Since our inception in 2004 Quyntess has been on the forefront of Supply Chain Collaboration, pioneering with on-demand solutions for extended Supply Chain Visibility and Business-to-Business Integration. We implemented 'Control Tower' solutions as a product name since then, while the term has become mainstream only in 2012 with related media attention in the past half year. Probably, it's about time for us as the innovators to start moving to the next frontier, and in fact we are on our way!

Looking at Control Tower style functionality and Supply Chain Visibility from 30,000 feet you realize that these initiatives have always been started by large companies; the supply chain owners of large and complex chains and with a sufficient power to enforce collaboration with their partners. Sounds like a little contradiction in terms, isn't it? Enforce collaboration...Surely they have a well understood self-interest in a smoothly running supply chain and understand mutual dependencies upon their business partners to play "give to get". At the end of the day howerver there is one part really in control as channel master as an OEM, CPG power house or even a 4PL. Do you agree, my dear customers? 

The next frontier

We see the next frontier as more buttom-up egalitarian way of organizing Supply Chain Collaboration. The example we are currently working on: Digging a ditch together. Sounds like collaboration and honest sweat, doesn't it?

In the Netherlands, liberalization of energy and telecom markets has taken place early for the European continent. Network Providers have been split from telecom providers, energy and even water companies to stimulate competition for the services and promote to consumers and business to choose efficient providers and bring overall cost down. 

For obvious reasons, network providers are not allowed to form a cartel and make agreements to organize the market. However, they have a mutual interest to keep cost low if consumers switch providers. In order to do so they find the business case in contracting the actual connection work (digging ditches) together and avoid that three contractors come to your house or street three times in two weeks to connect you again for individual services. Recognize that?

How do we do that without getting back to one central orchestrator that decides what's best for everyone? The concept that was pulled together is the so-called "Digitale Rotonde" (Digital Roundabout). Network providers, engineers and contractors have agreed on a process that stretches from initial request from the consumer for all disciplines to commissioning and invoicing as the movie below explains (in Dutch). 


A work group managed by a nonprofit foundation has agreed on how processes will be handled between each role in the process. Multiple contractors can participate after pre-agreed tender qualification and the goal is to bundle service requests by end customers from different network providers. On a technical level, providers have different ERP systems and internal processes in place already for procurement, customer administration, invoicing, commissioning etc. It was agreed that all the interaction points between the partners would therefore be defined as EDI messages with a standard syntax and content related to the process. That sounds like a classical EDI solution, but it wasn't enough. 

The collaboration innovation is that the process orchestration, defined by the work group in a "swim lane" Business Process Management (BPM) model needed to be available for all partners with awareness of the current status and next steps in the process of all these partners participating. In a pilot for one of the network companies, we translated the "swim lanes" into a BPM model, combining process orchestration with integration. There is no central orchestrator needed anymore: Just an agreed model on how the business process must be executed (including exception handling). By passing transactions through this model (like a new service request or change in the planning due to on-site survey) the next action on the other party is triggered and controlled via the BPM model. Through the roles and responsibilities defined in the BPM model and business rules, all participants are equal!

To facilitate the message exchange in such heterogeneous landscapes we have applied the SAP technology to translate the standard messages of the Digitale Rotonde into each party's native format. This is an optional service but SAP does it for a small monthly fee ensuring that future evolution of the standard is taken care off, freeing up internal IT support for this kind of work. The same technology also helps participants to make a single connection to the Digitale Rotonde. The Process Orchestration makes sure the messages are delivered to the right parties. This avoids participants to build as many technical connections as they have partners. With changing contractors, this can be quite handy.

We have even foreseen a user front end for participants in the process that don't have their back-office systems supporting the rather complex processes. Especially contractors, surveyors and engineers are expected to use this type of interaction for some or all of the processes. In fact this provides "multi-channel" capabilities for each party through one process orchestration solution, regardless if one partner uses integrated messages and the other the UI.

Bottom line

I think that this kind of technology will be key to bring Supply Chain Collaboration to the next level. Cross Chain Control Centers are an interesting intellectual thought, but who manages them? Extended Supply Chain Visibility into your supplier's suppliers is an interesting perspective to off-set supply chain risk, but how would you get your hands on the data if only 10% of you current tier 1 suppliers are connected to you via EDI in the first place?

These "cloud based" message translation services combined with process orchestration and a visibility layer/web UI for all participants to monitor the process is a piece of infrastructure that can help deliver on these promises. So, let's dig some ditches together, work up good sweat and save some money to buy us a drink and build trust as Supply Chain partners!