What is Supply Chain Management (SCM)?

This article offers an in-depth look at Supply Chain Management (SCM), covering its key components and strategic practices for SCM. Understand how software solutions are changing supply chain management practices today.

women sorting packages

Supply chain management is why everything you need or want gets from its origin – be it a farm, a factory, or a software developer's desk – to you, the consumer, in the most efficient way possible. This journey is more complex than it seems, involving steps like planning, sourcing materials, manufacturing, and delivering goods.

In this article, we'll explain supply chain management, its key components, and how it keeps the wheels of commerce and daily life turning smoothly.

What is supply chain management in simple words?

Supply Chain Management (SCM) is the process of managing the flow of goods and services from start to finish. It's like a journey that starts with raw materials and ends with the final product in the hands of the customer. SCM involves planning and overseeing everything needed to make and deliver products – from sourcing materials, manufacturing, storing, and shipping to ensuring the product meets customer needs and expectations.

Supply chain management is a science and an art. As an art, it requires creative problem-solving, adaptability, and the ability to craft harmonious relationships across diverse networks. As a science, it relies on precise data analysis, systematic processes, and technological innovations to optimize and streamline the supply chain.

The main goal of supply chain management is meeting customer demand efficiently and on time while keeping costs down and ensuring the entire process is sustainable and can adapt to changes like market trends or disruptions.

The five main parts of supply chain management

Effective supply chain management goes beyond inventory management. It involves five important stages that must not be overlooked.

1. Supply chain planning

Supply chain planning is the cornerstone of successful supply chain management. It encompasses a range of activities designed to balance supply with demand, ensuring that the entire supply chain operates smoothly and efficiently. 

It involves strategic forecasting to predict and meet customer demands, align inventory levels, and streamline operations. It's the art of anticipating future customer needs and preparing the supply chain to meet them effectively.

warehouse workers

Critical elements of successful supply chain planning include:

  • Using data analysis and market insights to predict future demand accurately. This includes using machine learning and artificial intelligence for more precise forecasting.
  • Determining the optimal inventory levels to hold at various supply chain stages to avoid overstocking and understocking, ensuring a balance between meeting market demand and minimizing holding costs.
  • Aligning manufacturing schedules with predicted demand and inventory levels to ensure efficient production without delays or excess inventory.
  • Developing strategies to manage risks, such as disruptions in supply, shortages of raw materials, and changes in customer demand.
  • Planning the logistics for storing and transporting goods from manufacturers to distributors, retailers, or directly to consumers.

2. Procurement and sourcing

Procurement and sourcing involve identifying, acquiring, and managing the resources needed for production. This includes sourcing raw materials, components, and services from suppliers and vendors. This stage is important to ensure the supply chain's quality, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability. 

The primary objectives are to obtain materials of the right quality, at the right price, and at the right time, contributing to the overall efficiency and profitability of the supply chain.

To be successful in this aspect of SCM, you should do the following:

  • Prioritize sustainability and ethical practices in sourcing decisions, such as choosing suppliers who adhere to environmental standards and fair labor practices.
  • Use electronic procurement systems to streamline the sourcing process, including supplier selection, contract management, and order fulfillment.
  • Build strong relationships with reliable suppliers to ensure consistent quality and supply of materials. This involves strategic planning, negotiations, and ongoing supplier relationship management.
  • Strategically negotiating contracts to secure favorable terms and prices, thereby impacting the bottom line and competitiveness of the final product.
  • Implement strict quality checks and standards to ensure that sourced materials meet the required specifications and standards.
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3. Manufacturing and production

Manufacturing and production are the engines of supply chain management. This is where you transform the raw materials into the finished product. This phase is essential to your supply chain performance because it directly affects product quality, production costs, and customer satisfaction. The key goals of this stage are producing high-quality products, minimizing production costs, and ensuring timely completion to meet market demand.

To be successful in this stage, you must do the following:

  • Engage with suppliers, distributors, and customers in the product development process to ensure the final product meets or exceeds market expectations.
  • Implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to integrate manufacturing processes with other SCM components for real-time visibility and coordination.
  • Embrace technologies such as 3D printing, IoT (Internet of Things), and warehouse automation to streamline production and increase flexibility.
  • Implement lean principles to minimize waste and optimize efficiency in production processes to give you a competitive advantage in a sustainable world.
  • Use adaptable manufacturing systems like Just-In-Time (JIT) production techniques to align manufacturing schedules closely with customer orders, reducing inventory levels and costs.

4. Logistics and distribution

Logistics and distribution are critical components in the supply chain management process, dealing with transporting, warehousing, and delivering products to customers. This stage plays a crucial role in ensuring that the finished goods reach the market efficiently, safely, and on time.

Logistics is the planning, implementation, and control of the movement and storage of goods, services, and information from the point of origin to the point of consumption. On the other hand, distribution involves the processes and systems used to move products from production facilities to end consumers, including distribution centers, wholesalers, and retailers.

These practices will help you achieve efficiency in your logistics operations:

  • Implement supply chain management software for the key stages in logistics management, such as freight procurement, inventory management, and real-time tracking of logistics operations.
  • Ensure accurate order fulfillment; customer orders must be accurately picked, packed, and shipped for a positive customer experience and satisfaction.
  • Navigate the complexities of global logistics, including compliance with international regulations, managing longer lead times, and cultural considerations.
  • Develop strategies to handle disruptions in logistics, such as transportation delays, customs issues, and geopolitical factors.
warehouse distribution center

5. Return and reverse logistics

Return and reverse logistics represent the final yet crucial stage in the supply chain management process. Return logistics focuses on handling returned customer products, possibly due to defects, dissatisfaction, or warranty returns. On the other hand, reverse logistics involves managing the flow of goods from the point of consumption back to the point of origin to recapture value or proper disposal.

To successfully handle this stage of SCM, you should do the following:

  • Craft clear, customer-friendly return policies that outline the process and conditions for product returns.
  • Find ways to recover value from returned or surplus products, such as refurbishing, remanufacturing, or selling in secondary markets.
  • Collaborate with recycling companies, waste management services, and other partners to facilitate the eco-friendly disposal or repurposing of products.
  • Ensure that your return and reverse logistics are aligned with broader supply chain strategies for consistency and overall efficiency.
  • Use eco-conscious reverse logistics to differentiate yourself from the market and enhance your brand reputation.

Best practices in SCM

Overseeing the entire lifecycle of a product, from initial concept to final disposal, involves careful coordination across all stages of the supply chain to optimize performance and sustainability. These are the key strategies and approaches to enhance efficiency and reduce costs across the entire value chain:

  1. Align all supply chain stages, from sourcing to delivery, with the overall business strategy. This ensures that every stakeholder is working towards the same goals.
  2. Use advanced analytics and data-driven tools to predict customer demand and manage inventory levels accurately. This helps reduce overstocking or stockouts, ensuring that products are available when customers need them.
  3. Adopt agile supply chain management practices so you can quickly adapt to market changes, customer preferences, or supply disruptions, especially for in-demand products.
  4. Develop strong relationships with suppliers. This involves regular communication, fair contract terms, and collaborative problem-solving. Strong relationships can lead to better-quality materials and more reliable supply chains.
  5. Incorporating eco-friendly practices across the product development lifecycle. This includes reducing carbon footprint, minimizing waste, and using sustainable materials, which is increasingly important to consumers and regulatory bodies.
  6. Adhere to environmental regulations and obtain relevant certifications to demonstrate commitment to sustainable practices.
  7. For international operations, try to understand global supply chains, including compliance with international laws, customs regulations, and cultural differences, especially for new products.
  8. Identify potential risks (like supplier issues, natural disasters, or market fluctuations) and develop contingency plans. Adequate risk management helps you build a resilient supply chain that ensures continuity and reliability.
  9. Employ the latest technologies, such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, IoT (Internet of Things), warehouse management systems (WMS), and AI (Artificial Intelligence), to streamline operations, enhance real-time visibility, and improve decision-making.
  10. Finally, invest in employee training and development. A knowledgeable and skilled workforce is crucial for effective SCM.
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What is the difference between logistics and supply chain management?

While often used interchangeably, logistics and supply chain management (SCM) are distinct concepts in business operations. Logistics primarily focuses on transporting, warehousing, and handling goods as they move from one location to another. It ensures products are stored, transported, and delivered efficiently.

SCM is a broader term that encompasses logistics but includes other aspects like sourcing raw materials, production, inventory management, order fulfillment, and customer service. It's the end-to-end process from creating a product to its delivery to the end user.

Logistics and SCM, while distinct, are complementary. Logistics is a critical piece of the SCM puzzle, and its efficiency directly influences the success of the overall supply chain strategy. Collaboration between logistics and other aspects of SCM, like procurement and production, is essential to ensure a smooth flow of goods and information throughout the supply chain.

SCM with supply chain management software

In today's supply chain, manual spreadsheets can no longer cut it, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have become indispensable tools for managing complex supply chains. These solutions offer unparalleled flexibility, scalability, and accessibility, crucial for integral supply chain components like warehouse management, dock scheduling, freight management, and beyond.

Cloud-based SaaS solutions in SCM offer several advantages, including lower upfront costs, reduced need for IT infrastructure, easy scalability, and remote accessibility. This flexibility is vital for businesses adapting to fluctuating market demands and supply chain disruptions.

These platforms can seamlessly integrate with existing systems, enabling businesses to manage their entire supply chain ecosystem from a unified interface.

GoRamp has a suite of supply chain management software solutions ranging from dock management software to freight management systems and yard management solutions. They are designed in such a way that they are easy to use across the entire value chain.

Supply chain leaders like Viking Malt, Ziegler Group, and Schoeler Allibert already use GoRamp to achieve maximum efficiency and cut costs.

Request a demo today to see how GoRamp can digitalize and optimize your supply chain processes.

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