title of his new book Global Supply Chain Ecosystems – strategies for competitive advantage in a complex, connected world”.

He argues the linear concept of a chain is no longer adequate to describe the complex, connected international networks of suppliers, stakeholders, partners, regulators and customers that are involved in ensuring the efficient and effective movement of products, services, information and funds around the world.

The best way to grasp the complexities, he says, is by thinking of it as an ‘ecosystem’.

He explains: “The ecosystem concept embraces each of the participants, the different ways they interconnect and the enormous amount of change that continues to take place. It recognises the supply chain as a highly complex and constantly evolving system.”

Of course, each product has its own unique ecosystem and individual participants may take on different roles within that system – or certainly in relation to the company producing the product.

“A business might be my supplier in some circumstances, my customer in others and even my competitor at some time or in relation to some products/services,” says Mark Millar. “There are profound interdependencies that need to be recognised.”

Of course, all of this needs to be managed through the flow of information. And it needs to be the right information, in the right format, at the right time. Some people would even argue that the movement of supply chain data is just as important as the movement of the products.

Mark Millar highlights its importance: “Visibility empowers business agility – enabling companies to build and manage more cost effective, customer focused and environmentally responsible supply chains.”

So the topic of visibility is tackled in some detail in Global Supply Chain Ecosystems, with the author explaining various ways in which companies can identify, develop and implement the most effective supply chain management system for their business.

He looks at taking advantage of the latest IT systems, equipment and technologies, and also deliberates on the hugely important question of managing the results of that visibility. Or, as he so eloquently puts it, “how to avoid being swamped by data whilst starving for information”.

The book, published by Kogan Page and launched in June at the IFWLA (International Federation of Warehousing Logistics Associations) annual conference in Liverpool, is designed to help readers understand the challenges of international trade and logistics.

It’s worth checking out – and it is definitely worth thinking about the concept of ‘ecosystems’ in relation to the international movement of goods and data. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll all be talking about ‘global supply ecosystems’ and the concept of ‘supply chains’ will fade out of existence.

Learn more about Mark HERE

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