CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 14, 2018

"Client intimacy": A new mission for supply chain managers?

IBM wants its supply chain staff to provide not just products but solutions to its customers. Should this be a goal for every company?

One of the challenges facing IBM these days is developing "client intimacy" in its supply chain. Tim Carroll, IBM's vice president of global operations for the integrated supply chain, made that comment this month in his presentation at the Supply Chain and Logistics 2010 summit in Dallas.

Carroll said that client intimacy is not about sales knowledge. It means that supply chain managers have to understand the end customer's expectations when they buy a product. To acquire that knowledge, of course, IBM's supply chain staff will need to have direct contact with customers.

Historically, supply chain professionals have focused on execution, synchronizing the functions of procurement, manufacturing, and logistics. They have concentrated their time and effort on making the operational parts of the business work in sync to deliver the perfect order. But in a world where products can quickly become commodities, visionary companies like IBM want to go beyond "plan, source, make, and deliver" and instead compete on value.

IBM views client intimacy as being crucial to achieving its goal of transforming itself from a company that provides products on a transactional basis to an enterprise that offers broader solutions to its customers. It is not the first company to pursue this idea. What's interesting is that the tech giant is involving the supply chain operations folks in carrying out this mission.

A shift away from transactional relationships means that supply chain professionals will play a part not just in delivering products, but also in providing solutions that may fall outside their traditional sphere of influence and responsibility. Should this, along with client intimacy, be supply chain professionals' new mission? I'd welcome your thoughts on this issue.

James A. Cooke is a supply chain software analyst. He was previously the editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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