The evolution of a supplier

27 September 2013
The supply chain has evolved significantly over the past five years, as the growing diversification of product and service offers, together with the challenges of finding innovative ways of combining and consolidating business processes has driven its evolution. But increasingly, customer requirements are changing and becoming more immediate, which has led to customers demanding far more from suppliers than ever before. At one time, the supply chain was both static and one-sided, with day-one ordering, day-two delivery. Now, with enhanced business models transforming operations from a simple stock and distribute focus, to a complete virtual model direct from vendor to end-user, supply chains are evolving to house fast-paced, time-driven, on-demand services that must be three or four dimensional and deliver through several outputs. Consequently, customers are opting for suppliers that offer a package of services designed around their needs – for example, same day and evening deliveries as well as ‘click and collect’ on demand. The importance of maximising the number of options available to customers cannot be underestimated. This is especially pertinent, given the widespread cost-saving mentality that exists amongst customers during austere economic times. The diversification of customer needs and the subsequent need for suppliers to offer more means competition has intensified. Suppliers have to show how they can effectively support a business’s needs through innovation as a direct result of the need for customers to respond far quicker to demand. Suppliers have to match this with a similar mindset to anticipating both the products and levels of service that will allow customers to react to fast-paced requirements. Constant assessment is a key element of ensuring this approach keeps working, so the need for suppliers to benchmark themselves to ensure year-on-year improvements is equally as important as implementing these changes in the first place.

Office Depot has been on a three-year journey to benchmark ourselves alongside other world class organisations. Adopting a framework developed by Warwick Business School and the University of San Diego, we were judged against four components: operational excellence, strategic fit, capability to adapt and unique voice.

But securing this type of recognition should only be the beginning. It is vital suppliers continue to proactively assess and monitor their performance internally. After all, without maintaining high levels of satisfaction and adaptability, such recognition becomes difficult to justify. It is important to recognise internal procedures and processes feed directly into the service that end-users experience. Eradicating processing errors as much as possible should be a core focus. Maintaining a competitive edge is an essential survival tactic and for Office Depot, this simply wouldn’t be possible without continual efforts to improve the supply chain function and better service customers as a result. For other suppliers that have achieved external accreditation, it is vital ongoing reflection, assessment and improvement continue to preserve this high accolade.

Mike McCreesh, director of procurement and supply chain UK & Ireland at Office Depot. Office Depot is a platinum sponsor of this year’s CIPS Annual Conference and Exhibition in London on 10 October

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