Jun 142017

New ways of collaborative relationships

Ph.D. Desirée Knoppen, Head of EADA Operations and Information Systems, tells us about new ways of collaborating in Supply Chain Management.

Ph.D. Desirée Knoppen, Head of EADA Operations and Information Systems, tells us about new ways of collaborating in Supply Chain Management.

After 20 plus years of talking about collaboration, there is still a long way to go. Recent headlines reveal that companies struggle to work together despite strategic intent to collaborate or that they fail to leverage existing collaborative practices. The current global and collaborative economy presents multiple pressures to companies to improve the co-creation of value offered while at the same time reduce costs and environmental footprint. As a consequence, companies have started to explore new forms of collaborative relationships with selected partners in order to create competitive advantage.

We (Prof. Elena Revilla from Instituto Empresa, Prof. María Jesús Sáenz from Zaragoza Logistics Center-MIT International Program and myself) organized a discussion topic on the issue, in the context of the European Research Seminar organized together with the Spanish round table of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, held on May 18th and 19th in Barcelona. The event addressed supply chain leadership and how to affront the challenges of today. Recurring topics were customer experience, omni-channel, Blockchain, collaboration and Industry 4.0.

Three perspectives on collaborative dynamics

In the discussion session we explored new perspectives on collaborative dynamics together with the audience, some 40 people active in supply chain management. We did so along three complementary pillars. First, we addressed the issue of sustainability that provides insights regarding the “what”, or the purpose of emerging collaborative practices. Collaboration occurs in emerging value networks and the traditional supply chain emphasis on the customer as central stakeholder becomes too limited. Other stakeholders to bear in mind are communities, co-producers and the natural environment.

Second, we addressed the multiples dimensions of collaborative relationships, as a way to illustrate the “how”. New relationships move beyond the traditional vertical focus to include horizontal and diagonal collaboration. Finally, we discussed the potential negative effects of too much collaboration within buyer-supplier relationships. Too much trust may lead to complacency and lack of active questioning of your partner´s motives and decisions impending novel solutions.

Emerging insights from the discussion on the first pillar referred to key capabilities of supply chain professionals. First, companies are part of emerging value networks whose composition continuously changes and consequently stakeholder management has become a key activity of supply chain managers. Second, they have to take decisions dealing with ambiguous and seemingly opposing objectives, inherent to the sustainability challenge. In that regard, it becomes increasingly important to include future customers´ necessities and priorities rather than only focusing on current customers´ needs. In the future, customers will be more knowledgeable about sustainability and consequently more demanding. Companies have to anticipate such demands.

Third, established firms can learn from sustainable start-ups in that they have to establish a mechanism for experimentation with new products and services that regenerate the environment and/or drive positive social change. Innovation has to take place in a controlled manner, without jeopardizing existing sales and market segments. Establishment of “encapsulated” interorganizational teams that are freed from daily business, with professionals spanning different functions is a proven way to experiment in a controlled way. Supply Chain Management professionals play a central role in establishing and guiding such teams.

Ph.D. Desirée Knoppen is Head of EADA Operations and Information Systems.

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