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Posts Tagged ‘Outsourcing’


Globalisation 4

In my opinion Logistics industry can be described as wheels of Globalization and key to the market expansion and competitive product availability to the growing global consumers. Dynamic business conditions and confronting economic conditions are driving globalization. Globalization is resulting due to expanding markets, exploding retail market, product proliferation, ever changing needs of customers, economic downturn, cost pressures, technology, cultural integration and government policies around the world. It would be wrong to assume that globalization influences economy and trade only; we are seeing integration in the areas of culture, media, education, research and development, tourism and even climate change.  On political front, we see collaboration and collective approach in addressing daunting challenges we face today.   Globalization will make our societies more creative and prosperous, but also more vulnerable and in transforms economies more competitive.

Let us review some vital statistics (Source: Armstrong & Associates Inc.).  First let us review the region wise Logistics spend vs. 3PL revenue (2012):

Globalisation 1

Obviously Asia Pacific Region heads the chart in all categories if we exclude remaining other countries which were consolidated under other countries.  It would be worth looking into Asia Pacific region by country in order to identify the growth countries.  Top five are highlighted here under:

Globalisation 2

If we look globally, it would be interesting to compare the numbers and easy to identify the globalization impact on different countries:

Globalisation 3

It would be very interesting to analyse 2013 numbers as the world trade is not promising.  World trade is expected to grow by 2.5 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2014 (source: The World Trade Organisation).  More and more companies are developing agile supply chains and compressing product supply lead time and at the same time reduce the cost of production.  In order  to achieve all these goals, outsourcing supply chains is one of the solutions.  According to CAPGEMINI Consulting 2014 report 72% of the shippers are planning to increase use of outsourced logistics services and whereas the 3PL companies believe that 78% increase in business.  Let us hope economy responds well in 2014!

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Third-Party Logistics Study 2013 on the Logistics Outsourcing Trends was released.  I would be focusing on some of the elements outsourcing-1of the findings to add my perspective to Logistics outsourcing. Outsourcing is a magical word that pretends to address many complex issues of reaching the product to the end user.  The reason I am using the word pretends due to mixed responses received from the end users known as shippers over a period of time.

In spite of financial downturn, the global revenue of 3PL operators is growing and in my opinion the downturn could also be one of the reasons.  In these difficult days, shippers would aim for cost savings and look for a partner to share risk and avoid capital deployment. And this action could trigger outsourcing. However, organisations that have successfully developed and implemented effective supply chain risk mitigation plans often apply new thinking to traditional risk mitigation strategies. About 65% shippers have indicated that they are increasing their use of 3PL services than returning to insourcing (22%) some 3PL services. Nearly three in five (58%) shippers are reducing or consolidating the number of 3PLs they use.

According to Armstrong & Associates 2012 study the global revenues of 3PL operators have risen by 13.7%.  The gains are mostly recorded in Asia Pacific Region (21.2%) and followed by North America (7.2%).  Whereas regions such as Latin America recorded impressive growth of (43.6%) but on a low revenue level and this indicates increasing trends of outsourcing in Latin America and Other Regions.

When we take a critical look at the logistics spend by the shippers.  Predominantly, the logistics spend is heavy on transactional activities such as Transportation and to an extent on warehousing operations.  The outsourced logistics spend is consistent around 30 to 40% except in in NA.  The logistics expenditure as a percentage to sales revenue seems to be reasonably consistent across all the regions around 10 to 15%.

Outsourcing 1

When we look at the return or benefits to the shippers again the focus is on economic factors.  The cost savings was around 15%, Inventory Cost Reduction around 8% and Asset deployment reduction at 26%.  Not to forget a modest productivity improvement in the form of 7% improvements in order fill rate and 5% improvement in order accuracy.  Again the focus is very much on transactional outsourcing.

Supply Chain Innovation

Innovation could be defined as creation of improved product, process, technology or human resources (improved skills) that could eventually deliver gains to the consumer.  Supply Chain is a work in progress in my opinion.  Continuous improvements in the areas of process, technology and people (skills) are delivering the supply chain innovation.  Apart from the three I have mentioned, the new improvement area is outsourcing.  However, it was noticed that innovation is becoming a challenging as the global economy is becoming volatile and 3PLs becoming more conservative and whereas the shippers becoming more aggressive.  The key to the innovation through outsourcing is collaboration.  The relationship between the shipper and the 3PL should be transparent and behave as true stakeholders in the business.  Lack of openness could kill the relationship and thus innovation.

According to 2013 Third Party Logistics Study, “the openness of some shippers to more innovative 3PL-shipper arrangements appears to be declining somewhat; “gain-sharing” between 3PLs and shippers is down and interest in collaborating with other companies, even competitors, to achieve logistics cost and service improvements has also declined slightly since last year”.

What drives innovation in an outsourced environment?  As mentioned earlier, Relationship and Trust plays a big role, People who create innovative ideas and deliver them, Technology which enables innovation, certainly collaboration between the shipper and 3PL, transparency and effective communication and last but not least is the financial incentives.

Outsourcing 2

The above study concluded that, “Shippers and 3PLs can facilitate supply chain innovation by leveraging organizational drivers such as fostering collaboration through structure, relationship governance, and embedding innovation into the organizations as well as technology focused drivers: advanced IT and mobile solutions, data and analytics, and social media.”

What calls for innovation?

Volatile economy, Increasing Competition, Uncertain Demand due to product proliferation and Supply Chain Disruptions are the main reasons organisations looking for continuous improvements in order to survive in the business and excel.  If we review the above mentioned factors some of them are controllable and some are not.  Economy behaviour cannot be influenced; Competition will continue to grow due to increasing globalisation; and Product proliferation is driving the product mix challenges resulting in uncertain demand to some extent.  Whereas, supply chain disruptions could be avoided if we plan well and innovate.  According above mentioned study, Spirit AEROSYSTEMS, Kansas saved millions of dollars inventory and avoided injury to workforce due to F3 tornado hitting their facility (2012) due to proactive thinking and that is nothing but some sort of innovation.

What is driving the Supply Chain Disruptions?

Supply chain complexity and “interconnectedness” to address the globalisation is increasing rapidly at a time when the risk of disruption caused by extremes such as geophysical disasters, increasing terrorism attacks is mounting. The above study reveals that natural disasters the top reason followed by Commodity Volatility, Labour availability, Energy prices and supply of raw material at the required time.  No doubt, Transportation infrastructure plays a vital role in disruption by not making a product available at the right time.  Governing rules in countries like India and China making the supply chain vulnerable. The political system is also causing disruptions and Terrorism and Piracy is low on agenda but high on complexity.

Human Resource could cause multiple problems that could result in supply chain disruptions.  The first one on top of my head is the skills shortage.  According to the world economic forum study on Outlook on the Logistics & Supply Chain Industry 2012, Logistics companies and trade associations around the world are reporting problems in obtaining enough qualified staff. Over the past year, studies done in India, Korea, China and the United Kingdom have confirmed that there is a skill shortage in logistics.  The other side of the coin is the disgruntled human resources could cause phenomenal financial damage to the supply chain and the business. On November 27, 2012, approximately 800 clerical workers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports went on strike.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem as though a clerical strike should have a significant impact on port operations, but the 10,000 unionized dockworkers who also work there refused to cross their picket lines.  And thus the largest port operation in the United States, representing approximately 40% of the value of imports brought into the U.S., ground to a halt.  The economic cost of the strike was estimated at $1 Billion per day.

outsourcing 3

Risk Mitigation

We should be able to mitigate every risk if we understand the problem and source that is causing the problem. In order to avoid any supply chain risk it is very essential to have visibility to your supply chain.  According to a report roughly 30% of manufacturers still lack Tier 1 visibility, while over 70% lack Tier 2 or Tier 3 visibility.  According to Aberdeen Group 2011 Supply Chain Visibility Report, best-in-class companies are likely to have online visibility into supply chain disruptions.  Further, the same report revealed some of the actions taken by the supply chain leaders due to visibility includes, Streamlined Processes for Easier Monitoring, Usability & Efficiency (66%); Integrated Supply Chain Transactions & Costs into their Operations (60%); Took Steps to Improve the Timeliness & Accuracy of Supplier Data Exchanges (46%); and Have Increased B2B Connectivity & Visibility into Supply-side Processes (31%).

outsourcing 4

Collaborative partnership such as outsourcing is another step towards supply chain risk mitigation.  It pays to invest on training and development of human resources.  In my opinion it is a worthy investment as long as one could retain the workforce to reap the benefits of the skills upgrading.  In order to address risks arising out of suppliers, supplier scorecard and collaboration goes a long way addressing quality and velocity disruptions to supply chain.  As mentioned earlier, one should understand the end to end supply chain and that is possible through business process mapping and developing standard work to address process related uncertainties.

Summary:

Outsourcing 5

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Dwindling global economy is a big cause of concern for 3PL industry.  I remember a saying, “When the going gets tough, tough get going.”  How relevant it is for today’s situation?  Well, what I am trying to say is that we need effective human resources to tackle complex issues resulting due to melting global economy.  Unfortunately, Supply Chaintalent shortage is almost threatening  the existence of Logistics Industry.  We did hear about Inventory shortages, it is strange to learn about Supply Chain talent shortage.  My objective of this article is to review 3PL business trends, impact of global economy and how Supply Chain Talent shortage will have impact on Industry.

The global markets for 3PL (Third Party Logistics) services registered a growth rate of 6.8% in 2010 compared to 2009, according to Armstrong Associates. Asia Pacific region is only second to Europe in the areas of supply chain outsourcing 3PL revenues.  The below pie graph indicates that Asia Pacific region contributes 29% of the global revenue.  Asia Pacific registered a growth rate of 15% compared to 2009.

Logistics Spend:

On an average the logistics spend as percentage to sales revenue is estimated to be 12%.  Whereas US, Europe and Asia Pacific are at 11%, Latin America stands at 14%.  This only indicates that Asia Pacific market is mature in offering 3PL services to their clients while Latin America is still emerging as a 3PL market.  The general perception is that only Transportation activities are outsourced.  To certain extent that is true.  In Asia Pacific Region, 61% of the total logistics spend is directed towards transportation and 42% is incurred on Warehouse and other value added services.  The global average stands at 56% on transportation and 39% towards warehousing and other activities.

It would be interesting to note that only 42% of the logistics spend is outsourced globally and in Asia Pacific it stands at 47% which is highest compared to US and Europe.  This indicates that Asia Pacific can be considered as matured 3PL market.

Factors Fuelling the Growth:

  1. Pressure on Corporates to cut costs;
  2. Low Cost Country Sourcing;
  3. Off-Shoring and outsourced manufacturing arrangements;
  4. Focus on Core Competencies;
  5. Ability to expand rapidly and establish business in local markets;
  6. Complex global supply chains.

Global Volatile Economic Trend impacting SC Outsourcing:

According to one report global growth is likely to slow down and is expected to be approximately 3% per year on an average.  Interestingly this slowdown is attributed to emerging markets slowdown and any recovery in advanced economies will be offset by the emerging markets sluggish growth.  The projected negative growth of emerging markets in 2012 could be mainly due to slowing global trade.  This is not going to be a good sign for Asia Pacific markets and in particular for 3PL industry.  It is anticipated that the emerging economies will grow around 3.3% during 2017-2025 which is greater than 50% reduction compared to 2011 growth recorded by these economies.

What are the activities outsourced today?

According to CAPGEMINI 2012 Survey, the below are the variety of services outsourced to 3PL Service providers globally.

Domestic Transportation 83%; Warehousing 81%; International Transportation 70%; Inventory Management 66%; Order Management and Fulfilment 65%; Customer Service 64%; Transportation Planning and Management 63%; Cross-Docking 62%; Product Labelling, Packaging, Assembly, Kitting 62%; Freight Forwarding 58%; Customs Brokerage 50%; Reverse Logistics (Defective, Repair, Return) 56%; Information Technology (IT) Services 51%; Supply Chain Consultancy Services Provided by 3PLs 51%; LLP (Lead Logistics Provider)/4PL Services 42%; Service Parts Logistics 38%; Freight Bill Auditing and Payment 34%; Sustainability/Green Supply Chain-Related Services 31%; Fleet Management 26%.

What is disheartening to note is that 24% of the respondents to the survey floated by CAPGEMINI indicated that they would be insourcing the logistics activity.  Some of the reasons given for insourcing include cost reductions not realized, some believe that logistics is a very important function and their core competency and not willing to outsource.  Diminishing service levels also could encourage the outsourcing community to think towards insourcing.

What is bothering Logistics Industry?

Logistics industry includes the Corporations (known as shippers) and also 3PL Service Providers.  Generally, we hear about product shortages in the market place due to improper planning, gaps in business process, due to long lead times and raw material shortages.  We are experiencing the TALENT shortage recently.

“ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE SUPPLY CHAIN TALENT CRISIS?”  This is not the title for my next blog article, this is the white paper published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US.  This article identifies the key skills that are missing in Supply Chain talent today.

It is believed that Supply Chain practitioners need a combination of “hard” and “soft” skills to effectively manage in an unpredictable commercial environment. The above article reveals that “Supply chain analytical skills are necessary and important but not sufficient; sufficiency comes with these other skills.” The “other” skills he refers to fall into the “soft” category, which includes thinking creatively and appreciating the big picture.  “Not getting bogged down in the numbers,” is how another supply chain leader describes the blend of skills he looks for. Managers must be able to use not only the analytical tools at their disposal, but also the qualitative output, he explains. This is an important observation in a profession that relies heavily on quantitative analysis.

I strongly believe that in today’s challenging supply chain world, the talent should also focus on managing situations and shortages.  Inventory Shortages in today’s world is a certainty and every Corporation in the world goes through the phase of material shortages at some point of time.  Supply Chain Managers are expected to manage the situations and fulfil empty promise, and that could be reason 64% of the Garner research survey respondents indicated that problem solving skill as the most important.  This applies to 3PL as well.  The shippers (outsourcing companies) expect the 3PLs to solve their problems and problems are resolved by humans and that talent seems to be in short supply.

CAPGEMINI 2012 survey indicated that organization success largely depends upon, “ability to Execute and Drive Operational Efficiency and Improvements” as the third most important driver for organizational success.  This was agreed by both Shippers and 3PL operators equally.  Factors that could affect retaining the talented staff include:

  1. Talent Development;
  2. Succession Planning;
  3. Effective Retention Strategy;
  4. Team Environment (Office Politics plays a vital role in people leaving jobs);
  5. Effective talent review process;
  6. Performance linked rewards.

The above survey reveals that the right people and leadership in place is the number one driver of their companies’ success in the next five years. But the supply chain industry is experiencing supply chain talent shortages.

Even though many shippers and 3PLs share the same concern of talent management and retention is their biggest worry, nothing is being done to save the precious asset of the organization.  According to Australian Human resources institute only 37% of Organizations have plans to attack the employee retention problems whereas the rest have no plan in place and press panic buttons when key employees gives the notice.   Organizations may have to embrace the activities of the talent cycle (source: CAPGEMINI 2012 Survey) have the ability to ensure a continuous supply of experienced, well-rounded logistics talent.

Source: CAPGEMINI 2012 3PL Study.

3PL industry needs talented people to manage today’s crisis world and deliver seamless solutions to the complex supply chain problems.  The outsourcing activity will see tremendous growth when out of the box solutions are offered to the Corporations who are looking for help and solutions in managing their supply chains.

 

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Tom Peter once said, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest”. It is a common practice to outsource logistics and supply chain activities.  One would be surprised to know that some organizations strongly believe in insourcing logistics activities.  The recent study by CAPGEMINI (2010) revealed few interesting facts on insourcing.

  1. On an average of 24% of outsourcing companies indicated that they would be returning to insourcing some of their logistics activities, and 36% of 3PL respondents observe that some of their customers are insourcing certain logistics activities.
  2. “Transportation is most Outsourced”.
  3. The percentages of 3PL users outsourcing individual logistics activities (versus overall outsourcing) tend to be higher in Europe and Asia Pacific than in North America or Latin America.
  4. The gap between expectation and satisfaction with regard to 3PL IT capability is widening (54%).

The outsourcing survey conducted by CILTUK revealed that logistics service providers (3PLs) are seen as:

  • “A necessary evil“
  • “They are only in it to make money these days”
  • “Deliver poorer service for disputed financial advantage”.

Further, the same report revealed that 52% of the respondents indicated that the length of the contract reduced.  Outsourcing community is aggressive and they do not mince words in sending out a strong message to 3PLs, “don’t sell me what YOU want, show me what I NEED”.  In 2009 UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, has decided to take some of its distribution operations in-house. The move follows a company review of supply chain strategy.

What prompts them to Insource?

The CAPGEMINI 2010 outsourcing review listed 12 different reasons for insourcing.  And they include:

  1. Logistics is a core competency at our firm – 19%;
  2. Cost reductions would not be experienced – 15%;
  3. Control over the outsourced function(s) would diminish – 14%;
  4. Logistics too important to consider outsourcing – 13%;
  5. Service level commitments would not be realized – 11%;
  6. We have more logistics expertise than most 3PL providers – 10%
  7. Corporate philosophy excludes the use of outsourced logistics providers – 9%
  8. Too difficult to integrate our IT systems with the 3PL’s systems – 8%
  9. Global capabilities of 3PLs need improvement – 6%
  10. Issues relating to security of shipments – 5%
  11. We previously outsourced logistics, and chose not to continue – 5%
  12. Inability of 3PL providers to form meaningful and trusting relationships – 3%

Now let us review top 5 reasons individually and understand whether they are true or system failure is causing outsourcing to fail.

1.Logistics is a core competency at our firm:  What is core competency? Core competencies are the key skills, characteristics and assets that any organisation brings to the marketplace. These competencies, on an organisational level, are a synergistic blending of the core competencies that people in the organisation individually bring to work every day.

If we go by the above definition, Logistics is the core competency of any 3PL company because managing logistics activities is their core business. Interestingly, one of the main objectives of outsourcing is to focus on core competency.  Modern globalized companies are described as “intellectual holding companies” because they focus so strongly on their core technologies while they purchase other services from companies that excel at delivering them. Thus, their entire operations function at a high level, yet they do not have to maintain high cost infrastructure. They get world-class capabilities without the risks involved in developing them.  With rapid globalization, it would be next to impossible to compete in a global platform without strategic alliances.  In my opinion, this reason is a myth.

2. Cost reductions would not be experienced: This could be true to some extent.  In my opinion shippers equally share the responsibility for this blame.  During the initial phase of data collection, 3PL seek the existing costs, business processes, business volume etc., in order to understand the size of the business and develop a cost sheet.  Often it was reported that the shippers are hesitant to provide this information citing confidentiality as a reason. Outsourcing should be considered as a strategic solution and the service provider should be considered as a strategic partner.  Unless transparency is established, relationships do not flourish and this is one of the fallout.  If the shipper could provide all required information to the 3PL and insist on the 3PL to provide the costing using ABB (activity based budget), this may not happen. If necessary go for an open book method which would establish transparency. Many shippers believe that they have very limited role to play in the outsourcing process.  Outsourcing is a marriage; it may not work well for the organization unless both parties involved work for common objective with mutual interest.  CAPGEMINI 2010 report reveals that outsourcing companies have reported 15% cost savings, 25% reduction in capital deployment, and 11% reduction in inventory.  In my opinion if the outsourcing process is managed well one can avoid this problem.

3. Control over the outsourced function(s) would diminish: In my opinion it is a myth.  It is true that the shipper may not have transactional control but the overall control will not diminish.  Again the responsibility lies with the shipper.  If the shipper is able to develop KPIs for all the outsourced activities and monitor the KPIs regularly, one may not lose control over operations.  In my recently published article, I have identified 32 different KPIs for warehousing function only.  An effective set of interlocking performance indicators provides operational feedback to the enterprise and helps them in directing the 3PL operator effectively.  Instead of describing an operation as appalling, if one can explain that 75% of transactions failed to meet the expectations, it would deliver a better message.  Controls will never be outsourced, what are outsourced is transactional operations.

4. Logistics too important to consider outsourcing: There is no doubt Logistics is important function.  Seamless flow of material information keeps the business moving forward. However, some of the activities within logistics function are mundane in nature.  These activities can be outsourced and allow logistics/supply chain manager to focus on the value addition instead of managing day-to-day routine functions. Hence, it is necessary to develop a strategy on outsourcing and identify non-core activities and also develop a SWOT analysis to understand threats and weaknesses of outsourcing.  Routine functions such as transportation and warehousing are non-core functions in my opinion.  One can outsource them and save costs.  In current economic conditions it would be next to impossible to develop infrastructure globally, it would be advisable to farm partnerships and strategic alliances to save costs and expand globally.

5. Service level commitments would not be realized: It is true to some extent.  Again the shippers shares 50% responsibility for this blame.  As long as the shipper is able to define the measurable service levels and monitor the same periodically and works with the 3PL proactively, this could be avoided.  Operational efficiency should be measured on a daily basis.  Some of the Fortune 500 Companies recruit specialists or appoint lead logistics service providers to monitor their operations. Nicholas and Amrik of Monash University indicated that formulating and quantifying the requirements was an obstacle to outsourcing in Australia.  If you are not sure what to expect out of outsourcing, you have no right to complain about the service levels. Effective operational control will ensure high level of service levels.  CAPGEMINI 2010 review reveals that 29% improvement in average order cycle length, order fill rate improved by 11% and whereas order accuracy improved by 7% through outsourcing.

Other reasons include; organizational logistics expertise.  3PL service providers globally consolidated their positions and are able to provide cutting edge solutions which individual organizations cannot afford.  IT integration is very simple now days.  Without penetrating firewalls one can exchange information through EDI and integration may not be necessary.  3PL capability improvement is an on-going issue; shippers may have work with the 3PLs to get what they want.

However, in my opinion there are two genuine reasons and they are security risks and relationships failure.  I have discussed in length about the supply chain security risks in an outsourced environment earlier.  It is a genuine reason and 3PLs are expected improve their performance on this subject.  As mentioned earlier outsourcing is like a marriage.  As long as it is not a marriage of convenience and both the partners are willing to invest time and effort to make the relationships work, the pact should be successful.  The outsourcing goes through three phases before it firms up as a relationship.  The initial phase is known as courtship where everyone is happy.  The second phase would be hardship where the shipper notices inefficiencies and the 3PL struggles with resources and cost overruns.  The third phase is battleship, in this phase both the parties involved are in a mood to terminate the relationship because of mounting issues.  If both parties proactively work and sort out issues through well-defined escalation process, the outsourcing moves into a relationship mode.

Many organizations get caught up in the hype of the outsourcing craze and forget that it is a complex business strategy and lack of strategy, lack of top level management commitment and not dedicating best and brightest internal resources could lead to outsourcing disasters.  If organizations embark on outsourcing with one dimensional approach of saving costs, it would be a big business risk and will have long lasting implications on the business.  Ideally develop an organizational strategy, create an outsourcing frame work, and seek professional help (if necessary) to handle the process and select the right match (3PL) and this should work as mantra for outsourcing success.

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on behalf of a third party

Image by Lєaтнєянєaят via Flickr

At the outset I would like to clarify that this article is not going to deal with outsourcing risks.  The focus is on Supply Chain risks in an outsourced environment.  Risk in managing supply chains is high due to several reasons such as Terrorism, Shrinkage, Quality, Natural disasters, IP Thefts, and Vandalism etc.  The risk magnifies if the some or total operations are outsourced. Twenty five percent CAPGEMINI 2010 outsourcing survey participants have indicated that loss of control as one of the reasons for not outsourcing.

In order to outsource and to mitigate the supply chain risks collaboration becomes very critical in an outsourced environment.  According to CAPGEMINI 2007 report practitioners reveal a gap between the desire to work collaboratively with 3PLs and how to go about it. Collaboration means equal participation whereas 35% of the CAPGEMINI 2005 survey participants have indicated that the time and effort spent on managing Logistics functions not reduced.  This could mean practitioners believe that outsourcing means total responsibility transfer to 3PLs and no participation or minimal participation from their side.  Outsourcing means handing over the control over operations to a third party but the ownership rests with the outsourcing companies and they cannot disown the responsibility. One should clearly understand that the outsourcing is confined to activity but not the function.  The functional responsibility rests with the outsourcing company and they may have to execute the activity in collaboration with the service provider.

Time and again shippers (outsourcing companies) repeatedly pointed out that 3PL (third party logistics) companies do not have the project management capabilities and they fail during the transition due to lack of industry specific knowledge and also due to lack of process integration capability across supply chain. These teething issues if not addressed properly could lead to relationship failures.  Hence, the problem is not supply chain risks but the lack of collaboration in tackling the issues.  In order to highlight the seriousness of the issue, I reviewed the last five CAPGEMINI outsourcing surveys and the trend indicates consistency.

In my opinion, top three reasons that could lead to supply chain risks in an outsourced environment would be lack of project management skills, unsatisfactory transition and lack of knowledge based skills.  Surprisingly the feedback over the last five years was consistent and we see 20% improvement in case of knowledge based skills.  This could be due to more skilled force joining 3PL companies and we have seen recently 3PL companies recruiting practitioners as subject matter experts and to manage the projects.  What is disturbing is that on an average 15% survey respondents have indicated that 3PLs are unable to form meaningful and trusting relationships.  In my opinion this is a cause of concern.  The recent survey conducted by CAPGEMINI (2009) indicated that only 25% of the shippers felt that the outsourcing is “extremely successful” and further 64% participants felt that outsourcing is “somewhat successful”.   If the outsourcing community is not totally happy with the outsourcing outcomes or performance, managing risks through collaboration could become a serious issue.

How secure are the shippers about the security provided by 3PL companies?

The 2008 CAPGEMINI survey did indicate that majority of the respondents are comfortable with the security arrangements.  Around 22% have indicated somewhat secure and 2% indicated that not secure.  Supply Chain security is paramount and even if 2% were unhappy, it needs immediate attention.  These risks could lead to major customer satisfaction issues.  That could be the reason why 25% non-outsourcing respondents (2009 survey) indicated that they do not outsource due to loss of control over operations.  Some of the serious security breaches indicated in the 2008 survey included the following:

  1. In one case, 2GB branded USB sticks were replaced with 1GB but appeared as 2GB to users.
  2. Another case involved falsified Italian airplane parts that were later rumoured to have contributed to accidents.

Supply Chain security is critical to all industries but it is vital for some specific industries where any security breach could be life and death question and the example could be food contamination.  58% Food and beverages industry respondents in 2008 survey indicated that spoilage of food products creating a health risk as the biggest risk. The above mentioned survey did indicate that 3% Food and Beverage industry respondents were not secure about the arrangement, which is really a cause of concern.  Tampering was reported as the second biggest threat (45%) for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies.  This is also a life threatening risk.

Type of Supply Chain Risks:

One can divide the risks into two categories, the first one dealing with 3PL operational efficiency related risks and the second one dealing with generic supply chain risks. The trends reveal some interesting facts.

The top three risks, theft of material, material tampering and theft intellectual capital were predominant in Asia compared to global trends.  The risk of terrorist attacks and the disruptions due to natural disasters are the two top risks in North America.  Whereas Latin America faces serious supply chain risks from, smuggling of other material with the shipments, Vandalism and Spoilage of food products leading to health risks.  Europe is a mixed bag, it also faces all risks but the thefts and thefts of Intellectual capital are over and above the average global percentage.

The first three supply chain risks identified as 3PL operational efficiency related risks are quite common even in insourced operations.  As warehousing and distribution function is a non-core activity for many organizations, organizations should work in collaboration with the service provider to minimize the risks and operational disruptions.

Enhance Supply Chain Security:

Risks are inevitable and outsourcing is unavoidable (encouraged due to various benefits of outsourcing).  Hence, it is necessary to enhance the supply chain security with the help of service providers.  CAPGEMINI 2008 survey identified 12 enhancements and the participants have identified gaps in enhancing the security.  The below given chart is developed based on the data published in the above mentioned survey:

If we review top three gaps, any one would understand that it is not a challenging task to improve security.  What is lacking is proactive approach from both the shipper and the service provider.  Lack of proactive reporting with regard to thefts or any other risks is the biggest complaint by the outsourcing community and this continues to haunt the 3PL industry even today.  In most of the cases, the customer (shipper) gets to know first about the incident.  This is really frustrating for the practitioners.

RFID tags are virtually impossible to copy, making them suitable to security applications. According to “The pros and cons of RFID in supply chain management” article the cost of goods lost within supply chains among the European companies was 50 Million euros a day and the same report indicated that up to US$30 billion worth of goods are being lost each year within supply chain.  However, recent development are encouraging, one of the biggest retailer (Wal-Mart) introduced mandates for RFID adoption.

Providing alternative routing for shipments is a possibility.  However, in the peak seasons such as Christmas and Chinese New Year time it would be next to impossible for rerouting keeping in view of very limited options.

Collaboration:

Collaboration is all about working together.  The CAPGEMINI 2008 survey published how the shipper and service provider are collaborating by industry.  What is heartening to note is that 48% shippers are willing to collaborate with the service provider to enhance the supply chain security to a limited extent.  Retail dominates this segment (57%), followed by Life Science (51%) and Chemical (50%).  Thefts are very high in retail whether the operations are outsourced or insourced and life science and chemical industries face more risks if they fail to collaborate with the service providers to achieve selected security improvements.  The 2008 CAPGEMINI report indicates that the higher the company’s revenue, the more likely they are collaborating beef up security measures.

Supply chain efficiency is the back bone of organizational excellence.  According to one estimate supply chain disruptions could result in 40 percent decline in share price.  Prof. Vinod Singhal of DuPree College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology indicated that material shortages could contribute 7.5% reduction in share value on a given day.

Today’s business success to great extent depends on logistics and supply chain performance and the role of Supply chain has never been as critical as it is today. Supply Chain speed and flexibility have become two key levers for competitive differentiation and increased profitability. In order to compete effectively in the market place Supply Chain managers drive cost improvements and that could lead to some supply chain risks.

“Many of the key risk factors have developed from a pressure to enhance productivity, eliminate waste, remove supply chain duplication, and drive for cost improvement,” says William L. Michels, CEO of consulting firm ADR North America, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Today’s supply chain professionals recognize the risk as part and parcel of supply chain management and at the same time outsourcing is also inevitable.  Hence, the trick lies in identifying the risk and mitigating the same with the help of supply chain partner.  Proactive approach and collaboration minimizes the risk element in Supply Chain.

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Tom Peters, US Management guru once commented, ‘Do what you do best and outsource the rest.’  It is true that one should focus on core capabilities and outsource non-core functions.  But it is not as simple as 123.  In my opinion outsourcing is a strategic decision which could impact the company’s operations and performance.  Hence, care should be taken to answers questions such as why, what, when and how in the areas of outsourcing.  It is very important to understand that outsourcing is not a strategy, but is one of the solutions to achieve the targeted strategy.

“Outsourcing can be defined as turning over all or part of an organizational activity to an outside vendor.” This means trusting an outsider in handling your customers and handing over some of the business controls.  Unless a robust business continuity plan is in place, one cannot venture into such a risk.  Outsourcing may not be a risk.  However, the outsourcing process could be risky unless and until enough care is taken to make the process robust.

Why?

One should find answer to the question, why outsourcing?  “You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going because you might not get there”.  It is true, before one embarks on outsourcing supply chain activities, should know clearly why outsourcing is a solution and what would be the expected outcome.  The first step would be to find answers to the question why.  Many would not think for a minute before answering the question.  The very popular answer would be cost savings.  We all know that global financial recession forced businesses to save costs to improve product margins.  Outsourcing is perceived as one of the biggest source of cost savings. If cost savings is the only reason, then outsourcing could be an impulsive decision.  Every organization embarking on outsourcing journey has some unique reasoning behind the decision.  Clifford F.  Lynch suggested that Managers planning outsourcing should seek satisfying answers to the below given four questions.

  1. Is Logistics a core competency of our Firm?
  2. If not, are we exceptionally good at it?
  3. Will Outsourcing add true value to our Logistics Process?
  4. Can we become comfortable with the risk of turning over control and customer relationships to an outside firm?

If the answers to the first two questions are “Yes”, organizations should make a serious attempt to restrain from outsourcing.  However, if the answers to the question three and four are “Yes”, outsourcing could be a viable option.  I am not concluding that one should outsource based on the answers to the above four questions.  In my opinion, it would be a valuable exercise to explore the outsourcing process further by finding answers to the questions such as what, when and how.

Along with these answers, organizations should also find answers to “what if question”, in other words risk mitigation.  There is no guarantee that outsourcing would deliver positive results. Management should have effective contingency plan in place to handle issues arising out of outsourcing failure.

Generally organizations outsource Supply Chain activities to save cost, to reduce capital deployment, to gain global capability, to focus on core functions and maximize customer satisfaction.

What?

What are the activities that could be outsourced is the second vital question to be answered in preparing the strategy for outsourcing.  It is a simple question and at the same time critical to find answers.  It is simple because, some of the Logistics activities are difficult to handle in spite of size and global presence of the organization.  The best example could be transportation (domestic and international).  The efforts involved in transporting goods from point A to point B are phenomenal and it makes a perfect sense to outsource the activity and manage the KPIs. At the same time it is critical to answer this question because Logistics activities include functions which could directly impact the customer and customer satisfaction.  Managers involved in outsourcing should feel comfortable with the thought of handing over customers to the third party and at the same retain the customer satisfaction levels.  The top three reasons given by organizations who do not favour outsourcing are loss of control, confidentiality and security reasons.  Hence, it is very critical to classify the activities into three categories and take appropriate decision based on merits.

In my opinion one can classify activates within supply chain into three categories.  The first level of outsourcing is transactional outsourcing.  This is typically transaction in nature and no long term contracts and no bonding between 3PL and outsourcing company.  This type of outsourcing is driven by cost factor and it is relatively easy decision.

The second classification is Tactical outsourcing.  This kind of outsourcing is on medium to long term basis with negotiated contacts in place and with integrated IT systems, to facilitate free flow of information and create supply chain visibility. The pricing will remain a factor but not prime factor in making outsourcing decision.  This is considered as a stepping stone for strategic alliances which is the third category.

Strategic outsourcing is also known as Strategic Alliance or Collaborative alliance. This type of outsourcing is based on long term relationships with successful outcomes and based on strategic issues.  In this category the 3PL companies become partners in supply chain management and complete transactional transparency will be established.   Very few 3PL companies are able to achieve this status with their customers by constantly innovating and constantly maintaining operational efficiency and integrity. In order to gain this status often 3PL companies offer open book costing method and gain share concepts to demonstrate the transparency and win confidence of the customers.  Below given graphic explains indicative supply chain activity classification.

When?

Timing is very critical in launching outsourcing strategy.  Launching a very critical strategy at a wrong time could lead to disastrous business results.  Every business will have peaks and lows in business operations cycle.  Outsourcing activity should be undertaken during the non-peak time in order to minimize the impact on business and customer satisfaction.  The best way to find answers to this question is to go through the next phase and find answers to the question how.

How?

“Setting a goal is not the main thing.  It is deciding, how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan”.  I strongly believe that having a plan is great but executing a great plan in critical.  Goals are like milestones, the journey undertaken to achieve those goals is very important.  In implementing an outsourcing plan, project management plays a great role.  Three factors play a vital role in project management and they are, planning, execution and control.

Project Planning:

Planning phase is critical to time related positioning of resources.  The plan should clear describe the scope of the project, deliverables, time-line and cost implications and resources allocation.  A well-documented project plan will make project management lot easier. Many believe that outsourcing is all about handing over activities to the third party.  However, the process of handing over is very important.  If required resources were not allocated for the outsourcing, project, it is deemed to fail.

The success of outsourcing largely depends upon the dedication and commitment shown by the organisation in making the outsourcing a success.  In many cases, organisations disengage from the process, thinking that the project implementation is the responsibility of the 3PL. This is biggest possible reason for the failed relationships. Outsourcing is like a marriage, the success of partnerships with 3PLs requires a combination of trust and collaboration.

Outsourcing is a change management process.  The resistance for the change may come from three sources. The first resistance could be from content (what is changing, i.e., structure, systems, technology); the second possible resistance could be from Process (how the change will be planned, designed and implemented) and the last but not least is the people (those impacted by or participating in the change).  A good project manager should develop a comprehensive plan to counter the resistance.

Inefficient Costing methodology will directly contribute to the downfall of outsourcing.  An efficient costing system will not only help in understanding the costs involved in outsourcing but also will help the organisation in measuring the cost efficiency. Often we hear the question, “Are we making any money doing this?”, or the answer, “I don’t know. We don’t have the costing data.” Collecting cost data relative to a specific functional area is a challenging task. Gathering detail of true Supply Chain Costs is fundamental in assessing outsourcing success.

Clearly, Activity Based Costing (ABC) offers great potential for improved performance and competitive differentiation.  Activity-based Costing enables organisations to enhance profits through cost control and tracking practices. The North American and Western Europe users prefer deal structures which eliminates risk of outsourcing.  However, Asia Pacific users are still following the conventional costing methodology.  An efficient costing system and periodical cost analysis which is translated to performance indicators will help both the parties to keep the project on track.  It has been established time and again that a transparent costing system helps in bonding relationship between the user and the 3PL company.

Project Execution:

Executing the plan plays a critical role in outsourcing.  Some of the factors to be considered during this phase would include, selecting the appropriate service provider, Develop water tight legal documentation, developing a joint project team.  Outsourcing an activity to a third party is based on cost and service compatibility. Some of the critical factors considered in selecting the right partner for outsourcing include, reputation, financial stability, industry experience, asset ownership, IT capability, customer service, feedback from the existing customers, flexibility, commitment to continuous improvement, top management involvement and general reputation as a third party service provider.  A scientific selection process will help in find the fight match.  According to one report published by “EYEFORTRANSPORT” in 2005, the following are the key drivers in choosing a 3PL.

Inept Legal Documentation will also add confusion to the relationship and contribute to the failure.  Even though contracts are administered and managed by humans through structured processes, it is very much necessary to document what is agreed and what is disagreed clearly in order to avoid ambiguity in the relationship.  The legal document (contract) should address all possible friction points and address them with remedies.  In the absence of clarity, confusion prevails and confusion leads to inefficiency and inefficiency leads to downfall. Exit strategies such as mediation and arbitration should also be part of any 3PL contract.

A well-defined project team with roles and responsibilities clearly defined will help the outsourcing process a success.  The project team should be supported by the top management from both the sides.  The initial phase of the execution is very critical and people get bogged down by issues during this phase, it is the leadership team that should save the project from the initial hiccups and take it to the next level.

Project Control:

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” – H. James Harrington

Competence is critical to profitability, it is of little value unless it accompanies by quality effectiveness. While competence defines the economical use of resources, Effectiveness reflects how well a process achieves its business objectives. Hence, it is very much necessary to identify “Qualitative Measures” which focuses on effectiveness and “Quantitative Measures” which focuses resource efficient utilisation. This is a very critical exercise and while defining the measures, it is very much necessary to follow a practical approach and based on current performance standards and taking into account the targeted objectives.  Ambiguous and ambitious performance targets will ruin the whole objective of outsourcing.

One of the most critical tasks during the planning phase is developing performance measurements and reporting methods. The outsourcing organisation must take initiative to design measures that support the company’s business goals for the outsourcing strategy. Absence of efficient Performance Measurement system will also directly contribute to the downfall of outsourcing initiatives. The five studies published by the Council of Logistics Management on the subject of performance measurement in logistics had three significant findings in common. 1. Most firms do not comprehensively measure logistics performance, 2. Even the best performing firms fail to realize their productivity and service potential available from logistics performance measurement, and 3. Logistics competency will increasingly be viewed as a competitive differentiator and a key strategic resource for the firm.

Hence, it is essential to measure the project performance periodically as documented in planning process and share the outcomes with the team.  This helps in understanding limitations if any and also helps in improving the performance through further innovation in the business processes.  The ultimate goal of outsourcing is to continuously improve the performance in order assure smile on the face of the ultimate customer.

Sincere advice may offend the ear but is beneficial to one’s conduct. – Chinese Proverb.  The success of outsourcing largely depends upon collaborative approach adopted by outsourcing company and the service provider.  Collaboration is possible only when there is a trust in partnership.  Where trust is the foundation for the relation, where is the question of betrayal and failure?  In order to summarize, I would strongly recommend the following steps to make supply chain outsourcing a success.

  1. Develop a Strategy and obtain approval from all stake holders;
  2. Define deliverables of Outsourcing Project;
  3. Select the best suitable service provider;
  4. Develop a good legal contract with well-defined exit clauses;
  5. Develop Business Operating procedures;
  6. Engage actively in managing the process;
  7. Measure the performance;
  8. Reward the extra-ordinary performance.

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