Thought for the day:Strengthen your supply chain

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.The solution to a management problem often lies...

Incisive columnist and IT expert Colin Beveridge looks at a hot issue of the day.The solution to a management problem often lies in the clear definition of the situation, and supply chain management is no exception - the keyword in this case being chain.

All of our IT services depend on the proper alignment of a chain of critical success factors to create effective delivery. Any interruption within the supply chain, or misalignment of any components can cause serious disruption or loss of service.

The aim of every service delivery manager is to keep his supply chain running smoothly and efficiently, by making sure that friction and costs are kept under control at all times.

But, we must remember that with any service we are managing a chain (or, actually, a matrix of chains) rather than a single entity. The strength of the chain derives not only from the quality of the individual links, but also from the quality of the mutual support between neighbouring links throughout the chain.

We need to understand the dynamics of each supply chain properly or we could find that a weakness in one place may manifest itself elsewhere in the chain, despite the apparently intrinsic strength of the relationships in the area that eventually suffers from the failure.

This means that it is pretty pointless investing a great deal of our time and effort in forging strong links with our immediate neighbours in the supply chain, because a similar degree of integrity will need to be applied throughout the chain, together with a transparent mechanism for recognising symptoms of stress anywhere in the chain.

For example, we may be delighted with our principal outsourcing partner, but our continued happiness depends, in turn, on our partner's ability to depend on their suppliers - and so on - down the supply chain.

Sometimes even the slightest hiccup upstream can quickly cause a serious seizure downstream. The trick is to see the problem in time and to manage it effectively at the earliest opportunity - before it has a chance to grow exponentially.

The only real way that we can all tackle this problem is to have full visibility of our supply chain dependencies - and I mean full visibility of the relationships throughout the chain - not just a series of cast-iron, one-to-one contracts between supplier and customer but also genuine process integration.

After all, a single point of responsibility may be very nice to have, but it can just as easily become a single point of failure - the anathema of IT service delivery.

So, please examine all of your own supply chains regularly to make sure that they have not been compromised somewhere down the line. Your partners should welcome your concern for the general well-being of the chain.

If necessary, take a lead from Anne Robinson and ask the simple question: "Who is the weakest link?"

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Colin Beveridge is an interim executive who has held top-level roles in IT strategy, development services and support. His travels along the blue-chip highway have taken him to a clutch of leading corporations, including Shell, BP, ICI, DHL and Powergen

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