APICS is the premier professional association for supply chain management.

Boosting Your Service and Innovation

By Philip E. Quigley, CFPIM, PMP | May/June 2012 | 22 | 3

APICS magazine | ManagementUsing technology to enhance operations

Social networking technologies are having a huge impact on our marketplace and can even affect the work of supply chain and operations management professionals. Specifically, there are opportunities in two critical areas: getting reports from field service professionals about products and sharing ideas and inputs on how to improve products and services. Both can be critical for business success.

Years ago, I worked at Xerox Office Products, where I was developing a system to generate proposals. It became obvious that the service representatives who went to customer sites every day to work on the different machines were a walking gold mine of data. They knew what worked and didn’t, what customers liked and disliked, and even what the competition was doing. Similarly, at an aerospace company where I worked, equipment was shipped to active war zones. Here, too, company technicians and service personnel had valuable feedback about the equipment, but the feedback’s actual collection and use were in question.

Today, with social networking, web conferencing, chat rooms, and the like, we have a plethora of ways to collect data. So what should this process look like? Following are suggested steps:

  • First, collect data from the field. Do not just use one technology; apply every tool possible from websites, emails, chat rooms, Twitter, and the like. The key is to collect the information directly from users so different groups can see it without filters.
  • The second step is to enable everyone else to see the data and comment. Here, other people can view posted comments and make their own observations or suggestions. Try to sort or group comments into common areas and build some intelligence into the collection process to group by category. You must show the difference between identifying a problem and recommendations for solutions or new ideas for products.
  • Give the collected information to the decision makers who can authorize action. This step must be a minimally bureaucratic one. Demanding lots of paperwork and analysis will be a turnoff, and spending weeks in analysis, budgeting, and review will not work.
  • When action is authorized, the team in the field must be part of the process. These experts need to be giving input via the system for design and prototype building. They should be part of a collaborative design effort.

This process is not easy to install and launch. It will take time and money to design the network for data collection—and more time and money to create the “review, analyze, and approve” cycle. In addition, it will require cultural change because different groups will have to learn how to listen to one another and make and implement decisions quickly.

But what if you can make it work? What will be the impact of quickly getting information from the field and reacting in a proactive manner? Maybe it could be the difference between marketplace success or failure.

Philip E. Quigley, CFPIM, PMP, is a senior application portfolio manager for Computer Sciences Corporation. He teaches at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics and California State University at Fullerton. He may be contacted at pquigley2@csc.com.

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