Rob Zomok | April 27, 2016

There is power in conversation. That power derives from the sharing of information, the possibilities in heeding it, and the portent of results to come from it. The future of supply chain excellence relies on such collaboration around shared information. I recently witnessed the power of conversation during a discussion session at the Inmar Analytics Forum in mid-April.

In this session at the Forum, supply chain professionals from CPG manufacturers and major retailers gathered to discuss reverse logistics challenges, share their perspectives and best practices, and ideate on approaches to some of the vexing issues they face.

One of the more valuable parts of the discussion was about the value of visibility. The manufacturers and retailers in the room agreed that while they do share information with their trading partners, too often the entire story isn't told.

For instance, while a particular product may have sold well, sales is only part of the story. All agreed that there's more to it than that: Sales may be good, but at what cost? There is data available to show a more complete picture that includes the hidden costs in the supply chain, as well as true business impact. There's information available in reverse logistics, important internally and externally, that too often doesn't get shared.

There's no benefit in the tendency to be myopic and only see each stage of the supply chain only for its own merits, without considering the broader scope of downstream impacts. This was well-summarized in these words: "Every silo looks good." All may be well at any one point in the continuum, but without full visibility you don't have the whole picture with all impacts and costs that comprise the true impact.

Some issues the group identified as potential for high-value benefit through more transparent, complete collaboration include:

  • Better definition of process and standards to better merge disparate policies
  • Alignment of policy/rate change timelines to better match trading partners' fiscal planning
  • Agreed-upon, common data points to better support decisions

Another major consensus point was the need for better internal collaboration — that reverse logistics should be made more broadly important within every company. Product returns are too-often marginalized as a cost of doing business or "a supply chain problem." To the contrary, returns data should be reviewed cross-functionally throughout the business as a need-to-know profitability factor with direct value as product performance insight.

A perfect example of this was shown in an earlier session at the Forum. A presenter from one major consumer products manufacturer shared how they established a cross-functional Unsaleables Advisory Board including members from Quality, PSO, R&D, Sales and Finance. The socialization of unsaleables data with other functions keeps top-of-mind the fact that decisions at any stage of the business have downstream implications for the company, retailers and consumers.

Maybe the best thing I heard in the session was "We should do this more." We will. Watch the newsletter to hear more about how Inmar will facilitate more sessions like this soon. There are more conversations, more collaboration to come.

Where do you need more collaboration in your supply chain? Tell me about it by commenting below or sending me an email.