A company might be doing a good job of making decisions within discrete functions such as supply-chain planning. What many lack is the ability to communicate and collaborate among individuals overseeing supply chain, sales and marketing and product design. Microsoft's goal was to break down the walls that exist between various departments, says Ravi.
One key move was to ensure that line-of-business managers had the power to make decisions quickly, in a non-bureaucratic environment. "There are 10 times more people making supply-chain decisions who are not tied to ERP [enterprise resource planning] or a back-end supply-chain system," Ravi says. "We give them an environment where they can make decisions ... and pass those to the back end."
The biggest problem isn't lack of data. There's plenty of point-of-sale information available to makers of consumer electronics. The trick lies in using that data to make rational decisions, such as when to increase the promotion of a particular SKU at a particular store, Ravi says. Information must be made available to the right people at the right level of specificity. "We provide the necessary business intelligence and unified communications and collaboration," he says, so that even individuals in mobile environments have the power to make informed decisions.
The other key is to have access to good information. That can be a difficult task to achieve, given the complex nature of many global supply chains. Partners need to be able to query each other in real time with regard to issues such as demand, product availability and manufacturing capacity. Ravi speaks of the need for a "federated, unified communications system." As an example, he cites the relationship between Microsoft and Flextronics International Ltd., its contract manufacturer, for the making of the Xbox gaming system. "It's almost like two people working together in the same company," he says. "'Federated' means you get the capability [for communications] but also the security."
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