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9.4: Making Supply Chains Adaptable

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    • Anonymous
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    Global companies must be able to adapt their supply networks when markets or strategies change. The best companies tailor their supply chains to the nature of the markets they serve. They often end up with more than one supply chain, which can be expensive, but, in return, they secure the best manufacturing and distribution capabilities for each offering. Cisco, for example, uses contract manufacturers in low-cost countries such as China for standard, high-volume networking products. For its broad line of midvalue items, the company uses vendors in low-cost countries to build core products, but it customizes those products itself in major markets such as the United States and Europe. And for highly customized, low-volume products, Cisco uses vendors close to main markets, such as Mexico for the United States and Eastern European countries for Europe. Despite the fact that it uses three different supply chains at the same time, the company is careful not to become less agile. Because it uses flexible designs and standardized processes, Cisco can switch the manufacture of products from one supply network to another, when necessary. (Sheffi (2005, October)).

    Companies that compete primarily on the basis of operational excellence typically focus on creating supply chains that deliver goods and services to consumers as quickly and inexpensively as possible. They invest in state-of-the art technologies and employ metrics and reward systems aimed at boosting supply-chain performance.

    For companies competing on the basis of customer intimacy or product leadership, a focus on efficiency is not enough—agility is a key factor. Customer-intimate companies must be able to add and delete products and services as customer needs change; product leadership companies must be able to adapt their supply chains to changes in technology and to capitalize on new ideas.

    All companies must align their supply-chain infrastructure and management with their underlying value proposition to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. That is, they must align the interests of all the firms in the supply network so that companies optimize the chain’s performance when they maximize their interests.

    Minicase: Nikon, With the Help of UPS, Focuses on Supply-Chain Innovation (

    To support the launch of its new digital cameras, Nikon, with the help of UPS Supply Chain Solutions, reengineered its distribution network to keep retailers well supplied. Nikon knew that customer service capabilities needed to be completely up to speed from the start and that distributors and retailers would require up-to-the-minute information about product availability. While the company had previously handled new product distribution in-house, this time Nikon realized that burdening its existing infrastructure with a new, demanding, high-profile product line could impact customer service performance adversely. So Nikon applied its well-known talent for innovation to creating an entirely new distribution strategy, and it took the rare step of outsourcing distribution of an entire consumer-electronics product line. With UPS Supply Chain Solutions on board, Nikon was able to quickly execute a synchronized supply-chain strategy that moves products to retail stores throughout the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and allows Nikon to stay focused on the business of developing and marketing precision optics.

    Starting at Nikon’s manufacturing centers in Korea, Japan, and Indonesia, UPS Supply Chain Solutions now manages air and ocean freight and related customs brokerage. Nikon’s freight is directed to Louisville, Kentucky, which not only serves as the all-points connection for UPS’s global operations but is also home to the UPS Supply Chain Solutions Logistics Center main campus. Here, merchandise can be either “kitted” with accessories such as batteries and chargers or repackaged to in-store display specifications. Finally, the packages are distributed to literally thousands of retailers across the United States or shipped for export to Latin American or Caribbean retail outlets and distributors, using any of UPS’s worldwide transportation services to provide the final delivery.

    With the UPS Supply Chain Solutions system in place, the process calibrates the movement of goods and information by providing SKU-level visibility within complex distribution and information technology (IT) systems. UPS also provides Nikon advance shipment notifications throughout the U.S., Caribbean, and Latin American markets. The result: a “snap shot” of the supply chain that rivals the performance of a Nikon camera.

    Nikon has already seen the results of its innovation in both digital technology and product distribution. The consumer digital-camera sector is one of Nikon’s fastest-growing product lines. In addition, supply-chain performance and customer service have measurably improved. Products leaving Nikon manufacturing facilities in Asia can now be on a retailer’s shelf in as few as 2 days. While products are en route, Nikon also has the ability to keep retailers informed of delivery times and to adjust them as needed so that no retailer needs to miss sales opportunities due to lack of product availability.

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