Founded in 2000 at the height of the B2B frenzy, Exostar is one of the few supply chain exchanges that is still standing. Indeed, it has grown into a thriving hub that provides extensive services and support for the complex trading needs of the world's largest aerospace and defense companies, including its founding members: BAE Systems, the Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co., and Rolls-Royce. Add on the large network of A&D suppliers, and today Exostar is helping more than 40,000 companies worldwide reduce supply chain risk, improve agility, and strengthen trading partner relationships and profitability.
This success requires a significant amount of collaboration, which Exostar both relies on and enables. "One of the unique qualities of the aerospace and defense industry is that it is very good at co-opetition," says Peter Scott, vice president of supply chain solutions at Exostar. "Two companies may compete fiercely in one area while partnering and collaborating in another area."
This attitude made possible Exostar's latest initiative, launched earlier this year: The Supply Chain Knowledge Forum, an online networking site and thrice yearly conference devoted to supply chain issues in the A&D industry. "The idea for the knowledge forum was generated as we deployed the new generation of our supply chain platform," Scott says. "This platform has a lot of capabilities and we saw a wide range in how customers were using these capabilities. We realized there was a lot of information and experience that would be useful for companies to share."
The concept quickly expanded beyond just platform capabilities. At the three yearly Knowledge Forum meetings, "we talk about supply chain processes and emerging practices more than about Exostar products," Scott says. "We pick a theme based on input from the participants and we bring in an industry expert to kick off the day and discuss that theme at a high level, painting the broad picture of the drivers and characteristics of the challenge. Different customers then contribute their experiences and that drives the vast majority of the dialog and knowledge sharing," says Scott. The most recent meeting in September focused on managing supplier information and supplier risk.
Of course, Exostar learns from these discussions as well. "Very often customers have advice for Exostar about where our products should go next," says Scott. "That input is very useful for our planning."
The forum is different from a software user group because "the discussions are at a much higher level, and focus on business processes and business benefits," Scott asserts. "Technology typically comes into the discussion only in terms of how it can support these things. We do not bring in people who lay fingers on keyboards and demonstrate what applications can do."
Exostar also is building a web site around the Knowledge Forum. This will be a closed (non-public) network where participants have access to the materials that have been shared and can upload new information to the community. "Along with discussion threads, the community can create a repository of knowledge around different topics relating to supply chain excellence and emerging best practices."
The Exostar model seems like a really good one -- not unlike a collegial supply chain center of excellence -- which other industries could emulate. But is it a model that, like the success of Exostar itself, is suited only to the characteristics of the A&D industry? Scott thinks the latter may be the case. "A lot of what we are doing at Exostar has to do with the very open attitude of participants," he says. "We are fortunate that our customers see a lot of value in sharing information and trying to drive industry best practices. They are a passionate group."
Could the Exostar model work in your industry?
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