Supply Chain Quality: Time for a New Perspective

We say that quality is important in supply chain management, but do we focus on it with the same level of urgency, sophistication, and importance as other facets of SCM? Likewise, we stress the importance of obtaining end-to-end supply chain visibility, but what about end-to-end supply chain quality? What does that entail, and how do you best enable and manage it? 

Those are the key questions I discussed with David Cahn, Director of Global Marketing at Elemica, during a recent episode of Talking Logistics.

A new look at supply chain quality

Quality certainly isn’t a new concept or objective in supply chain management, but how does it align with our more recent focus on end-to-end operations? I began our discussion by asking David for his definition of supply chain quality within this context.

David notes that quality is often defined within the concept of total quality management (TQM) which seeks constant improvement in quality and performance to exceed customer expectations. It’s achieved by integrating the quality-related processes within the company such as product design, development, control and maintenance. “But it also should include product delivery and all the processes of the SCOR model,” says David. “TQM in logistics can help companies increase speed-to-market, enhance visibility, control costs and improve customer service.

“It also must take into account the fragmented regulatory environment,” adds David. “It has become harder for companies to comply with changing regulations globally. TQM can help to speed and improve regulatory compliance across end-to-end supply chain processes.”

Process Quality

Since we often think of quality in terms of product quality, I asked David to explain what it means for processes. He says that in manufacturing you concentrate on quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement. In logistics you can focus on process improvement across every step of the supply chain using many Six Sigma concepts and engineering standards. “Quality and supply chain executives must look at how their function delivers value to the transformative organization and work with business partners to bring value to customers in the form of lower costs and more reliable service,” suggests David. “The whole organization must be focused on quality, not just the quality function.”

Why now?

If quality has long been a business focus, I asked David why a broader end-to-end focus on supply chain quality is happening now. David indicates that it’s part of the digital transformation many companies are going through. “The technology is now available to connect suppliers and logistics service providers and customers into digital supply networks,” he says. “We’ve moved beyond EDI to portals, IoT and transactional emails to collect and integrate data across the supply chain.”

Another aspect of current trends in quality management is companies’ desire to improve their customer experiences. “The supply chain quality function is changing with the ability to add analytical techniques and sentiment analysis of customer service and expectations through social networks,” explains David. “We are also seeing the use of machine learning and data visualization capabilities to improve supply chain metrics. We’re starting to see an evolution of our understanding of what quality means to the customer.”

Beyond the four walls

As David and I discussed multiple times during our interview, quality has primarily been a “within the four walls” issue for most companies. The idea of quality being an end-to-end process across supply networks is new to many people. So I asked David how companies can determine whether they are a leader or a laggard in this area and what first steps they should take to move up the maturity curve on end-to-end quality management. I encourage you to watch the full video for all of David’s insights and advice on this topic. Then post a comment and share your own thoughts on the benefits of end-to-end supply chain quality and how to achieve it.