Supply chain networks and our ability to collaborate across them is becoming a critical core competency for successful supply chain operations. With more external parties and partners involved in helping us to deliver a positive customer experience through the supply chain, it’s critical that we evolve how we think about these parties, their impact on business success and how we consistently improve collaboration across them.
This post gives an overview of multi-enterprise business networks, how organizations are improving collaboration with their multiple partners and the technologies that are helping to facilitate improved collaboration and optimization across these networks.
What are Multi-Enterprise Business Networks?
Multi-enterprise business networks (also known as multi-enterprise operating networks) are B2B ecosystems that enable multiple and distinct parties to collaborate and optimize business processes in real-time across a shared data set.
Let’s unpack this definition. The key elements of multi-enterprise business networks are:
- B2B Processes: This is about facilitating better business processes through collaboration so while the end customer will benefit with a better customer experience, the network is focused on the ground level execution of this experience.
- Multi-Party Collaboration Across a Shared Data Set: A critical element of the network is ensuring that all parties can collaborate in the best way possible and that common language is data. Visibility and transparency with two-way data connectivity is needed for this type of collaboration.
- Optimization as the goal: Supply chain visibility is the first step but to truly improve and optimize your collaboration, you need to take action on this visibility quickly and intelligently. We’ll get into how technology enables this later.
This makes sense to most supply chain leaders as improved collaboration is always a critical goal when on-boarding suppliers and partners, however, as we see innovation in technology how we integrate and connect with these partners has changed dramatically.
What is the “Network of Networks”?
Another key term you may have heard in supply chain is the “Network of Networks”. This concept has grown considerably in the past few years with innovation in integration layers and technologies that operate across supply chain networks.
The concept is as follows. There are many technology companies that are building networks of partners across specific niches in the supply chain. This includes networks for transportation partners, air and ocean, customs brokers, manufacturers, distribution, freight forwarding, global trade, retailers and repair depots. In each case, these companies specialize in and continue to build out networks for their specific niche with data and collaboration connectivity across the network. As a customer of these companies, you would get easy and quick access to their specialized network of partners.
While these networks can provide value, the problem is that they are very specialized. Here’s where the second technology innovation comes in. Supply chain orchestration solutions are helping companies connect and collaborate across multiple party types in your end-to-end supply chain. These solutions provide easy on-boarding of new partners with deep collaboration capabilities with each party in order to provide intelligent automation and order orchestration across these parties and the systems they use for better outcomes. The biggest different from specialized partner networks is that these solutions often provide integration with a diverse set of partners across multiple processes in the end-to-end supply chain.
Supply chain orchestration platforms help their customers to quickly connect to partners in two ways. One is through direct connection with a customer’s desired parties through their own growing network or new integration. The second is through connecting the specialized networks above to provide access to and take advantage of the prebuilt connected parties in these specialized supply chain processes.
This is where the term “Network of Networks” comes from.
What Technologies Help You Take Advantage of Supply Chain Networks?
As discussed above, companies are often looking for solutions that help to enable supply chain orchestration in order to truly collaborate and optimize across multiple parties. Typically these solutions take the form of Supply Chain Control Tower Platforms, which provide an execution layer and connect your existing legacy supply chain systems.
Not all Supply Chain Control Towers are equal, however. As you’re evaluating solutions, it’s important to understand the different types of supply chain control towers (the link provides a good overview).
However, as we look at these solutions, they should include the following:
- Multi-Party Network Collaboration: Nearly every control tower solution provides an integration layer to connect internal and external systems and parties and existing specialized networks to help you form a connected and collaborative network. Solutions will differ on the diversity of party types in the network, ease of onboarding new partners and the depth of collaboration they can provide with partners.
- Real time Visibility with Events Management: Many control towers act as the “source of truth” for each customer order providing real-time, end-to-end supply chain visibility into all events and milestones for the order across all internal and external parties enabling the planning team to re-plan and quickly manage exceptions in order to ensure OTIF.
- Order and Inventory Management Optimization: While there are control tower solutions that focus just on analytics dashboards, operational control towers provide order and inventory management functionality while providing intelligent automation in orchestrating micro supply chains for each customer with optimized order flows across time, capacity, costs and inventory.
While there are other features and functions for every control tower, these are the basis for modern digital control towers.
Why Do They Matter?
We are still a ways away from a fully connected supply chain universe of suppliers, partners and other parties. However, we are making progress. The fact is that business success relies on our ability to provide an exceptional customer experience, as it becomes the leading differentiator for many organizations to attract and retain customers. For the supply chain, this means having better control over and visibility into the many internal and external parties in the supply chain in order to achieve true collaboration and optimization in how we deliver OTIF in the most efficient way possible.