Good advice or claptrap?

If you’re looking for some indication of how far along your company is with advanced supply chain and collaboration tools compared to other Canadian firms, you might have a hard time of it. Depending on whom you ask, you’re either way ahead of the curve, riding it like a pro, or floundering.

Steve Butler, a New York-based industry analyst at eMarketer Inc., says small companies lag the big guys in supply chain management systems adoption, and encourages enterprises to as much as drag the SMEs into the 21st century.

“[SMEs] need that push to take the steps to start doing the heavier lifting,” Butler says. He makes a strong argument, noting that Canada is full of small businesses. They drive the economy. If SMEs don’t improve their productivity levels, Canada will forever lag its southern neighbour in this regard. Advanced technology could help lift SME productivity. Large companies could help small companies see the light by insisting on collaboration via certain high-tech methods — make the little guys advance, whether they want to or not.

But Beth Enslow, a Waterloo, Ont.-based analyst at Aberdeen Group, says small companies are quicker than the large ones to adopt online business communications — an increasingly important aspect of the supply chain. So do they really need the push that Butler advocates?

And whereas Butler says it’s up to enterprises to kick the SMEs into high-tech gear, Joanne Friedman of ConneKted Minds says that’s no way to go. She says such prescriptive collaboration could cost large companies a lot of time and money; it’s the “corporate d’oh!” as she calls it, of supply chain communication.

Meanwhile presenters at a supply-chain management conference in late-2004 seemed to think the my-way-or-else approach to collaboration could hurt manufacturers, as they blindly try to keep up with one retailer’s RFID expectations without considering the impact the technology might have — positive or negative — on their own operations.

With so many different opinions, how is an enterprise supposed to boil it all down to advice? The answer: take what you need, call the rest “interesting” and get on with making your own business as successful as possible. Butler’s advice might work for you, or perhaps Friedman is more your firm’s cup of tea. The only way to know, of course, is to read up on the varied opinions and eventually decide for yourself.

A word to the wise, however: don’t discount those opposing views. They may be only interesting today, but they may become lifesavers if your company’s situation changes, and a new paradigm is needed.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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