Key Focus Areas for Supply Chain Integration

Written by Julie Kwek Choo Lie, ADLSM

Supply Chain is essential in every business and it is something we cannot do without in the current market landscape. With globalization, it is very common for companies to do business with manufacturer, supplier or customer located in a faraway location. On top of the increased cost competitiveness, end customers also have increasing demands for innovative, quality products. There are many factors weighing down on the firm, such as bringing in more sales, catching up with demand, faster product development time to catch up with the short product life cycles to keep customer interested. For bigger conglomerates, they can easily find expertise within the group or to buy over firms to take care of its supply chain.

Collaborative Mind-Set

The first step in integration is to adopt a collaborative mind-set. Traditional workplace settings set people to work in department and everyone is so used to working in silos of “departments” and missed seeing the fact that many times, what seems “best” for the department may not actually contribute anything to the company. This is true if we cannot break down the walls between the different departments. Collaboration requires individuals adjust themselves from working and thinking independently to working and thinking interpedently. Thinking of not only themselves but how they can contribute as a team to win together. This collaborative mind-set becomes more critical when members of the supply chain are people outside your organisation.

Competencies Stock Take

Firms also have to consider its supply chain strategy. What exactly does the firm want to compete on to achieve it ultimate goal? Firms can compete on product differentiation, cost cutting, speedy delivery, market dominance or even providing superior customer service. Firms with different strategy will end up with different structure and focus. If the firm wants to compete on product differentiation, the firm may have to work with design firms for the product development, alternatively, if they choose to have market dominance, the company may have place more focus on its distribution channels.After defining the supply chain strategy, the firm have to take stock of what they can do well and what the firm is lacking. To do this, they have to determine the firm’s core competencies, find out where its gaps are and see which gap is worth closing out using internal resources. These gaps can be filled up by developing it internally, acquisitions of other firms to growth its competencies, market, outreach. This is sometimes known as horizontal integration. Alternatively, the firm may choose to outsource this activity to external supplier who can do the job more efficiently. Outsourcing is a good method to combine the expertise of the competencies which are lacking in the firms without much investment and it can maximise overall profit and competitiveness for both firms. This will bring us to the next point of supplier selection and development.

Supplier Partnership and Development

While firms can exercise pressure on the outsourced contractor to do at its bidding, this relationship may not be sustainable over a long time. These traditional unmanaged supply chain relationships are usually transactional, adversarial, have minimal communication, lack focus on benefit and risk sharing and value added services. Supplier will not always settle for the shorter end if the stick, they will continue to improve its customer base to recover the loss from your business. Ultimately, this relationship will break down. Time, resource and effort are needed again to source another supplier which is likely to end up in the same cycle. Having supplier relationship like these will also not allow the firm to benefit from savings that supplier can offer to their major customer. Supply Chain dis-integration costs money and may make the firm lose it competitive advantage over time.

For supplier assessment, the firm would need to conduct a joint discussion with the supplier on their problems, mitigation plans, and set up communication lines for feedback and sharing of information. Efforts will need to be put in by both parties to close the gaps as much as possible, so that both can work in synergy. The supplier’s next tier of supplier would also need to be access for the company to access how the supplier copes with issues. While having a long-term relationship with supplier is important, it is also prudent not to just rely on a single supplier.
The graph below show the level of trust, information sharing dependency and leverage increasing as the relationship gets closer.

Julie Kwek (2020)

Image created by Julie Kwek (2020)

Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment (CPFR)

CPFR which is an abbreviation for Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment is a business strategy which complements Supply chain integration. It allows a few firms to come together and align their S&OP processes and to achieve supply chain objective of delivering to customer with improved customer service, forecast accuracy, reduce inventory, stock out and cost.

In the CPFR model it has mainly 3 groups of stakeholders. There are 4 collaboration activities defined in the CFPR model. They are Strategy & Planning, Demand & Supply Management, Execution and Analysis as shown in the diagram below.

Communication and Information Sharing

Even before the firm can integrate with supplier, firms have to ensure that as a single entity, common information is available. It is not uncommon to have scenarios where two different sets of information are provided to the supplier / partner because of internal issues. This issue can stem from the fact that separate department work on separate software and pass on information manually. It can also be a deliberate act of sandbagging information because they might want to keep the information for the next month or when the information is lacking. IoT (Internet of Things) like barcoding, wireless updating, and electronic updating system can be implemented to put disparate information into a common database.

This is crucial because enabling the flow of information along a supply chain would already be a challenge as it will have to take in information from disparate, increasingly global, partners and systems. One component that an integrated supply chain needs is real time accurate information that they can use to maximise efficiency and responsiveness. Hence, end-to-end information from a single source is much better than disparate information from different sources. After all, for process like CPFR to be effective, it has to have strong foundation information. Only with this, accurate analysis and planning can be done to cater to the real-world situation.

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Measurement Matrix

In supply chain integration, in order to meet the common goals that was set out in the initial collaboration agreement. There is a need to measure and review the results to know if there is any deviation from the goal. Measurement matrix is something that has to be put in place as a standard measure to keep everyone performances and incentives aligned. Measurement matrix must be clearly thought through, defined and agreed and monitored on a regular basis.

This matrix can adjust with changes in business needs. A clearly defined measurement matrix can prevent intercompany conflicts. It may be hard to access the performance of the end to end supply chain. Instead many individual measurement matrix can be defined at different critical parts of the business. It is important that these entire matrices ultimately point back to the overall common goals and objective of supply chain performance. However, it is also important not to over measure. Not only unnecessary time, resources and focus can be lost if everything is measured. If the company finds it hard to set the matrix, they can also use benchmarking from similar industry to set the matrix limit.

Deviations from the defined matrix have to be analyzed and the underlying issues have to be identified and resolution to be put in place. Members in the supply chain must also be accountable to the matrix.


With more and more pressure for businesses to produce quality goods at low cost. Businesses turn to outsource job scopes which does not align with the business nature. There seems to be an increasing tread of supply chain functions being outsourced. Many firms prefer to focus on their core competencies and leave supply chain functions to the experts. There are times where outsourcing often comes to the mind of businesses when they are doing cost reduction. Outsourcing is thought to be able to help company save resource and cost for the firm. As a supply chain professional, it would be important to see this and to adjust to the changing needs in business and learn how to integrate with firms which need the services seamlessly. Once the supply chain is running, constant measurement have to be put in place to measure the health of the supply chain integration to ensure that the newly acquired external process function and produce positive results.


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About the Author: Julie Kwek has extensive experience in managing supply chains, specifically in implementing continuous improvements with systems, IoT and processes to increase efficiency and productivity of businesses. She holds a Bachelor's Degree of Business from the University of London, as well as a Masters of Finance degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Julie is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM), and she completed the Advanced Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (ADLSM) on January 2020 at SIPMM Institute.