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Traditionally, marketing, distribution, planning, manufacturing, and the purchasing organizations along the supply chain operated independently. The objectives of these organizational divisions are always different and conflict with each other’s objectives. . Marketing puts a higher emphasis on high customer service and maximum sales dollars conflict with manufacturing and distribution goals. Many manufacturing operations are designed to maximize throughput and lower costs with little consideration for the impact on inventory levels and distribution capabilities. Purchasing contracts are often negotiated with very little information beyond historical buying patterns. The result of these factors is that there is not a single, integrated plan for the organization---there were as many plans as businesses. Clearly, there is a need for a mechanism through which these different functions can be integrated together. Supply chain management is a strategy through which such an integration can be achieved.
Supply chain management is typically viewed to lie between fully vertically integrated firms, where the entire material flow is owned by a single firm, and those where each channel member operates independently. Therefore coordination between the various players in the chain is key in its effective management. For a supply chain to work efficiently, all the different divisions of it must perform in harmony. The most important relation in this chain is among the adjacent departments. They work must smoothly so that the task can be carried from one to the other. But for the whole chain to work effectively, it has to make a coordinated effort to achieve that goal.
There are two types of decisions that are relevant to supply chain management - strategic and operational. The strategic decisions are always made over a longer period of time, usually in years. These decisions are parallel to the corporate strategy and guide supply chain policies from a design perspective. The operational decisions on the other hand are short term, and focus on activities over a day-to-day basis. The operational decisions are there to manage the product flow so that it is in conformance with the strategically planned supply chain.
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There are four major decision areas in supply chain management: 1) location, 2) production, 3) inventory, and 4) transportation (distribution), and there are both strategic and operational elements in each of these decision areas.
The first type of decision is the location decision. The location is dependent on determination of customer satisfaction and the prevalent and predicted market demands for the product of service. Having the right projections is critical so that the strategic decisions may correctly focus on the placement of production plants, distribution and stocking facilities, and placing them in prime locations to the market served. Once customer markets are determined, long-term commitment must be made to locate production and stocking facilities as close to the consumer as is practical. In industries where components are lightweight and market driven, facilities should be located close to the end-user. In heavier industries, careful consideration must be made to determine where plants should be located so as to be close to the raw material source. Decisions concerning location should also take into consideration tax and tariff issues, especially in when the distribution is to be outside the city.
Strategic decisions regarding production focus on what customers want and the market demands. This first stage in developing supply chain flexibility takes into consideration what and how many products to produce, and what parts or components should be produced at which plants or outsourced to capable suppliers. These strategic decisions regarding production must also focus on capacity, quality and volume of goods, keeping in mind that customer demand and satisfaction must be met. Operational decisions, on the other hand, focus on scheduling workloads, maintenance of equipment and meeting immediate client/market demands. Quality control and workload balancing are issues, which need to be considered when making these decisions.
Third strategic decisions focus on inventory and how much product should be in-house. A delicate balance exists between too much inventory, which can cost anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of their value, and not enough inventory to meet market demands. This is a critical issue in effective supply chain management. Operational inventory decisions revolved around optimal levels of stock at each location to ensure customer satisfaction as the market demands fluctuate. Control policies must be looked at to determine correct levels of supplies at order and reorder points. These levels are critical to the day-to-day operation of organizations and to keep customer satisfaction levels high.
Strategic transportation decisions are closely related to inventory decisions as well as meeting customer demands. Using air transport obviously gets the product out quicker and to the customer expediently, but the costs are high as opposed to shipping by boat or rail. Yet using sea or rail often times means having higher levels of inventory in-house to meet quick demands by the customer. It is wise to keep in mind that since 30% of the cost of a product is encompassed by transportation, using the correct transport mode is a critical strategic decision. Above all, customer service levels must be met, and this often times determines the mode of transport used. Often times this may be an operational decision, but strategically, an organization must have transport modes in place to ensure a smooth distribution of goods.
Although not part of Supply Chain Management directly, Logistics are closely related to it. It is the part that plans, implements, and controls the efficient, effective forward and reverses flow and storage of goods, services, and related information between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet customers' requirements.
These are the boundaries and relationships of Logistics Management adopted by the Council of Logistics Management: "Logistics Management activities typically include inbound and outbound transportation management, fleet management, warehousing, materials handling, order fulfillment, logistics network design, inventory management of third party logistics services providers. To varying degrees, the logistics function also includes sourcing and procurement, production planning and scheduling, packaging and assembly, and customer service. It is involved in all levels of planning and execution -- strategic, operational and tactical. Logistics Management is an integrating function, which coordinates and optimizes all logistics activities, as well as integrates logistics activities with other functions including marketing, sales manufacturing, finance and information technology."
Supply chain management also has its pitfalls that must be avoided for its smooth working. One of such pitfalls is the bullwhip effect. The unmanaged supply chain is not inherently stable. Demand variability increases as one moves up the supply chain away from the retail customer, and small changes in consumer demand can result in large variations in orders placed upstream. Eventually, the network can oscillate in very large swings as each organization in the supply chain seeks to solve the problem from its own perspective. This phenomenon is known as the bullwhip effect and has been observed across most industries, resulting in increased cost and poorer service.