Although collaboration has been discussed for years, few companies do it well - or, they don't even do it at all. But, with the growing concern over cold-chain capacity constraints in major markets and the additional strain on the U.S. infrastructure with consumer demands for faster, fresher deliveries of ready meals and customizable meal plans, the time has come when we can no longer wait to do so.
The tightening of an integrated relationship is the difference between long-term success and short-term gains. We can achieve this success within the cold chain, and today’s larger supply chain, by embracing true collaboration, putting aside the drive for individual gain, and developing the relationships within each partnership so that we can collectively seek out the “win-win.”
Companies willing to embrace true collaboration will find that it looks very different than traditional collaborative models of the past. Robert (Bob) Mudge, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at Verizon, said that, “Collaboration is no longer just a strategy: it is the key to long-term business success and competitiveness. Businesses that realize this sooner rather than later will be the ones who win the game and succeed in the new global economy.”
We all know the definition of collaboration — people working together on non-routine cognitive work — but according to research from Gartner, the activity is also about behavior, work habits, culture, management, and business goals and value: “To devise a collaboration strategy that will advance your business goals, [you must] consider a wide range of interlocking issues.” Collaboration must mean more than an exchange of ideas and information among partners that agree to work together. Otherwise, they may share best practices, but will miss addressing concerns and generating solutions, and will just continue to benchmark like they’ve always done.
In recent years, there’s been an influx of companies outside of the supply-chain sector partnering and inventing in areas that may have been seen as stagnant or monopolized. Take Airbnb, for example. The global peer-to-peer (P2P) network disrupted the hotel industry in 2008 by offering tourists cheap housing accommodations, hosted by local residents. Airbnb then took its platform one step further by partnering with Vayable, an international tourism platform in which local residents offer customized tours based on their personal expertise or experience. Together, Airbnb and Vayable have created a unified business model based on selling sensations and unique experiences that go far beyond traditional tourist services.
This type of collaboration is hard work and requires all participants to be fully committed. Even with the old adage, “we’re better together,” improving productivity requires an extreme amount of collaborative efforts while supporting a business environment that shares both risk and reward to all parties deployed.
One would think that with the end-to-end supply-chain visibility enhancements we’ve had over the last 15 years within cold chain that collaboration would be at an all-time high, but therein lies the problem — it isn’t. Supply-chain entities have started to share data in order to create that end-to-end visibility capability, but in most cases, that’s where the sharing stops. One main issue is not getting the right people aligned on supply-chain projects from the start. Successful collaboration begins and ends with people: the knowledge they bring, the skills they have, and their intuition and ability to interact with others. For example, if a transportation company instigates a collaborative supply-chain project for a customer, and includes other supply-chain partners, but only outlines goals to personnel from within its own four walls, how can this possibly succeed? Bringing in capable, responsible supply-chain partner representatives and discussing mutual goals, strategies to achieve them, assigning tasks appropriately, and outlining the intended solution and expected deliverables along the way is the only potential path for a mutually successful, collaborative project.
Many times, collaborations break down for other reasons, too, such as when one party feels they’ve entered into a win-lose scenario. This is especially true when it comes to the idea of partnering with your competition. Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As top American universities, it may seem an unlikely pair, but in 2012 they launched edX, a non-profit organization that offers university-level courses to a global student body, including some courses at no charge. Currently available in five languages, the partnership has continued to seek out unique collaborative opportunities, including with Stanford, Microsoft, and Arizona State University, and within its first 12 months, the group signed up more than one million students.
Pursing a common goal is the main ingredient behind this type of success. Once you get past the thought that you shouldn’t share aspects of your supply-chain strategy with a competitor, thinking it’s your only competitive weapon in the marketplace, it becomes clear that we all want the same successes in the end: reduced inventories and associated costs, increased speed-to-market, enhanced service levels, and enriched customer service while also growing brand equity.
By setting aside our competitive mindset and joining forces to forecast the priority needs of the future, we’ll be able to combat our common pains. We can shape the future of all aspects of the industry, from the farm and food production, to grocery stores, restaurants and food service, and on to the fork at our families’ dinner tables. This will diminish the uncertainties currently associated with cold chain. This is the key to our collaborative, prosperous future. We can no longer go down the road alone. The time has come when we must clear the fog and see it’s true that we’re all better together.
At Americold Logistics, Marc Levin is senior vice president of business development.
Source: Americold Logistics
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