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Digitization Of The Supplier Network: Grinding Away Competitive Edges

June 30, 2016 by Kai Goerlich

Competitors with advanced digital capabilities are invading markets with new disruptive business models – and a range of new challenges across all industries. Prices are falling and changing quickly. Margins are thinning. Resources are increasingly volatile while the balance between supply and fast-changing customer demands are next-to-impossible to match.

All the while, 30% of industry leaders are at risk of being disrupted by 2018 by a digitally enabled competitor, according to IDC.

Under these conditions, companies are beginning to ask whether their supply networks should be open to the digital world. Will they accept the risk of being copied and losing competitive advantage? Or will they secure their best practices in supply chain and logistics?

Using an analytical framework of 15 ecosystem factors, we compared traditional companies against digital newcomers. Our ad hoc study revealed that digitization influences business systems on several levels, but standard best practices are not one of them.

Network Resiliency

In most supply chains, the hierarchical model is still living and prospering. Digital newcomers usually create a web-like structure across the entire business. While the traditional approach may guarantee price stability and quality, this web structure allows a much faster ramp-up and exchange of partners – making it more resilient to change.

Dependencies

In traditional networks, the business is likely evolving around mutual advantages. Very often, there are tight, symbiotic business connections with limited sets of partners. New digital networks are operating with an increased focus on leveraging opportunities. Plus, partners are encouraged to participate, widen, and promote the network – even if they do not directly contribute to revenue or profit margins.

Brand Management

Web structures are especially attractive to companies that find it difficult to access traditional value chains. In general, classic supply chains cannot keep up with the speed of change nor deal with new and unexpected supply-chain partners in future digital networks. And as “new and unexpected” translate into “interesting and exciting” for consumers, companies may encounter significant branding issues.

Path Dependency

Digital newcomers usually have a lower path dependency, such as mode of action. Unfortunately, this can be attributed to perspectives and business plans that are not based on decades of experience in one business. Of course, knowing a business for many years has its advantages as well – but only if knowledge is successfully transferred into the digital world.

A New Way to Operate

As pointed out previously, digitization is proven to be a shortcut for some traditional processes and functions. In turn, embedding best practices into supply-chain and logistics processes and avoiding any transfer of knowledge as long as possible may appear to be an obvious solution. However, according to our findings, it might not be the best path to dealing with changes related to digital transformation.

While digitization may indeed wash away former competitive advantages, it also empowers companies to use their vast knowledge and connections to get on par with digital newcomers – on a new and different level. For example, most traditional best practices are now outsourced and can be easily applied as a service. But more important, instead of waiting to be disrupted by digitization, businesses can become as flexible as possible to enhance the customer experience and build loyalty.

For more on disruption without damage, see 4 Ways to Digitally Disrupt Your Business Without Destroying It.

Kai Goerlich is the Idea Director of Thought Leadership at SAP

This story originally appeared on The Digitalist as part of the 10 Weeks of Live Business series.

 

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