Ten years ago, supply-chain thinking was limited to the managers of a few global companies struggling to coordinate internal information and materials.1 Their early success led to an exciting boom in cross-business coordination based on supply-chain-management concepts. Today, such approaches are applied widely by managers in diverse industries and are a focus for leading business schools and consulting firms. Yet as the field has broadened and shifted over time, and as the term has been coopted and redefined by various interests, many views of supply-chain management have emerged. Some are detailed and operational; many focus on information technology. Executives are often uncertain about what falls within the field and how to use the key concepts to enhance their businesses. They want to know, “What is supply-chain management, really, for me and my company?” We have been researching that question for the past 10 years, working with executives in many different industries to understand how supply-chain management is applied in each context and how it is changing the way managers think about their businesses. (See “About the Research.”)
The best way to understand the impact of a long-term trend is to examine how the trend has changed the way executives view their businesses and what issues they choose to focus on. Supply-chain management has led to six major shifts in business thinking. It is those shifts that have guided and will continue to guide companies in choosing which supply-chain-management initiatives and enablers they should implement internally and with their partners. By considering the impact of the field in terms of business focus rather than programs and results, executives get a feel for how supply-chain management plays strategically in their businesses.
Supply-chain management addresses the fundamental business problem of supplying product to meet demand in a complex and uncertain world — from the point of view of the entire supply chain.