Supply chain management is the management of upstream and downstream relationships with suppliers and customers with the dovetailing of internal priorities and constraints to enhance the product or service value in the final market place using the minimum of resources in the supply chain as a whole.
This is done by linking the marketplace, the distribution network, the manufacturing process and the procurement activity in such a way that customers are serviced at higher levels and yet at a lower total cost.
This calls for people able to mutually collaborate together to forecast, plan, manage, control and improve the flow of materials, product and information to and from suppliers to end users.
The joy of supply chain management is the breadth of skills required and the multitude of daily decisions to achieve customer service requirements. Supply Chain Directors and Managers are a breed of Programme Managers with many stakeholders, requiring the regular trade-off of many constraints and risks to maximise the benefits to the company.
In the quest to provide quality service and satisfy customers, world-class companies along the supply chain are guided by the Seven Rights of Fulfillment.
Where are consultants needed?
The sheer daily pressure on supply chain managers, working hard often in a resource stretched company, makes it difficult for managers to deliver change and improvements quickly and effectively. The prizes to be gained through a professional supply chain audit and implementing good supply chains: lower stocks, higher customer service, less stock obsolescence and less cost, can be 10-30% of their current supply chain costs.
Solutions are often counter-intuitive: lower stocks (of the right products) often mean better customer service rather than worse. Supply chain consultants can bring an extra breadth of strategic and operational experience along with in-depth knowledge, to their clients in these areas. They also have the time to analyse and summarise the very high levels of transaction data generated in a supply chain on a daily basis to improve sales forecasting, optimise the warehouse and transport network, as well as provide operations solutions for an inefficient warehouse.
Supply chain consultants offer: a specialist skills base, a strategic vision of supply chain efficiency and a broader experience of supply chain risk management, gained from working in many supply chains across many industries that will help their clients to improve their acquisition and delivery of goods and services to the benefit of their customers and shareholders.
Workable strategic solutions are the key to progress. Helping improve the interaction with the rest of the organisation is also important to ensure a smooth running supply chain.
To access these savings, consultants provide timely, focused resources that are designed to match the requirements of a project.
What does supply chain consultancy offer you?
It can provide the opportunity to work with clients of different sizes from many industries. Such experience does not come as quickly or in as varied a form when working in a single company. Consultants are also given the freedom to cross departmental boundaries within their clients and therefore are involved in the wider management of a business.
Consultants generally work in teams and working with your colleagues who are experts in their field can be a very stimulating intellectual experience.
The size and speed of an assignment dictates the consultancy resources required; some projects extend over months, some require a good deal of travel and living away from home, often overseas as the globalisation of markets increases. Other projects are more desk bound and can be done anywhere, often at home. The internet connectivity available now allows for good home office working and access to the central consultancy information resources at the same time.
Work pressures are high where client timescales are always tight and you need to enjoy that atmosphere and multi-tasking on more than one project at once is a skill you have to learn.
Case study – NHSSource: Freight Transport Association YouTube channel
Possible career path
Career paths including time in consultancy are different with the broader, larger consultancies compared with the smaller and more niche consultancies.
The major consultancies employ people at many levels; they recruit direct from universities, demanding very good degrees but they provide graduates with an unparalleled, in depth, view of many companies in many industries.
They train their graduates in state of the art thinking, in project management and in working in teams. If you enjoy selling to corporate boards you will have a long career in these consultancies. On the other hand, niche consultancies normally build their resources with very experienced senior executives, preferably with board level strategic experience and who have worked in several companies and industries; they then back them with specialist consultants with in-depth knowledge.
If you enjoy helping organisations of any size to maximise their chances of being successful by helping them unravel their poor processes, provide them with streamlined efficient business practices, implement the advice and train the management to do without you, then consultancy could be for you.
Specialist skills requirements
You are not expected to know everything as a consultant. Whilst those involved in supply chain strategy reviews and selling the consultancy skills to businesses must have the broadest experience including change and programme management experience, each consultant needs to bring a portfolio of specialist skills in depth to maximise the benefit to the client and the consultancy business.
Specialist skills can be focused: transport and distribution planning, warehouse design, warehouse operations and automation, mechanical handling systems and equipment, procurement, forecasting and inventory planning, queuing theory, defining call centre requirements and modelling current and future business processes. However you must be able to talk to and connect with a wide range of supply chain topics.
Four skills are absolutely necessary; consultants must be able to:
- Rapidly form a rapport with clients and to work effectively with people at all levels in an organisation.
- Listen carefully to the client from the shop floor to Directors.
- Quickly distil the essence of the problem, the vision and the solution without losing the detail as supply chain efficiency comes from a series of trade-offs: stock levels, production run-lengths and costs; stock levels, customer service achievement and costs.
- Dispassionately articulate the problem and solution in a form that the client can understand, but with an honesty to point out facts and solutions that the client may not always want to hear.