Ayers (2000, p. 4) describes a supply chain as "Life cycle processes supporting physical, information, financial, and knowledge flows for moving products and services from suppliers to end-users." A supply chain can be short, as in the case of a cottage industry, or quite long and complex as in the manufacture, distribution, and sales of automobiles. In fact, the automobile supply chain has its origin in the mining of the iron ore used to make many of its components.
Forward-looking companies and industries are beginning, now, to leverage the communication power of the Internet to improve their supply chain efficiencies. In the same way that early computers offered improved efficiency within the walls of a company, the promise of "Internet Technologies" (IT) now offers potentially far-reaching positive effects throughout a company's entire manufacturing supply chain. If the changes brought about by an "Internet revolution" such as thin-client technology; seamless integration between computing platforms, and global communications, can be harnessed within the manufacturing environment, we may see a major upswing in use of computer technology by individual manufacturers for their respective supply chains, based on the way such computer technology can improve both efficiency and profitability.
However, according to Ayers (2002, p. 7) manufacturers seeking to beef-up their current supply chains through use of Internet Technologies (IT) might do well, as a preliminary step, to carefully review what kind of information is already available within the manufacturing plant, so that such information will not be duplicated or replicated in processes provided by the new Internet technologies (IT). Palagyi (2004) and Bourke (2004) warn that such duplication or replication may actually harm the supply chain (as well as wasting financial resources of the company that purchased it).
Information, overall, needs to be seen as yet another strategic resource to be used to order to support, enhance, and improve a business's overall production and marketing results.
Moreover, information systems and technology do not provide value (and can, in fact, prove detrimental to a business) unless those systems can be harnessed to support the specific goals of the business enterprise (Hammer 2004). Properly used, then, information technology can in fact improve efficiency; open new markets; and increase a business's overall competitive advantage (Ayers).
Meyer & Boone (1987 p. 311) describe two key methods of managing technology. Figure 1 illustrates those methods. These authors describe two fundamental methods of deploying technology. The first is to purchase the technology (Technology Driven), identify a project that has an acceptable return on investment (ROI), and then approach the users. The second approach (Value-Added), allows the users to identify a problem that needs to be corrected. The end users are involved in identifying the benefits. As Palagyi (2004) suggests, then and only then should one search for the proper technology. As Palagyi further notes, core elements of a supply chain are readily apparent, but the particulars of how a company uses its supply chain are less so. These particulars, however, will ultimately determine the supply chain's greater or lesser effectiveness within the company:
What constitutes the basic manufacturing supply chain are: core business processes of Plan, Source, Make, Deliver, and Return; a supporting infrastructure; a network of factories, and of distribution sites; a set of qualified suppliers; and a set of buying customers.
Several factors influence the complexity of the supply chain: its global breadth and Reach, the reliability and responsiveness of its supply base, the quality of the Product design, and its position of power in the overall value chain. How a Company configures and manages its supply chain in light of these factors determines whether it operates a strategic asset or delivers utility service. (Palagyi
2004 p. 1)
Technology Introduction Methods
Ramirez & Meyer (2004) cite research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) stating that 74% of all Information Technology projects fail. They suggest that one major reason for failure is that a project does not meet the needs of stakeholders. The present study was, itself, designed and structured in a manner consistent with the Value-Added approach: it first pointed out some of the common problems in the manufacturing arena (within Chapter 2), and then, within that chapter, also discussed available technologies that could potentially solve those problems, or similar ones, within individual manufacturing entities, and that have already done so for dell Computer Corporation and Toyota Motor Company.
In short, first one identifies a need; then one finds the correct tool (Ramirez & Meyer (2004); Hammer (2004); Palagyi (2004). For a company to maximize its ability to compete in a global market, it must improve its communication within the factory walls, between itself and its suppliers, and to its customer base. Information transfer is the key. Every activity within the supply chain creates and uses information (Ayers (2002) p. 7).
Information technology, however, is never a cure-all solution for any business process. Rather, it is a tool that can, within the right circumstances, enable a solution. The information systems technology toolkit, moreover, is ever-expanding; therefore, a company that does not take advantage of Internet technologies (IT) in today's super-competitive manufacturing world is bound to lose ground, and thereby risk being swallowed up by competitors (Lee (2004); Coia (2004); Palagyi (2004); Magretta Managing velocity 1998).
Once a manufacturer has learned how to streamline his or her internal supply chain, he or she is ready to negotiate improvements with partners (Byrnes (2003); Cox (2003); Hammer (2004); Songini & Copeland (2000); Johnston (2004). One reason to delay the purchase of supply chain software is to wait until one identifies the necessary functionality and ensure compatibility with all other supply chain entities. An organization that has gone through this learning process will then be able to drive improvements within its supply base and offer a better, cheaper, and higher quality product to its customers (Lee 2004; Bourke 2004).
The question that drove the research was: To what extent may deployment of web-based technologies effectively be used to increase collaboration and commerce, especially within companies not optimally using such web-based technologies now, between manufacturing and its customers, suppliers and business partners? The basis of my posing this research question was that, having been employed myself, in manufacturing for almost twenty-five years, I have often seen, first-hand, various new and supposedly "cool" (i.e., cutting-edge) technologies of various sorts being bought and used simply because it was "cool" to own and use the latest technological marvel, almost like having the latest model sports car, kitchen gadget, or other trendy material item. The idea of purchasing the technology had been to improve the supply chain, but the actual effect of that new technology, since it had not in fact been purchased in order to redress a particular, specific, error, need, or weakness within the existing supply chain, was in fact to decrease supply chain efficiency and overall effectiveness for the company.
Therefore, an important realization I have made, based on my first-hand experience of having seen new Internet technologies (IT) purchased "for their own sake," but then proving to be worthless to that particular company, is that IT tools purchased in order to improve a supply chain must, first and foremost, effectively support the existing business processes themselves in order to be of any real benefit to the business whatsoever. Palagyi (2004); Lee (2004), and Martin (2003) concur.
In the past, I have even observed various instances, within the various manufacturing entities of which I have worked, where the main task itself has become one of searching for a problem (rather or not it existed before) that may now be resolved by using the latest internet tool, rather than that internet tool's being used to help solve existing problems. Such efforts to simply buy and use the latest technologies (i.e., to use cutting-edge technology for its own sake) can (obviously) be seriously counterproductive to the manufacturer's goals of efficiency, customer satisfaction, profitability, and reduction of waste (Lee (2004); Cox (2003)).
Dell Computers and Toyota Motor Company are two large, enormously successful, international manufacturing companies that are currently using Internet technologies (IT) to optimal effect within their respective operations. According to E-Business (2004).".. Toyotas, Dell, and Sony are continually pushing the outside of the envelope, looking for new functionality and new ways to compete. Their efforts, supported by the leaders in enterprise software, ultimately serve to raise the bar for everyone"(p. 2).
By studying, comparing, and contrasting Dell Computers' and Toyota Motor Company's respective optimal uses of IT, we may perhaps see potential positive applications of these technologies within other manufacturing entities as well. As Lee (2004) further points out, adaptability and flexibility are the most important keys to manufacturing profitability today:
The best supply chains identify structural shifts, sometimes before they occur, by capturing the latest…