What Does Supply Chain Collaboration Really Mean?

Adrian Gonzalez brings up an interesting point about the multifaceted use and misuse of the word collaboration in a recent Logistics Viewpoints blog entry.

He says, and I totally agree, that collaboration is arguably one of the most overused words in supply chain management. (Other overused but often unrealized terms include flexibility, agility, visibility, innovation, transparency and a biggie, trust—but all of those get their impetus from a true collaborative spirit between companies and service providers.)

The lip service is that every relationship, especially every new one, is born of a collaborative process that is destined to last for the long haul and ensure ultimate success. I hear and read about that all the time, but too often in the real world when push comes to shove and “business happens,” that collaborative spirit becomes nothing more than lip service, an ironic buzzword.

Gonzalez says there are “many more false starts and failures” when it comes to collaboration, and that comes down mainly to the attitudes and expectations that parties bring to the table. Is the driving force behind a collaborative endeavor truly a shared goal? Are there conflicting goals? Or is the “collaboration” really tilted more to one side’s selfish interest but described as collaboration anyway?

Another major question identified by Gonzalez is whether collaboration is really possible “if everyone wants the benefits but none of the risks, costs, and assets.”

Those are important questions to consider and resolve before bragging about how collaborative the deal is.

“WHO to collaborate with and HOW are also interesting questions to ponder,” Gonzalez continues. “When you take into account the potential benefits of a prospective collaborative relationship, and how easy or difficult it will be to set up and manage, which type of partner provides the best opportunity for success? Collaborating with a customer? A supplier? A competitor? A company outside your industry? A 3PL?”

Simply put, who you dance with is only part of the story—it’s also about choosing a partner you’re in sync with, one who won’t step on your toes, or sit it out if the dance gets too fast or complicated.

Vested Outsourcing is designed with true, transformative collaboration at the heart of the relationship. The Five Rules create the proper direction, guidelines, conditions and measures to install, operate and monitor a collaborative relationship. From focusing on the what, not the how, to mutual agreement at the outset on desired outcomes, to creating a relationship framework that provides insight and not merely oversight, the Vested approach has collaboration as the essential element.

While there is some evidence that collaboration is moving beyond the feel-good buzzword stage as companies and suppliers adjust to the new realities of economics, trade and finance, true collaboration is still relatively rare.

I believe the desire for collaboration is universal. True collaboration is really hard, but necessary. The Vested model creates the conditions to achieve it.

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