Anyone reading the headlines in the past couple of years knows that globalization and outsourcing have led to greater supply chain risk, particularly in the areas of product quality and brand reputation. Those concerns remain, but they currently are taking a back seat to worries brought on by the recession about supplier financial health and viability.
"Supplier volatility driven by the recession certainly has introduced more risk and we are seeing that manifested in supply disruptions and more suppliers disappearing through bankruptcies," says Jeff Miller, industry group executive at CSC, a consulting, systems integration and outsourcing firm in Falls Church, Va. "In many cases it has been a double whammy for manufacturers. Not only are markets for their products weaker, but disruptions in the supply lines upstream have caused them to have to do things differently, incurring more costs."
This impact is amplified because of the lean supply chain strategies adopted by businesses in recent years, says Jim Lawton, senior vice president for supply management solutions at D&B, Short Hills, N.J. "Today any disruption on the supply side almost immediately propagates its way through the revenue and planning side. When something bad happens, there is little inventory buffer and little time to recover."
On the supplier side, the credit crunch is deepening cash-flow problems, says Lawton. Troubled U.S. suppliers that would normally go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and have a methodical reorganization while continuing to operate are increasingly being forced into Chapter 7 proceedings, he says. "This immediately puts them in liquidation, which means buyers have no access to parts they were manufacturing. Suppliers in this category are increasing dramatically."
The tight credit market "is the primary risk right now," in low-cost countries as well, says Nathan Pieri, vice president of marketing at Management Dynamics, a global trade management company based in East Rutherford, N.J. "A lot of companies are doing business with undercapitalized suppliers in emerging markets," he says.
Another factor is the depth of this recession, adds Lawson. "Recessions normally knock out the weak, but this one has been so deep that many historically well performing companies that usually are not threatened by economic downturns are getting into risky situations. So we not only have companies near the edge getting pushed over, but many others in difficult situations as well.
The supplier risk exposure faced by Fortune 500 companies was highlighted in a recent study by CVM Solutions, a provider of supply management software and services based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. These companies are doing business with a surprisingly small number of common suppliers, according to CVM's research, which drew on the company's large Master Supplier Database. Through analysis of this data, which includes customer/supplier spend levels, CVM identified a core set of 10,500 suppliers that are recipients of 80 percent of Fortune 500 spending. In addition, only 110,000 suppliers make up 95 percent of the total spend of these companies.
"It appears that years of strategic sourcing and supplier consolidation has created a dangerously small group of suppliers that receive most of the Fortune 500 companies spend," says Jon Bovit, vice president of marketing and strategy at CVM. "If these common suppliers become 'high-risk' suppliers, then that risk will likely impact a high percentage of Fortune 500 companies." CVM defines high-risk suppliers as having a significant probability of failure to some aspect of their business within 12 months.
If the survey had been extended to the Fortune 1000 companies, Bovit believes the results would have been much the same. "We believe there are many examples out there of companies having too few suppliers for given commodity or category areas, which heightens the need for careful supplier monitoring," he says.
Companies seem to have gotten this message, he says, noting that interest in this area has "really accelerated over the past six months. Customers are asking for help in managing their suppliers and in identifying which ones may be in trouble and which are the most reliable," Bovit says.
Companies should look for early warning signs that may indicate problems, says Jade Rodysill, senior manager in Accenture's supply chain management service, based in Dallas. He lists several potential warning signs: if suppliers are in industries that are challenged, if they can't meet lead-times, if they ask for pre-payment or more lenient terms, if quality starts to drop, if their business is labor intensive with a large fixed payroll, or if there has been a recent change in senior management. "These all could be indicators of trouble," Rodysill says.
However, just looking at these signs or at standard key performance indicators is not enough, he says. "A lot of things, like a supplier's change in cash position, are monitored monthly and by the time you get that data, a supplier could already be under," he says. "Companies need to start measuring process indicators as well as performance indicators," he says, noting as an example a supplier that asks more than once for early payment. "Ultimately, the goal is to have a sense and respond environment," he says.
That is where D&B is going with its predictive indicators, says Lawson. He explains that D&B collects operational and performance data on suppliers from a variety of different sources, which allows the company to build aggregate measures of performance, reliability, order accuracy and on-time delivery for each supplier in its database. "This information is interesting on its own from an operational perspective," he says, "but D&B has a set of predictive indicators that use the operational data to predict where there are likely to be problems. Often the earliest indications of financial problems don't show up in financial data, but in operational data," he says. "With our predictive analytics, we can give our clients insight into which suppliers may have issues."
In its latest release, Supplier Central 6.0, CVM introduced supplier risk mitigation solutions with a number of new tools. One, Spend Trust Metrics, is the inverse of a supplier credit score, says Bovit. "This measures how your suppliers are paying their suppliers," he says. "For every supplier we monitor, we can tell our customers, in aggregate, how many other customers that supplier is doing business with and how much spend are they getting, again in aggregate. If that trend line is going down, it means they are losing customers. We think that this information, combined with other measures, gives our customers a very good, pro-active approach to supplier risk management."
Aravo Solutions, San Francisco, traditionally has focused on helping companies like GE more efficiently manage supplier information. "Historically, this has been nuts-and-bolts data like bank account and catalog information," says CEO Tim Albinson. Because of heightened interest in supplier risk, the company recently launched Aravo Risk, a new application to help large corporate buyers manage risk within the supply chain, he says. Suppliers are asked to self-offer and self-maintain the information via the Web. Aravo consolidates and provides the information to its customers along with the ability to analyze the data in an automated fashion. "The result is a set of scorecards and risk rankings and ratings that show where the risk is within that supply chain, Albinson says. "Users of the data can identify which suppliers need help and what can be done to help them improve," he says.
Once a supplier is identified as being in a lower ranking group, automatic work flows drop them into new groups for additional training or other assistance. "We call these corrective action work flows," says Albinson. "It monitors the suppliers to see if they are engaging with you to do the work and to change their practices. If they are unresponsive, you can start to manage groups more closely, but at this point it is a very small percentage of your suppliers."
Albinson highlights the fact that Aravo lives on the internet. "Being Web-based means that it is not expensive for companies to get into it and they can be up and running in less than six months." A company like GE with half a million suppliers "can't just go pull some files out of a cabinet and figure this out. They need a supporting technology."
Sue Welch, CEO of TradeStone Software, Gloucester, Mass., agrees. "You cannot control this with spreadsheets and e-mail anymore," she says. And without control, "you are really risking your brand, which means risking your company." TradeStone offers a range of solutions for retailers that produce private label merchandise. "Because we go broadly across the entire transaction from design to delivery, we are always looking for key indicators that tell us if a factory is in trouble," she says. "Maybe they have missed their audits or failed some inspections or are late delivering."
TradeStone Supplier Management tracks a number of such indicators as well as making sure that all of a factory's required certifications are renewed on a timely basis, says Welch. "This is something that often falls through the cracks," she notes. The software monitors the specific conditions for which a factory must be certified and automatically schedules periodic factory visits. "We monitor both regulatory and safety visits as well as monitoring performance in terms of product quality and timeliness," she says.
UPS Supply Chain Solutions' supplier management application also helps users plan events automatically "without being dependent on somebody's memory," says Tim Boike, vice president of supplier management. "We automatically notify inspection companies when a factory is coming up for audit and we automatically assess the results of those audits," he says. "That information is then integrated with safety and design requirements and with purchase orders, so it really becomes a fully integrated, interwoven process."
Boike notes that Atlanta-based UPS SCS has offices around the globe. "In all places where our customers are manufacturing, we have trained dedicated staff to monitor and measure the compliance of vendors and to help in other ways," he says. "We are able to act on our client's behalf on foreign soil to make sure a manufacturer is doing what it is supposed to be doing, when it is supposed to be doing it, and that it is producing the right quantities and quality levels. Our hammer is that we stand between that vendor and payment from our customer."
While nearly all risk assessments are focused on supply disruptions, Dalip Raheja, CEO of the MPower Group, says disruptions are only how risk manifests - they are not its cause. "The risk we should be talking about is far broader than supply disruption," he says. "Many risks contained within a company's four walls have a tremendous impact on the supply chain and should be incorporated in any risk assessment model." For example, he says, the lack of an adequate and dependable demand forecasting process poses a far greater risk to a supply chain's ability to perform than does a supply disruption. "Many would argue that a lot of supply disruptions are caused by poor demand forecasting processes," he notes. "So companies need to look at internal factors that are causing risk and clean their own house before looking at their supply base." MPower is a consulting and professional services company based in Oak Brook, Ill.
A recurring trend in supplier risk management is to segment the supplier base, but risk segmentation requires a different approach than traditional segmentation, says Rodysill. "Traditional segmentation is focused on reward -- identifying suppliers with the biggest spend and the biggest opportunity for cost cuts," he says. "That segmentation model doesn't work in risk assessments. With risk, you stratify folks in a different way, and mom and pop suppliers might rise to the top. It might be your smallest supplier that provides the washers that you have to have to finish assembly."
"We see more advanced companies trying to align around the things of greatest value to the organization, which usually translates into a product line or set of SKUs," says Gary Lynch, practice leader of global supply chain risk management at Marsh Risk Consulting, New York. "Suppliers that produce that thing of greatest value are where they really want to focus by looking horizontally across the supply chain and qualifying and quantifying the impact of potential risks," he says. "Once you understand the impacts, you can start looking at alternatives for mitigation and at what sort of investment will be required. You end up with a portfolio of solutions against that particular product."
Bob Anson, senior director of supply management at i2 Technologies, Dallas, agrees that having good insight into product content is important. "This should include how widely a particular part is used across multiple products, how many vendors are available or how important the part is relative to the product as a whole. Risk exposure is not limited to the most expensive or highest volume parts," he says.
This type of understanding is critical to having a viable Plan B, says Pieri. He notes that contingency planning should involve a multi-functional group that asks critical questions. "If this supplier is 60 percent of our supply and it goes down, what do we do in operations? How can we ramp up another supplier? How can we help the supplier that is down get back up?"
CSC coaches companies to create supply chain maps that are weighted toward certain event probabilities, says Miller. "The events most companies care about are the ones that will cost them the most, so they need to take a critical look at all the things that could go wrong, then think about how they could be prevented or mitigated. That's the only way to have confidence that you can deal with disruptions if they occur."
Another important risk mitigation tactic is to increase intimacy with suppliers, says Rodysill. "It would be nice if all these suppliers were public companies and all you had to do was go on the Web and run some numbers, but the reality is that you need to get a good pair of shoes and go out and spend time with these suppliers in their factories," he says. "You have to have an intimate understanding of their operations in order to develop your own point of view as to which are critical to your business and what their current situation is."
Lynch agrees that on-site visits are critical, "but realistically a company that has 3,000 to 4,000 suppliers will be doing well to get to any one of them once every three years," he says. In the interim, "companies need to communicate better so suppliers don't fear they will be punished if they admit to having a problem," he says. "Live by the principle, 'trust but verify.'"
Better communications is a lot easier with good systems, says Pieri. "We are seeing a lot of interest right now in integrating more directly with the supply base," he says. "Companies want to be able to really advance what they are doing in terms of order communications and visibility into the supplier." Management Dynamics is revamping its supplier portal to add new capabilities, says Pieri. One improvement will give suppliers tools to create shipments from multiple invoices and keep buyers informed with a 'status to ship' window. Another will allow suppliers to create all the shipping documentation they need, using information that is in the portal. The portal also will integrate with Management Dynamics' performance management solution so users can monitor how a supplier is performing and develop scorecards and other advanced analytics, he says.
Getting better communications with suppliers may be a good place to start in terms of improving supplier relationships and mitigating risk, but companies have a long way to go on the maturity curve in this area, says Miller. "Most companies are at the lower end of the scale, pretty much across industries," he says. "Even those that are doing a pretty good job at risk identification often don't have a sound policy around what to do about it."
"This is an area where most companies are going to have to take a crawl-walk-run approach," says Rodysill. The important thing is to start moving forward with a risk mitigation strategy."
Aravo Solutions, www.aravo.com
CVM Solutions, www.cvmsolutions.com
TradeStone Software, www.tradestone.com
i2 Technologies, www.i2.com
Management Dynamics, www.managementdynamics.com
Marsh Risk Consulting, www.marsh.com
MPower Group, www.thempowergroup.com
UPS Supply Chain Solutions, www.ups-scs.com
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