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Gartner 2014 Supply Chain Top 25 excel at customer engagement

This year's Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 showcase trends in customer interaction and the rise of digital business.

Any company worth its mettle knows that a healthy and robust supply chain makes for a healthy and robust business. The companies on Gartner's 2014 Supply Chain Top 25 all represent supply chain maturity, technological or cultural innovation and a dedication to supply chain excellence. SearchManufacturingERP site editor Brenda Cole spoke with Stan Aronow, supply chain research vice president at Gartner Inc. and lead author of the report, about this year's best and brightest and how they are highlighting supply chain trends across industries.

What's new in this year's Supply Chain Top 25?

Stan Aronow: This year was a fairly stable year. We had two new companies on the list -- Seagate Technology and Kimberly-Clark. Both are very well deserving. Seagate has gotten very good at supply chain risk management and visibility. Kimberly-Clark has a really strong supply chain analytics team, so they've done a lot of work around demand sensing and e-commerce.

What criteria do companies need to meet to make the Supply Chain Top 25?

Aronow: We start with the Fortune 500 and the Forbes Global 2,000 companies, so you need to be on one of those lists. You need to have revenue of $10 billion or more annually and be a public company. From that list, we zero in on the manufacturers, retailers and distributors.

From there, the methodology is half based on financials and half based on opinions. We're looking for a balance of what we're seeing as far as supply chain maturity as analysts, as well as what people out there in the community think of these companies. Our voter pool spans equally across North America, Europe and Asia. We want to get a good representation.

Were there any companies that dropped off the list this year that you were surprised to see go?

Aronow: One that dropped off was Ford. It's a good company, but I think the problem was that they were already ranked lower last year and then dipped below the line this year. They've gotten really good at their own supply chain capabilities -- risk management, for example -- but they're managing a really complex upstream supply chain. Of the automakers, they're definitely one of the most advanced, and I think we'll see them back on the list in the future.

In general, industrials have been showing up more on the list, which is great. Historically, we've had a lot of high-tech and consumer goods retailers on the list.

Did you uncover any noticeable supply chain trends in your results?

Aronow: The first trend we found this year was "understanding and supporting the fully-contextualized customer." One of the big buzzwords today is big data. Yes, you can do very advanced analytics, but you have to go there with your customers and see how these particular markets are different, whether emerging or mature. You need to see how they're using technology to interact with customers and market their products.

Another trend that we talked about was around digital business. Companies are moving towards more digital interactions with their customers, and vendors are providing technology solutions that span across all industries. An example of digital interactions are companies like L'Oreal and P&G that are selling items like sonic care toothbrushes or even ones that can track your brushing habits. The point is, there are all these remote telematics applications being used right now by not just high-tech companies, but all sorts of companies.

Were there any manufacturing-specific findings on this year's list?

Aronow: A lot of the companies that we talked to are pursuing some form of differentiation or segmentation in their supply chains. Manufacturing absolutely has a huge part to play in that. Particularly in the industrial settings, manufacturing becomes the centerpiece of that strategy. In some cases, it's about make to stock versus engineer to order, and they'll line up a whole value chain that is tuned to be really efficient from a cost perspective, really responsive to the customer or really focused on a unique set of products. They go to the logistics people to make sure certain items are expedited in shipping, and on the sourcing side, they'll make sure these items are never out of stock.

Some companies just start with a manufacturing strategy that is differentiated, but the companies that we see on Supply Chain Top 25 are really putting it all together.

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