How to Ensure Quality Across the Supply Chain

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by Julie Fraser

September 14, 2011

Quality problems emanating from suppliers or outsourcing partners can hurt your brand and your business. Here are some software options to detect, control, and prevent these concerns.

Despite the fact that quality management software (QMS) has been available for decades, urgent and brand-threatening quality problems continue to make news across a variety of industries. One major challenge is quality problems that come from suppliers and outsourcing partners. In these cases, the company whose brand is being hurt may not have adequate supply chain management in place to detect supplier quality problems, let alone control and prevent them.

There are ways to improve that situation, and software to support those efforts. Best practices call for supplier scorecards and audits; there are many SCM software vendors and other providers that deliver this capability. Systems such as those from Akoya in business intelligence and Emptoris in supply and contract management offer alerts when supplier performance falls outside the expected or specified range. Supplier collaboration portals, whether B2B hubs for an industry or OEM or ERP extensions such as those from Infor, QAD, and others, can enable better communication and faster resolution when quality issues arise.

Some companies have implemented statistical process control (SPC) and other quality analysis systems at their key suppliers. Vendors such as InfinityQS and Northwest Analytics supply this type of software. And QMS firms including EtQ, MasterControl, Pilgrim Software, Sparta Systems, and TIP Technologies have supplier quality management applications available in an integrated enterprise quality system.

Another type of process management and analysis comes from the enterprise risk management (ERM) and governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) solution suppliers. In a few of these applications, a risk-based view of suppliers is one component of overall risk assessment. Examples include products from Citicus, MetricStream, Oracle, and SAP.

Supplier quality through real-time communication and visibility for buyers at supplier sites can deliver strong benefits. iBASEt and Camstar now offer not only in-house quality but also supplier-quality management capabilities, from planning to real-time communication for complex discrete industries.

There is one other approach that is familiar to just about everyone in the high-tech industry: the Cisco method of putting its test protocols out at supplier and outsource partner sites to have control over products it typically never touches. Averna delivers that type of supplier quality to other high-tech companies that want to create a secure, real-time buyer-supplier connection for each product or product line and see actual test results as they happen.

A few companies offer specific applications for supplier risk management that go beyond current process views and supplier-provided data, and into the realm of monitoring suppliers for risk. Dun & Bradstreet Supply Management Solutions and global trade analytics company Panjiva will monitor suppliers and send alerts based not only on current status, but also with predictive views of when supplier situations might cause future risk.

Don’t just wonder about the quality control at your suppliers and contract manufacturing partners. Consider investing in one or more of these solutions to minimize your risk and protect your customers, your brand, and your revenues.

Julie Fraser is president of Cambashi Inc., the U.S. arm of the industrial-focused analyst/consulting/market research firm based in the United Kingdom.

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