Updated February 28 at 8:42pm

Supply chain management key to R.I. success

Guest Column:
Teresa McCarthy, Cheryl W. Snead
In a recent Providence Business News Op-Ed (“Making manufacturing a priority will yield great rewards,” July 22), manufacturing in Rhode Island was lauded as one of our state’s economic-development strengths. Absolutely – manufacturing is our past, our present and our future. More

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OP-ED / LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Supply chain management key to R.I. success

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In a recent Providence Business News Op-Ed (“Making manufacturing a priority will yield great rewards,” July 22), manufacturing in Rhode Island was lauded as one of our state’s economic-development strengths. Absolutely – manufacturing is our past, our present and our future.

But our growth through the years in the service industries, particularly supporting manufacturing, leads us to another growing competitive advantage known as supply chain management.

Over the last decade, supply chain management has become a commonly accepted source of competitive advantage. Besides manufacturing, every industry (health care, financial, technology, biotech, etc.) has a supply chain.

But in a business environment characterized as uncertain, volatile and constantly evolving, supply chain strategies adopted by managers today won’t provide competitive advantage tomorrow. What are the critical issues that will impact the supply chain of the future? How do managers prioritize which factors to tackle? These are some of the most important issues managers need to consider in their own supply chain to remain competitive.

Expanding global networks

In the never-ending race for the least expensive source of manufacturing, China will be passed over for the lower-cost labor in places such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and Africa. But the challenges of doing business in nonindustrialized nations are daunting.

Headlines of collapsed factories in Bangladesh killing more than 1,000 seamstresses highlight the infrastructure and human rights challenges. U2 lead singer Bono’s lofty attempt to boost apparel manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa with his designer clothing line resulted in major quality and delivery problems, revealing the challenges of training an unskilled labor force.

Big data and technology

Big data is the term used to describe the large, complex sets of data available to companies from their customers’ customers, their suppliers’ suppliers, social media and numerous other Web sources. The data is cumbersome, unstructured and difficult to manage.

The mammoth amount of data offer great promise to improve supply chain speed and responsiveness, but traditional supply chain technology is ill-equipped to handle the volume. Most executives recognize the potential of big data, but struggle with the decision of which data to use, what technology to adopt, and how much to invest.

Leveraging big data – and understanding the technology that powers it – is fast becoming necessary to maintain a competitive supply chain.

Sustainability

A genuine commitment to sustainable business practices used to be considered an option. Going green was the purview of tree-huggers. But social responsibility has become a requirement to doing business as companies recognize that sustainability initiatives also make good business sense. Companies are experimenting with a variety of solutions to reduce their carbon footprint, utilize renewable resources, manage consumption with recycling and ensure safe working conditions. As seen on many company websites, sustainability efforts are well underway within their own operation. But one of the biggest challenges is managing the social and environmental issues inherent in the end-to-end global supply chain.

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