International supply chains are often regarded as grasshoppers: They’re always looking to find the cheapest materials, the lowest cost of labor and the lowest tax rates. While striving for profit maximization and growing “efficiency,” they are, in fact, caught up in a race to the bottom. I’m not interested in this kind of race and I believe many people feel to the bottom of their hearts that this is the wrong kind of race. So can we turn this game upside down and make it a race to the top?

In my free time I’m an outdoor enthusiast and last week I literally ran into an idea. After a run in the meadows, I uploaded my result to Strava, which is a platform where cyclists and runners upload their training sessions based on GPS data. It’s also a community where you can share activities with friends or others who use similar routes. When uploading my session, I received the following message: “Nice, you have a new follower.” I didn’t recognize the name, but discovered that this guy came all the way from Rotterdam to run one of “my trails” that I had uploaded on Wikiloc — a service for discovering outdoor trails — some weeks before. He commented on the trail’s scenic beauty, isolation and silence. Immediately, I saw the parallel to business networks based on the open integration principles we are lifting off the ground with Tradeshift, our partner. My new follower had been able to “source a trail” from someone he had never met on Wikiloc’s open platform, download the GPS track into his GPS device, and follow a 27-km trail that would be virtually impossible to find if you aren’t a local like me. He was then able to upload his results to Strava and find out that I use that platform as well and connect to me there.

This is great proof that being connected on a network can let you do things that were previously impossible, such as leverage the experience of others and cooperate into ventures you could not even imagine. It reminded me of Marc Andreesen’s 2007 seminal blog post on open platforms. We actually see this happening at Quyntess: Customers from completely different industries adopt and apply best practices we put on the platform for other customers, successfully re-creating value in a different way than we had originally imagined. Not unlike the most powerful drugs, the addictive side of Strava kicks off after you use it for a while: It automatically classifies your results against previous training sessions, which it recognizes automatically through machine learning. It classifies your results on specific segments that others have created and compares them to those of others using those same segments.

This is where the race to the top part comes into play. It really boosts your motivation to train harder, perform better and even adjust your lifestyle to some extent: You avoid going to bed late and drinking that extra glass of alcohol to be better and stronger tomorrow.

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Tablet view of Performance Dashboard in Supply Chain Collaboration app on Tradeshift Platform

This is a true collective race to the top and the best part is that it’s FUN to do! In traditional business networks we are not as open with sharing data as we are on Strava. That said, we definitely see that if we make use of Supply Chain Score cards based on real-time performance and just provide feedback to companies against an anonymous league table of peer companies on how well they do, it automatically drives KPI scores up in the total supply chain community by 15-20% without even starting a specific program or initiative!

An open business network truly drives supply chain partners into collaboration, finding new ways of doing things and doing things they were unable to do without the network and meet and exceed expectations. Not into a zero sum game where one’s gain is someone else’s loss but in a community where we all advance together to a higher level of performance.

With this in mind, tomorrow, I will be co-presenting on a webinar, Supply Chain Collaboration: A Platform Approach, with Tradeshift’s SVP of Product, Mihir Nanavati. And I really look forward to our Executive Summit on May 19th in Schiphol’s Control Tower in Amsterdam where we will have an animated discussion on this topic with Tradeshift’s CEO and co-founder Christian Lanng. If you want to learn more, there are still a few seats available so feel free to apply here!

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