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Dell’s Supply Chain Management Essay

The term supply chain management (SCM) was initially used in wholesaling and retailing to denote the integration of logistics and physical distribution functions with the goal of reducing delivery lead times. Manufacturers and service providers have used the same term to describe integration and partnership efforts with first- and second- tier suppliers to reduce cost and improve quality and delivery timing. Terms such as integrated purchasing strategy, integrated logistics, supplier integration, value chain management, supply base management, strategic supplier alliances, lean production, Just-In-Time (JIT) logistics, and supply chain synchronization have been used in the literature to address certain elements or stages of this new management philosophy (1998; 1994).

Conceptually, SCM includes all value-adding activities from the extraction of raw materials through the transformation processes and through delivery to the end user. SCM spans organizational boundaries and treats the organizations within the value chain as a unified virtual business entity (1991; 1995). (1995) further expanded SCM to include recycling or reuse activities. In general, SCM seeks improved performance through elimination of waste and better use of internal and external supplier capabilities and technologies (1996).

The retailing industry has focused on different aspects of SCM, namely, location, transportation, and logistics issues. Indeed, the origin of supply chain management can be traced back to efforts to better manage the transportation and logistics functions (1997; 1995; 1994; 1993; 1991; 1987). The wholesaling and retailing industries incorporate a logistics focus within their strategic decisions. In this respect, SCM is synonymous with integrated logistics systems that control the movement of goods from the suppliers to end customers without waste (1991).

Moreover, integrated logistics systems seek to manage inventories through close relationships with suppliers and transportation, distribution, and delivery services. A goal is to replace inventory with frequent communication and sophisticated information systems to provide visibility and coordination. In this way, merchandise can be replenished quickly in small lot size and arrive where and when it is needed (1994; 1993). Firms that use advanced process technology to increase flexibility and involve manufacturing managers in strategic decision making alter the role of logistics in firm success (1998). A supply chain can reduce overall inventory while maximizing customer service by efficiently redistributing stock within the supply chain using effective postponement and speculation strategies (1998; 1993; 1991).

New logistics technology gives businesses a complex way to make things easier for their customers and suppliers. Within logistics industry, Dell’s system is recognized as one that takes advantage of technology to decrease storage and increase efficiency. The computer company’s supply and shipping networks exemplify the latest trend in logistics, that is, visibility. Companies with the money and foresight are making sure their inventories can be traced and tracked throughout their entire logistical operations, even if their systems are entirely outsourced. Executing a supply chain with full visibility gives companies better information to work with and a more agile system.

Dell has a better control of their operation which has reduced safety stocks and has operate faster to get cash-to-cash conversion cycles. By producing custom products at a rapid pace, the computer manufacturer receives payments from customer before it pays suppliers. Companies can do this only if there’s a short window between receiving an order and shipping it.

In addition, Dell’s customers can also keep track of their order status. They can trace their computer as is moves through assembly and testing, and can track its shipment due to the technology of major shipping companies.

The pulse of Dell’s execution effort centers on increasing business velocity and eliminating waste. Dell employees are constantly focused on driving down backlogs, promoting best practices, and creating synergies among adjacent processes as seen in cross-functional initiatives such as the design-for-manufacturability effort between manufacturing and R&D. This initiative successfully promoted product designs that are easier to assemble.

In 1994, Dell was a struggling second-tier PC maker. Like many others, the company ordered its components in advance and manufactured to inventory. Then Dell began to implement a new business model. It converted its operations to a build-to-order process, eliminated its inventories through a just-in-time system, and sold its products directly to consumers.

Dell carefully targeted corporate relationship customers that had predictable, budgeted needs and that wanted a pre-determined set of product models. The company also selected individual customers who were high-end, repeat purchasers with a preference for early technology adoption. Both account segments had the stable, predictable purchase patterns that Dell needed to make its joint build-product-to-order/buy-component-to-plan system work.

In connection with this, Dell developed a set of new operations capabilities in five crucial areas (2005). First, it created the flawless make-to-order system that has been widely noted. Secondly, Dell worked at length to build an effective supplier management function in order to shorten component lead times and maintain the absolute quality standards required by the just-in-time operation. Third, Dell developed the “sell what you have” system that was essential to matching supply and demand. Fourth, it instituted an extraordinarily crisp set of product life cycle management capabilities that yielded great cost reductions and strategic advantage. Fifth, the company worked with its suppliers to shorten their product life cycles, extending the Dell business model to the whole channel. Together these operating capabilities formed a cornerstone for Dell’s business model.

Moreover, to maintain its rapid growth, Dell needs to hone its just-in-time process. Dell believes that the key to JIT is integrating with the suppliers into its operation. It is important for the company to work with the suppliers to figure out how to minimize the supply chain and hold the least amount of inventory in it. Inventory can add costs, damage quality, slow production, and wreak havoc with Dell’s rapid response reputation. To guard against this, Dell has optimized its supply base and developed a tightly run system in which it “pulls” parts from suppliers just as they are needed for production.

Dell has manufacturing facilities in Austin; Limerick, Ireland; and Penang, Malaysia, each of which produces PCs on a JIT basis. In order to ensure the smooth flow of production supplies into these plants, Dell has developed a two-tiered strategy that employs different sourcing arrangements and delivery schedules for custom and commodity parts.

When Dell receives an order for a PC, it faxes or phones its requirements to suppliers who pick the proper parts and pack them in reusable bins with kanban cards attached. Trucks on a continuous loop between suppliers and Dell, known as a “milk run,” deliver the sorted parts to the computer maker’s plant for final assembly. This process frees Dell from having to manage inventories and the costs associated with them. However, Dell has made efforts to ensure that suppliers don’t get stuck with much inventory. The computer maker allows suppliers to participate in a “revolver program,” where they can sell parts stored at the warehouse to other customers.

In comparison with Dell’s supply chain management, Baxter, a hospital supply company, developed a powerful new type of partnership with its hospital customers. Baxter develops a strategy which is the vendor-managed inventory system, then called the Stockless System in managing its customer’s inventories within their hospital facilities (2001). The hospital specifies its stock requirements for each ward; an on-site Baxter employee counts the stock in each ward each day or every few days; the employee enters this information into a hand-held device and transmits it to Baxter’s warehouse, where a replenishment order is derived; at the warehouse, the order is picked into ward-specific containers; that order is delivered the next day or in a few days directly to the ward, and the Baxter employee puts the stock away; finally, Baxter invoices the hospital. Baxter’s Stockless System created a powerful new channel that changed the ground rules for all other hospital supply companies. However, in the long run, the shift to service competition led to significant sales increases as conversions to Baxter products naturally occurred. The company also gained significant first-mover advantage as it tied up key accounts with this new channel.

In the case of Procter and Gamble (P&G), the company first partnered with Wal-Mart to develop a pioneering continuous replenishment system. Through this system, P&G replenishes Wal-Mart’s facilities without purchase orders based on the retailer’s product movement data. Based on this experience, P&G systematically shifted its strategic focus toward supply chain-based service innovation–and in the process transformed both the consumer products and retail industries. P&G also developed a careful account selection plan as part of an innovative product supply model. The company developed operating partnerships with major customers capable of linking electronically, taking full-truckload deliveries, and engaging in joint business process reorganization programs. Smaller accounts were shifted to master distributors, which in turn were selected for their ability to partner effectively with P&G.

P&G, for its part, developed operations capabilities in two key areas ( 2001). First, it created a sweeping new set of industry-change programs such as ECR (efficient consumer response), CRP (customer requirements planning), and streamlined logistics. These programs required a solid new understanding of channel economics and the impact of supply chain innovation. Second, the company developed sophisticated IT ties to coordinate its product flow, enabling it to raise service levels to meet the needs of the new system.

With regards with Dell’s, supply chain competency of the company comprises of four qualities which includes demand management, internal collaboration, leveraging partners, and financial fundamentals (2004).

Dell’s direct model enables the company to excel at demand management. The process of selling directly to customers and building product to order creates opportunities for true real-time collaboration and synchronization between manufacturing and sales. By being in direct contact with the market, Dell can quickly see changes in customer demand. Synchronization allows Dell to respond more quickly to customer demand than its competitors can. Additionally, this true internal collaboration allows for highly accurate forecasts.

Another key aspect of Dell’s success is its ability to collaborate internally. This competency is driven by a culture that values information sharing and empowers all employees. At Dell, “direct” refers not only to how the company sells but also to how team members communicate and attack issues (2004).

Moreover, Dell’s culture and processes not only help the company collaborate internally but also help it leverage its business partners. Dell leverages its partners by linking suppliers’ planning and execution activities with Dell’s systems. The company uses information technology to gather and share a constant stream of data on supply and demand trends. On the supply side, Dell gathers real-time information about the inventory levels of its suppliers at various positions in the supply chain.

Finally, Dell’s entire supply chain is focused on fundamental business performance. Operating margin and not just profits or growth rate is the number that Dell cares about most to ensure long-term profitability.

Dell Inc.’s renowned direct sales model is regularly cited as the key reason for its overall competitive prowess. At Dell, supply chain management is truly viewed as a strategic capability; it drives coordination with, and in many instances it includes, activities such as marketing, sales, finance, and information technology.


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