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The relationship between, and the importance of, a Value Chain; a Supply Chain and Supply Chain Management.

SUPPLY CHAIN

By Dr Myles Wakeham and Annie Beckerling

The recent outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of Supply Chain Management (SCM), as a sudden increase in demand for certain products and a complete standstill in demand for others has left many suppliers reeling. However the man in the street can still find it difficult to distinguishing the features that contrast a value chain, a supply chain and finally supply chain management (SCM).. Although there is a strong relation amongst these three activities, there are key differences that make them stand apart from one another.

Essentially, a value chain is a set of activities that a firm performs in order to deliver need-satisfying products or services to a defined market or markets. It is also known as a high-level model of how businesses receive inputs and then processes such inputs via the conversion process (operations) into finished goods and services. This is achieved by adding value to the inputs in such a way that the morphed final offerings will hopefully satiate varying customer needs, better than the competitor. The ultimate objectives of the value chain are the appeasement of both customer needs and wants (in the form of superior goods and services), and, as importantly, revenue and profits for the enterprise.

Created by Michael Porter in 1985, the value chain consists of primary and support activities. Primary activities include inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service. The key goal of these activities is to create value that exceeds the cost of performing the activity, thereby generating higher organisational sales and profits. Support activities on the other hand comprise procurement, human resources, finance, technology development, and the firm’s infrastructure. These ancillary activities within Porter’s Value Chain, assist the primary activities by forming the foundation of the organization on which the primary activities operate. A support activity such as financial management for example is of great importance for primary activities as without finance, these activities cannot be performed. Likewise, without effective Human Resources Management, the organisation will not have the requisite human capital to produce the required goods and services, market them and finally distribute them to…

  • The right organisation.
  • At the right time they are need.
  • To the right person who will be using the goods; and
  • At the right price so that their delivery to the targeted end-customer via fellow supply partners will enjoy the value that the offering has been designed to deliver.

The strength that underpins Porter’s Value Chain Analysis is its approach, as it focuses on the customers as the central theme of the business rather than on departments or people. Being a system approach to operating a business, the system links other systems, people, departments and activities to one another and demonstrates how the approach impacts on value creation, costs and profits. Consequently, the analysis makes a clear picture of where the sources of value and loss of revenue can be found in the organisation.

The supply chain is the network of individuals, firms, technology and resources that are involved in the creation and distribution of offerings from the source of the inputs (raw materials, components and so on) via the distribution network to the final consumer. The main challenges of the supply chain, or better still the supply network, are the ever-changing needs of the consumer, its complexity (especially international supply chains), supply risk and as importantly supplier risk. The recent outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic has underscored the importance of a smooth-running and seamless supply network as without it operating effective and efficiently, more people would have been struck down by the virus. This would have undoubtedly increased the morbidity and mortality rate throughout the world as well as the negative impact the outbreak has had on the global economy.

Supply chain management (SCM) is about creating value. Early efforts at managing supply chains often focused on cost reduction in order to make the chain leaner. Unfortunately, these efforts sometimes reduced the ability to create value thereby negating the key purpose of the supply chain. In essence, there is more to creating value through effective SCM than simply wrestling costs out of supply chain’s primary or support activities. Being an agile supply chain in a modern context, is probably more important than wrangling lower costs as it translates into quicker market entry and better customer service.

There should be value-creating activities that reinforce supply-partner and customer centrism. Because there can be many supply partners in the equation, managing supply chains requires a balancing act among competing and oftentimes self-serving interests. To illustrate this, note the following example. The seller of raw materials (supply chain inputs) would naturally like to enjoy the highest possible price he can muster from the manufacturer in order to maximise profits. The manufacturer on the other hand might probably demand to procure the goods at the lowest possible cost in order to be competitive in the marketplace after he has incurred the time and cost to produce the goods. It is these conflicting requirements that require supply partners to be flexible so that these opposing needs may be realize.

The above is underpinned by the advent of the recent Covid 19 virus and how the interest of supply partners can differ, even in a life-threatening emergency such as the pandemic. In the USA, where the outbreak has reached mammoth proportion, Federal and local governments competed for life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) hoping to procure such goods at the lowest possible prices. However, because of supply and demand issues, and pure unadulterated opportunism, sellers put up the prices of their PPE goods to exorbitant levels in order to maximise profits at the expense of the people who were ill and dying in hospitals and old age homes. The sad reality is that there was no cohesion and coordination on a macro scale regarding to the procurement and delivery of such essential equipment, apparel and medication. Instead of Federal Government (central government) acting as the catalyst for the acquisition of such goods and services, it competed against states and hospitals, thereby increasing the cost and delaying the delivery of the imported life-saving offerings from Europe and the East.

SCM can be defined as the design, planning, execution, control, and monitoring of supply chain management systems, with the objective of generating value by synchronizing supply with demand and measuring performance on an international basis. Where once it was considered to be a philosophy, in today’s terms it has become an essential business activity that is designed to ensure the delivery of superior value-add services so that all the players in the chain may benefit there from.

The supply chain, not only links organizations e.g. suppliers, producers, and customers. It produces upstream and downstream flows, which move products, information and payment (cash) out of and into organisations.

The value chain however integrates a variety of supply chain activities throughout the product/service life cycle; from the marketing function determining customer needs and wants, operations converting inputs into goods and services and finally to outbound logistics, which consists of order processing, warehousing and distribution. The main intent of a value chain is to increase the value of a product or service as it passes through stages of development and distribution before reaching the end user. So, through effective supply chain mapping and streaming, organisations in the supply network can accurately direct their mutual efforts at providing value-add services to the next-in-line customer. The above hopefully illustrates the relationship of the three critical business activities, their relevance and as importantly how they provide value to all the members of the network, including the end consumer.

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