Flexibility in the Supply Chain – what does it mean?

Isn’t it true that we like to be treated as individuals? And, isn’t it also true that we are all different in our needs, desires, wants? Starbucks understands this concept and has started to ask for our names when we order a coffee….just so we can have our individualised and “unique” beverage. If the premise is correct that we inherently prefer to be treated as an individual it then follows that Manufacturing capability and the remainder of the Supply Chain must also be configured to deliver the unique needs of the consumer and that the Supply Chain, in time, must be able to deliver ultimate flexibility, a single pack.
But, hang-on a minute haven’t we spent the last decades trying to minimise complexity, increase efficiency, reduce the “SKU Tail”? Actually this thinking, if we follow the logic to a conclusion in that we will drop the last 10% of the “tail” annually through “efficiency” then doesn’t it follow that one-day a manufacturing organisation will only manufacture a single style, colour, design of “widget” (of course the NPD department will always aspire to maintain that product churn!) probably a somewhat extreme view!
The fact of the matter is that industry has wanted to deliver this flexibility for many years whilst the technology up until relatively recently hasn’t allowed cost-effective delivery, given that the average consumer won’t pay for the “personalised offer” it hasn’t been adopted, in the mass market…….until now!
The rise and rise of digital decoration, customised phone covers with your pet dog (or kids!), Moonpig cards with your own design spin are all available via a variety of routes…..but what of “industrial scale” customisation? It’s here but often we don’t know; flooring laminates, ceramic tiles and sometimes we do – Share A Coke, Absolut vodka with 2 million uniquely designed labels and the ubiquitous Mini car…….and so on.
So, if we can customise at an industrial scale what might that mean? Does it mean we order our unique multi-pack containing our specific cosmetic lotions and potions? Does it mean a farmer can order a precise and custom treatment pack for 1 hectare on a South African farm? Yes it does and yes we should be able to harness the technology available and embrace the customer to give him or her their unique package. Move away from the conventional wisdom of the “tail” wagging the dog.
It does present challenges however, how do you customise the structural packaging? Do you digitally print corrugate or cut to order? How do you handle the Artwork systems especially on regulated goods? Automated artwork systems?? And so it goes on……but the technology exists!!
The concept of Late Stage Customisation has been around for years but largely without the technology capabilities we now have available to the industry. Its high time we developed the service offer, embraced the world of mass personalisation but critically do it in a way that is sustainable (business and environment!)
As the old saying goes, “The Future is here Today”

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