It’s an old approach seeing a revival in the new digital age—putting the customers’ needs first. All across business, no matter the industry, size, or geographic location, the push is on to return to a more customer-centric business model. Thanks, in part, to the rise of the Internet of Things, customers are more informed than ever before, and they expect to be able to retrieve details about a person, business, or product in seconds. And that need for speed extends beyond just gathering facts on the information highway. They expect to be able to make purchases and receive service in that same lightening quick timeframe. Companies like Walmart, Nestle, and Carhartt are strengthening their roots in that regard, building on their founding principles of trust, exemplary service, and working hard every day to satisfy the needs of their customers. Customers that are part of their heritage, part of their story, and have been woven into the very fabric of their brands. They understand the need to deliver a complete customer experience, not just a product, and they recognize doing so is more critical to their success than ever before. All three presented great keynotes at this year’s Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, and all three said the same thing. Your supply chain has to be focused on the end customer, and that means developing a comprehensive end-to-end strategy with complete visibility. But the drive to put the customer first isn’t just limited to those who sell directly to the final consumer. Organizations who work in a more business-to-business environment have also recognized the need to listen to their customers and deliver what they want, when and where the want it, and how they want it. Schneider Electric hosted a session at the same conference on how they’re focusing on building out collaborative planning both upstream and down. Co-planning they call it. They’re involving suppliers and customers in their supply chain in new ways—and seeing success and improvements as a result. These growing customer-focused supply networks are slowly beginning to replace the traditional, linear supply chain which tends to focus on select links in the chain one at a time. For Schneider their people are changing processes to support this new level of collaboration or in their case co-planning. The challenge they face is finding supply chain technology to keep up with this new pace. Faster Results As one of my colleagues so aptly explains it, if you typed something into Google, would you be satisfied waiting days or even weeks for the answer? Heck no! So why is that kind of time delay acceptable in your supply chain? Supply chains are complex, they involve vast amounts of data from different sources, and there are hundreds or more variables involved in every decision. It’s frustrating to wait weeks for an answer, especially if it’s the wrong one. Systems utilizing in-memory computing, robust analytics, and the ability to run multiple what-if scenarios in a sandbox like environment means an answer to your question in minutes. Easy Scenario Comparisons Once your Google search has returned results, you expect to be able to see more than one result at a time. Could you imagine the increasing frustration to have to re-run the search over and over again just to see all the possible answers so you can compare them? That’s what it can be like for some using legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. But with advancements in the tools available, it is possible to use scorecards to easily compare multiple scenarios, allowing you to quickly see how each compares against a set of key performance metrics. Speed = Enhanced Collaboration So now that you’ve found the result you were looking for, what do you do if want to get your colleague’s opinion on it? The old way would be to copy and paste the link from your browser into an email, send that email, and then wait for a reply. Unless you happen to catch them right as they were checking their email, it could be hours, or even days, before you hear back from them. Not ideal when you need to make a critical business decision quickly. The new way is to send that person the link via a social network—like Skype, Twitter, or Facebook. In the supply chain world, where teams are often distributed globally, many are still relying on the old standby of email. But more advanced supply chain software solutions are enhancing collaboration avenues. Now you can send you colleague a message, including the scorecard or scenario results, directly within the tool. Your supply chain software could become your team’s new social platform! The point is while in nearly every facet of your personal life you demand excellence as a consumer, and strive to provide that same outstanding service level to your own customers, are you settling when it comes to your supply chain tools? If the answer is yes, perhaps it’s time not to.