Emerging Technologies in Supply Chain Management

The Internet has an enormous impact on how people communicate, shop, and work. This technology has also created changes in how companies conduct business in the 21st century. One of the areas of business that is likely to see tremendous change in the coming years is supply-chain management. By harnessing the power of the Internet, supply-chain management will continue to evolve in ways that will enable enterprises to change the way they manage inventory, place orders with suppliers, and communicate critical information with each other.

While some of these technologies have existed for years, or decades in the case of radio frequency identification tags, the harnessing of the Internet to these technologies offers the potential for transforming supply-chain management. Improved supply-chain management also means improved inventory control and increased profits.

In 2001, Nike missed its revenue target by a significant dollar amount. The shortfall was explained in part by a failed supply-chain automation project. "Some estimate that new technologies could strip out more than $ 30 billion in excess inventories" (Fonstad). The term e-business – as distinct from e-commerce – can be used to describe the adoption of the Internet to accelerate the goal of supply-chain integration (Lee) Four emerging technologies and practices in e-business will have a dramatic impact on supply-chain management.

o Virtual marketplaces

o Radio frequency identification tags (RFID)

o Synchronized planning

o Supplier performance management


MetalJunction is the virtual marketplace owned by two of India's largest steel producers. Tata Steel and Sail Steel traded more than 5,000 tons of steel in March 2002. By March 2003, tonnage had increased to 43,000 tons per month (Mills).

What is a virtual marketplace and what are its applications to industry? Virtual marketplaces have many names such as e-markets, net market places, and electronic markets. These markets all have common characteristics.

o Reliance on the Internet

o Buyers and Sellers come together without an intermediary

o Neutrality (all buyers and sellers are treated the same)

o Information is provided about sellers and products

In its most fundamental form, a virtual market place brings together buyers and sellers through the internet. At its highest level, a virtual market place gives a purchaser and supplier the opportunity to re-engineer the sales administration process, improve forecasting and scheduling, renew its go-to-market approach, shorten its order-to-cash cycle, and enhance customer service (Steel24-7). Ideally, virtual market places are centered on a particular industry. Some prominent examples are steel, agricultural products, and automotive parts. In addition to providing information on vendors and general information about its products, a virtual market may also offer product specifications, side-by-side comparisons, technical papers, and market analysis.

Many challenges exist in setting up an e-marketplace. Primary among these are identifying the tools necessary to use the market, providing a secure environment, pricing, payment, and fulfillment. For an orderly marketplace, Internet protocols must be selected. The cost of the technology to access and engage in the market must not be prohibitive. Security and privacy must be adequate to ensure confidential transactions. Authentication and authorization of users from many organizations must be possible. Private communication must be assured.

Pricing policies may be set or bartered. A common example of bartering, or auctioning, is E-Bay for consumer products. Payment procedures can be predetermined or arranged between the buyer and the seller. Finally, fulfillment of orders must be insured. As in the case of traditional marketplaces, failure to deliver in a timely manner will result in firms losing market power and ultimately may lead to failure (McKnight).

A final issue of concern in virtual markets is jurisdiction and governing law. Virtual markets place its members in the global trading community. Since e-markets are a recent phenomenon, defining the legal system responsible for settling disputes is an evolving process. Current legal reasoning places jurisdiction in the locality of the market. In a virtual market, however, one must ask where the market actually exists. While the FTC has attempted to exert control over on-line transactions, a definitive ruling on the jurisdiction for international e-market places has not yet been made.


In November 2003, Wal-Mart gathered together its 120 top suppliers to announce it would require radio frequency identification tags (RFID) on shipping pallets and cases of merchandise. Wal-Mart set a deadline of January 2005 for its top 100 suppliers. The remaining suppliers will had until the start of 2006 to meet the requirement (Sliwa).

A basic RFID system has three components.

o Antenna

o Transceiver

o Transponder (tag)

The antenna activates the tag, reads, and writes data to it. When an RFID tag moves past a reader, its information is transmitted to a host computer for processing. Most common RFID systems are passive and contain their own power source, have a short transmitting range, operate at a low frequency, and have a low cost. While RFID has existed since the 1960's recent technological changes have reduced the cost and allowed the technology to be used in more applications.

A common everyday use of RFID is the automatic reading of prepaid passes on toll roads. The advantages of RFID are many fold. For example, RFID is extremely fast, non-contact, does not require line of site, and can operate in a variety of weather conditions. In the case mentioned above, the benefits of RFID will go to Wal-Mart, while the costs are the responsibility of the suppliers. Kara Romanov, an analyst with AMR Research, Inc., estimates the start-up costs for a supplier who ships 50 million containers per year will run between $ 13 million and $ 23 million. These costs include RFID tags and associated hardware and software (Sliwa).

SamSys Technologies of Richmond Hills, ON and ThingMagic, LLC of Cambridge, MA are two leaders in the application of RFID to supply-chain management. Sam-Sys is dedicated to an open system environment that will not limit RFID to a single protocol or range of frequencies. This philosophy is based on the premise of many vendors and readers that will work seamlessly together (SamSys).

ThingMagic was founded in 2000 by five MIT graduates. It has developed low cost RFID systems. Presently, ThingMagic is developing and marketing protocol agile RFID tag readers (ThingMagic). In addition to Wal-Mart, the Department of Defense (DOD) is a key player in RFID development and deployment. The Department of Defense has issued a new policy, which requires all suppliers embed passive RFID chips in each individual product if possible, or otherwise at the level of cases or pallets by January 2005. In February 2004, the DOD hosted a summit for its suppliers to discuss its RFID plans (Broersma). To quote Colin Cobain the Chief Technology Officer of Tesco Stores: "The question is not will RFID change the way you do business. The question is will you be ready" (ThingMagic).


"Synchronized planning, in the form of collaborative forecasting and replenishment, coordinated production, inventory and capacity plans, information integration, and direct linkages of ERP systems, is one of the most exciting developments in supply chain management in many industries" (Synchronous). Synchronized Planning involves key steps (Lee).

o Information integration

o Planning synchronization

o Workflow coordination

o New business models

First, information integration requires information sharing and transparency. It is the sharing of information among the members of the supply chain. Information exchanged may include inventory levels, production schedules, and shipment schedules. The benefits include better job scheduling and a reduction of the bullwhip effect. "The effect indicates a lack of synchronization among supply chain members. Even a slight change in consumer sales ripples backward in the form of magnified oscillations upstream, resembling the result of a flick of a bullwhip handle" (Chase 335).

Planning synchronization defines what is to be done with the information that is shared. This can include collaborative planning and joint design. The benefits are lower cost and improved service.

If planning synchronization is the "what" is to be done with shared information, workflow coordination is the "how" it is done. Operations that can be coordinated include procurement, engineering and design changes, and production planning. Benefits include early time to market, improved service, and gains in efficiency. Synchronized planning can lead to new business models. Not only can these new business models redefine workflow, they can lead to changes in responsibility for different parts of the supply-chain. A redefined supply-chain can jointly create new products and lead to expansion into new markets (Lee).

Synchronized planning, however, can not be accomplished without a tight linkage of all companies in the supply chain. Channels of communication must be well defined and the performance of each member in the chain must be monitored. The integrated supply-chain must hold members responsible for their part in the process. As product life cycles grow shorter and shorter, efficient synchronization of the supply-chain grows in importance. To ensure that the supply-chain is driven by consumer demand, and to decrease the bullwhip effect, synchronized planning is critical (Lee).


As the supply-chains of different organizations become tightly intertwined, it becomes necessary to measure the performance of each member of the chain. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified before Congress in February 2001 that businesses were unable to anticipate the economic slowdown of the last recession, overbuilding inventories despite significant supply-chain automation (Fonstad). Even the use of the latest technology, therefore, may not guarantee that a supply-chain is operating efficiently.

One way to answer the question of how well a supply-chain is functioning is to develop supplier scorecards. There are five steps in developing an effective scorecard (Golovin).

o Agree on what is important and how to measure it

o Use web based incident reports to communicate problems as they occur

o Engage in continuous supplier management

o Measure to prevent rather than react

o Use web based software that all suppliers can utilize without making expensive investments in software and training

It is important that the buyer and seller agree at the outset on what is important and how it is measured. This is critical because once decided upon, the supplier will optimize its work to the designated criteria. If just in time delivery is a priority, the supplier may concentrate on this aspect of the order to the detriment of other factors. In addition, benchmarks to measure supplier performance must be realistic and attainable.

Actual performance should then be consistently tracked against these benchmarks. The manufacturer and supplier should work together to develop benchmarks that are consistent with industry performance and product specifications. The use of web based incident reports is important in keeping track of problems as they occur. Incident reports should not be used only to track problems, but should be used to resolve the problem in real time. It is also important to measure the time it takes the supplier to correct the problem.

Continuous supplier management, sometimes referred to as supplier engineering, has become more important as manufacturers outsource more of their operations. A 90-day review cycle can be ruinous when you are manufacturing an innovative product. "Innovative products typically have a life cycle of just a few months" (Chase 337). A 90-day review cycle may come close to exceeding the competitive advantage of an innovative product. Effective continuous supplier management must be geared to specific periods and tolerances. This is then tied to web based incident reports that enable alarms to ring when products, or delivery, are out of agreed upon tolerances.

An effective supplier scorecard should be set up to prevent problems as opposed to reacting to them. The sooner you know there is a problem the lower the cost of resolving it and the greater the chance of preventing it altogether. The best scorecard not only measures events after they have happened, they continually monitor performance in real time. The use of automation is key to making this happen. For example, a system that matches invoices with purchase orders will catch pricing errors before a check is cut and a manufacturer's money is out the door. Utilizing web-based software not only decreases the cost of a supplier integrating with a manufacturer, it speeds up the integration process. Web-based software also enables suppliers both small and large to participate in the supply-chain.

The other four points listed above all rely on the ability of a manufacturer and a supplier to participate in the planning, sourcing, quality control, and delivery of a product. The Internet enables all members of the supply-chain to collaborate and work together as a team. Finally, by making supplier performance web-based, suppliers are able to participate in their own performance improvement (Golovin).


Supply-chain management is an interesting and complex subject. It goes to the core of new business methods in the 21st century. The near universal availability of the Internet is the enabling technology for changes in how the supply-chain of an enterprise is managed. The Internet also allows organizations to adopt new business practices and enter new markets. By harnessing the power of the Internet, supply-chain management will continue to evolve beyond the changes being implemented today.

E-business has been the logical outgrowth of e-commerce. E-business adopts the power of the Internet to accelerate the growth of supply-chain integration. While E-business has had a tremendous impact on supply-chain management, it also can be adapted to both front end and back end business operations (Lee). Improved inventory control and increased profits are two of the benefits of improved supply-chain management. As noted in the introduction, Nike missed its 2001 earnings targets due in part to the failed implementation of a supply-chain automation project. It has also been estimated that more than $ 30 billion dollars in excess inventories can be eliminated through improved supply-chain management. These real savings can be brought straight to the bottom line.

Four new technologies and business practices that harness the power of the Internet are virtual market places, radio frequency identification tags, synchronized planning (RFID), and supplier performance management. Virtual markets enable buyers and sellers to come together 24/7 in effect creating a store that never closes. The additional advantages of virtual marketplaces are the elimination of an intermediary, access to product and vendor information, and a neutral market where all buyers and sellers are treated equally. Virtual markets give both buyers and sellers the opportunity to re-engineer their sales administration process.

As noted above, RFID has existed since the 1960's, however, improvements in technology and paring RFID with the Internet has expanded this tracking method beyond its limited past in manufacturing plants. The three components of an RFID system are an antenna, transceiver, and a transponder (tag).

Synchronized planning when applied across a supply chain consists of collaborative forecasting and replenishment, coordinated production, inventory and capacity planning, information integration, and direct linkage of ERP systems. The four key steps in synchronized planning are information integration, planning synchronization, workflow coordination, and the opportunity to develop new business models. Key to synchronized planning is using the Internet for information sharing. The benefits of synchronized planning include better job scheduling and reduction of the bullwhip affect. The bullwhip affect magnifies oscillations upstream in the supply-chain caused by a change in consumer sales. Synchronized planning also defines what is to be done with shared information and how it will be done. As product life cycles grow shorter, efficient synchronization of the supply-chain rewards firms who seize its potential.

Supplier scorecards are a method of evaluating members of the supply-chain in increasingly intertwined organizations. As Alan Greenspan pointed out in 2001, many firms were unable to anticipate the last recession and continued overbuilding inventory despite having invested heavily in supply-chain automation. This statement underscores the need develop the tools to monitor the performance of firms up and down the supply-chain. The five steps to develop an effective scorecard are agreeing on what is important and how it will be measured, the use of web-based incident reports, engagement in continuous supplier management, measuring to prevent problems, and the use of web-based software. In rolling out these tools, it is imperative that both the buyer and the seller first agree on what is important and how it will be measured. The other steps flow from the first.

The Internet has had an enormous impact on the personal and professional lives of businesspersons. On the business side, the Internet has brought new life to existing technologies and offered businesses the opportunity to engage in the world marketplace. The harnessing of the Internet by business has enabled greater cooperation and information exchange up and down the supply-chain. The Internet has enabled businesses to improve the supply-chain by the way they manage inventory, place orders, and communicate critical information with each other.

Works Cited

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Chase, Richard B., Nicholas J. Aquilano, and F. Robert Jacobs. Operations Management for Competitive Advantage. 9th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill / Irwin, 2001.

Fonstad, Jennifer. "From the Ground Floor: How to Manage Inventory on Demand." Red Herring. 31 May 2001. 5 Dec 2003.

Golovin, Jonathan. "Five Keys to a Successful Supplier Scorecard." Vigilance, Inc. 5 Dec 2003.

Lee, Hau L., and Seungjin Whang. "E-Business and Supply Chain Integration." Stanford Global Supply Chain Management Forum. Nov 2001. 22 Nov 2003.

McKnight, Lee W., Diana Anius, and Ozlem Uzuner. Virtual Markets in Wireless Grids: Peering Policy Obstacles. TPRC 30th Research Conference on Communication, Information, and Internet Policy., Oct 2002. Vienna, VA: Telecommunications Policy Research Conference.

"Mills Warm to Online." Steel Business Briefing. 1 Jul 03. 22 Nov 2003. SamSys. 4 Dec 2003.

Sliwa, Carol. "Wal-Mart Suppliers Shoulder Burden of Daunting RFID Effort." Computerworld. 10 Nov 2003: 1+. Steel24-7. 22 Nov 2003.

"Synchronous Planning Across the Supply Chain." Stanford Global Supply Chain Management Forum. 27 Jan 1999. 22 Nov 2003.

ThingMagic. 4 Dec 2003.