New perspectives on supply chain management

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Sometimes all it takes is getting out of your seat to start seeing things differently.

In the film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays an English teacher, John Keating. Early in the film he asks his class to stand on their desks. It will enable them to see things differently, he says.

Recently I’ve had much the same experience. I’ve been in business process outsourcing (BPO) for many years. It’s familiar territory for me. But a few months ago I joined the team here at Capgemini, and the move has enabled me to see this known landscape from a new perspective—and in particular to re-assess its application to the supply chain and procurement environments on which I focus.


Let’s start with the things that don’t change. Multi-national client organizations may have different cultures and operate in different markets, but they all have customers to serve and stakeholders to satisfy, and they all strive to meet these expectations as satisfactorily and cost-effectively as possible.

Their supply chain operations play a substantial part in this, and as a result BPO service providers all aim to assist in the delivery of customer-driven value networks, and they work closely with their clients to make them happen.


I’ve seen a number of such service providers in action (not just those in the various places I’ve worked) and I’ve also heard first-hand from global businesses who have experience of other such providers, so I’ve been able to pool this knowledge and gain a pretty good sense of where differences can lie.

Here’s the first. Have you heard that line: “to a person who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?” Well, some service providers seem to me to be rather like this. The methodology they bring to supply chain platforms can be pretty generic: it’s not necessarily tailored to the supply chain function or seen as distinct from procurement, which has its own demands. Nor is their offer tailored to the circumstances of their individual clients, let alone to providing a point of view on how BPO supply chain can assist with the shift to Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, smart maintenance and Intelligent Automation.

Others, by contrast, take time to understand this industry shift and the character of the organization for which they’re working. They’re also well versed in this area of global business: they’ve recognized the supply chain’s shift to BPO at an early stage, they’ve invested in it, and they’ve worked with major clients to develop an offer that meets its specific requirements. Most importantly they are delivering tangible outcomes that not only make a difference to the bottom line but also to the top line.

Here’s another difference. If the first can be summarized as “one-type-or-nothing,” this one is “one-size-or-nothing.” Some service providers are uncomfortable offering anything other than a full-scale, enterprise-wide implementation.

In one way I can understand this. Supply chain BPO is an area in which the benefits of implementation at scale significantly exceed the sum of separate executions at a lower level. Here at Capgemini we see clients achieve not only substantial enhancements to customer service delivery, but sizeable and measurable improvements in efficiency and profitability. These positive changes aren’t always immediate but they are dependable in scope and sustainable over the long term. They are the result of what at Capgemini we call digital supply chain transformation, built on the four key pillars of the connected ecosystem, intelligent processes, cognitive analytics and autonomous fulfillment. (Raman Katyal, our head of supply chain, has written a paper about this, which you can read here.)

But although I understand the sentiment behind the “one-size-or-nothing” approach I don’t entirely subscribe to it. I’m a believer in the proof-of-concept (POC) approach where the service provider works hard with organizations to identify an area of the business that can act as a microcosm for the model as a whole, so clients can see it in action and gain confidence in its usefulness and wider applicability.


The fresh perspective my fairly recent move has given me has brought new focus to the differences I’ve noted here. I’ve also seen the result of these differences. Major organizations are astute: they can see when, as I’ve described, a provider understands the specifics of the supply chain discipline. They can see, too, when a provider is prepared to take time to tailor its offer to circumstances and perhaps also to start small.

When organizations see these things, they grow to trust in the provider’s ability to perform, to bring flexibility to the business and to deliver tangible, revenue-affecting results. They see that improvements in efficiency unlock cash that can be used to extend the model and create further improvements in customer service.

We’re in the midst of great change right now. The supply chain is evolving. We’re seeing it move to centre-stage in the organization—which is where, perhaps, it ought always to have been.

And from up here on my metaphorical desk, I can see it’s the more insightful, more experienced service providers that are helping to make it happen.

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