Collaboration – A Supply Chain Disruption Still Awaited

Devangshu Dutta

February 2, 2009

In 1985 the industry was breaking new ground with the principles of Quick Response (QR) – after years of wading through alphabet soup, we’re still waiting for true collaboration to happen. (More…)

A recent discussion online on quoted a book “Jump the Curve” by Jack Uldrich, in which he describes rapidly growing trends that stay small for a long time and then suddenly explode. He uses the example of water lilies to illustrate the point about exponential growth.  Say we start with one water lily and it multiplies to cover a pond completely within 30 days. On Day 20, only 0.01 per cent of the pond would be covered, and on day 25 it would be just over 3 per cent. The last days, hours, would show dramatic growth.

The water lily example is just so apt to describe technology adoption in the retail sector (especially in fashion and other soft goods). It’s so slow sometimes that it looks like molasses dripping down a wall. (And when a weed-killer gets dumped in the water at an early stage, the adoption can take even longer. )

In 1985 the industry was breaking new ground with the principles of Quick Response (QR) – then in the 1990s Efficient Consumer Response (ECR), Collaborative Planning and Forecasting (CPFR), and numerous other acronyms appeared in the supply chain alphabet soup. 

During 1999-2001 in my previous company, the team developed a collaborative supply chain enablement solution to create an easy-to-understand common platform for the various stakeholders in a supply chain to work together seamlessly. By 2001 we discovered that we were among a handful of companies speaking the same language, and among a sea of 300+ web-based portals aiming to catch up. And then the bottom fell out of the market. 

As we stand today, about a decade on, design-to-delivery lead times are still measured in months, buyers are still trying to gaze into crystal balls to forecast their future demand, and their suppliers are still trying to consult oracles to interpret their buyers’ orders. 

We may yet see adoption of true collaborative platforms in the next couple of decades. At that point it will look like sudden growth that’s come out of nowhere, and everyone will be asking “how did they ever manage supply chains in B.C. (Before Collaboration) Era?” 

Until then….