Only a few years ago, we thought having eight gigs of storage on our smartphones was princely. Today, we not only look at the inherent capacity of a gadget, we also consider how much we can expand it on our own: how big of an external storage chip will the phone take? Can a phone, for example, handle two SIM cards? Will the phone work in multiple systems, and overseas?
We learned that no matter how sufficient a device’s capacity is currently, it will probably not be enough in the near future. There were market misfires which demonstrated that: Apple’s Newton, Amazon Fire’s lack of expandability, early smart watches, one of the iPhones lack of plug for ear buds, for example.
For the most part, we need scalability, and we want flexibility. After all, who wants to constantly repeat the cycle: buy, configure, then choose between abandoning the money and time to replace it, or living with ever-tightening limitations?
Our telephones and other devices were shaped by the needs of the era during which they emerged. We were happy to be able to talk to people while we walked down a street, rather than being tethered to a phone plugged into a wall.
The improvements flowed along two axes: small enough to be portable, and good voice quality (with, perhaps voice mail) and maybe better coverage (although our expectations weren’t very high.) But then, suddenly, we were also able to send small messages and access the Internet. Very quickly this new capability created a dynamic that blossomed, overwhelming the gadgets that had just been overwhelming us with wonder and delight.
In short, the original dynamic had become almost irrelevant. Calling the devices smartphones is akin to the early days when people were still calling cars horseless carriages.
Robustly Meeting Emerging Needs
The challenges to companies with supply chains spanning the globe have seen a similar shift. One of GSQA’s customers, Handgards (see case study on the EMNS site) for example, outgrew its original method of managing supply quality documentation because it was paper-based and overwhelmed the Excel spreadsheets that had been successful for some time. It did not matter how sophisticated that software had become, nor did the skill of the users make any difference.
Many of the original supply quality management systems were shaped around one particular dynamic: the need to comply, and prove that compliance, with government regulations.
The biggest threats came from the consequences for non-compliance on the one hand, and on the other, the need to show that the supply materials had appeared to conform to purchase order guidelines. The operative word here is had. It was about documenting the past and this was literal. It was all about documents, a.k.a. paperwork. As the paperwork increased, that load was eased by making it digital (in the form of scanned documents) that took up less room and could be e-mailed but was in essence the same mentality and dynamic – it was all about reacting to the past, fixing problems that had happened. It was about proving past compliance, with the hope that it would mean future success.
Failure in the Face of New Dynamics
Compliance has its own rhythms – the periodic ability to pull out large sheaves of documents and demonstrate compliance, either with government regulations, or with OEM specifications. The function was reactive and aligned with the document management paradigm, i.e., to the static demand for looking back.
In the face of increased supply chain complexity and risk, with its global span and multiple tiers of suppliers, supply quality systems based on any media besides full electronic deployment are antiquated. These systems were constantly improved or expanded to become better and better “document management systems” in the form of various supplier generated documents being arduously and imperfectly rekeyed or scanned. But, with increasing accuracy requirements, these efforts are analogous to increasing the capacity of an old car-phone, with a vision of attaining, at long last, the capacity of a high-end flip phone (what’s that, you ask?).
The Shape of a Supply Quality System Responding to a Different Dynamic
The key to understanding the new dynamic is timing. Proving the past becomes a tiny subset of the overriding demand: managing the present and the future.
Paperwork is not actionable knowledge relevant to the present. Seeing what happened in the past is irrelevant to preventing disasters. It fails in being able to reliably prevent substandard or dangerous material from entering the supply chain or reaching the end consumer. The deaths, recalls and scandals of recent years (mentioned in previous issues of this journal) attest to this.
Design Principles for Today’s Supply Quality System
To ensure that a supply quality system is ACCURATE, TIMELY, SCALABLE, FLEXIBLE AND ROBUST, it must have the following characteristics:
- Data must be digital all the way from its point of origin to the point where it is used. This supports accuracy and real-time value.
- Data must be standardized across the entire supply chain, with all vendors using a compatible communication methodology (although localized by in-house systems and for local cultures and languages.)
- Data must be in a form that can be subjected to Statistical Process Control (SPC).
Choices facing companies today are whether to run a software package “inside” the company, i.e., within the internal IT system, run by the IT department, or to or use Software-as-a-Service. For many companies, the tide has already turned, with an increasing demand for SaaS. The other important consideration in choosing the approach is whether to consider the supply chain quality assurance domain against overall company goals: is the approach and the system supporting it really strategic, meaning, can it be sustained and grow with the demands from inside and outside of the company?
Integration with Blockchain and Other Softwares
As more production functions are outsourced and ingredients/components/materials are purchased and move around the world, complete visibility and precise management of those transactions is required. EMNS has itself deployed large, multi-level supply chains in its SaaS GSQA® solution for large and small corporations. In the process, feature evolution and integration has allowed customers to continue to use GSQA® for 20+ years with up-to-date security. Integrations with Jaspersoft, one of the most successful web-based Business Intelligence reporting systems, and GSQA®-DS, an extremely flexible managed data file transfer system, are being used to meet the data presentation and exchange needs of both large and small companies. EMNS was first to integrate GSQA® with the CGF OpenAPI for cross-company product queries.
The latest development in this journey for valuable connectedness is the recently announced GSQA® blockchain interface by EMNS, Inc., which allows supply chain modeling and data exchange across computers with increasing location node counts that can far exceed the supply chain dispersion of even the largest corporations on earth. Several large IT solutions companies (IBM, Blockchain Luxembourg S.A., and a large number of newer and smaller providers) are deploying blockchain networks for various environments beyond the needs for which the approach was initially developed, the financial community.
This new capability allows manufacturers to use existing enterprise systems for implementing track and trace capabilities, with GSQA® pushing data to blockchain technologies. The only requirement small-to-medium supply chain partners must meet in order to participate in blockchain networks in this way is having access to a browser.
This extensibility is a key factor of systems’ longevity, providing our customers access to the scalability and flexibility of new platforms and software through GSQA®.
The Demands of Today
In addition to documenting what has already happened (producing accurate and required forms after the fact) the dynamics of today’s supply chain management demand a strategic commitment to state-of-the-art supply quality management. That commitment must ensure maximum accuracy, close-to real-time data, scalability, flexibility and reliable, seamless and secure access.
1. Wall Street Journal, CIO Journal, “CIO Explainer: What is Blockchain?”
By Steven Norton, February 2, 2016 12:49am ET;
abridged image by Oliver Wyman