"Who is a materials supplier, a final-product manufacturer, a distributor, a transportation vendor, or a retailer?" asks James C. Sheperd, vice-president of research at Advanced Research Inc. (AMR) in Boston. "The roles are getting very blurry."
Whichever way the big players choose to shake the supply chain, the goals are the same: speed, efficiency, and cost control. To hit their targets, the fleetest companies are relying on powerful software tools that speed up and automate the flow of information.
Soon, the very supply-chain metaphor may give way to a supply web.
"Our role is to follow the customers wherever they go," says Executive Vice-President and CFO James E. Skinner of CompUSA. One day, they may be individual shoppers. The next, they could be purchasing agents for large corporations. They can't be bothered with who is defined as the retailer or who handles the manufacturing.
"Customers don't want to think about channels, and neither do we," says Skinner. In a time of upheaval, other companies are bound to come to this same conclusion.
Article by Neil Gross in New York