Supply Chain Management: Definition and Process

Supply Chain Management: Definition and Process

Supply Chain Management (SCM) is a critical backbone of any thriving economy, acting as the arterial network that ensures products move efficiently from production to the hands of the consumer. 

Within this domain, SCM is a dynamic and evolving field, essential for seasoned industry professionals and ambitious newcomers shaping their careers. 

A study by PwC found that companies that excel in supply chain operations achieve 70% higher performance. They reported that these top performers can potentially ensure a 5-10% better profit margin than their less capable peers. (Here are some examples of top-performing supply chains, according to Gartner.)

It’s a domain where strategic planning, inventory management, and procurement processes converge to create a streamlined supply chain responsive to the volatile ebb and flow of the global market.

Supply Chain Management: The Process

At its core, Supply Chain Management involves coordinating and integrating all the processes across a company, from turning raw materials into finished products to delivering those products to retailers and customers. 

Industries as diverse as technology, agriculture, and fashion rely on robust supply chain networks to ensure efficiency and profitability. SCM is not just about managing inventory levels; it’s about a holistic approach that includes demand planning, supply chain sourcing, and managing inventory to reduce costs and meet market demand. 

Professionals in this field need a versatile skill set, including analytical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to harness artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and adapt to customer demands. 

For example, supply chain managers in automotive manufacturing must orchestrate an array of parts to arrive just in time for assembly, thereby reducing warehouse costs and increasing efficiency.

Integral Parts for Successful Supply Chain Management

Effective Supply Chain Management is like conducting an orchestra; every section must be in sync for the performance to succeed. Integral parts such as planning, sourcing, and delivery must work harmoniously to achieve optimal supply chain performance.


Planning is the strategic heart of SCM, where supply chain professionals map out the entire journey of products from conception to consumption. It’s about forecasting customer demand and aligning business strategy with supply chain activities to maintain the right stock balance. 

In the realm of e-commerce, planning is paramount as it involves not just inventory management but also preparing for peak shopping seasons and sales events, ensuring retail stores and distribution centers are stocked to meet customer expectations and drive customer loyalty. 

Effective planning can lead to sustainable practices that address customer demands and manage the impact of external factors like oil prices on supply chain costs.


Sourcing in Supply Chain Management refers to strategically selecting suppliers that provide the raw materials and goods necessary for production. It’s a critical step that determines the supply chain’s cost, quality, and efficiency. 

Effective sourcing can significantly reduce costs and improve supply chain sustainability by establishing strong supplier relationships. For instance, a tech company might source semiconductors from suppliers with advanced manufacturing processes to ensure high-quality end products.


Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are the technological glue that holds SCM together. These systems integrate all the processes across different departments, from inventory planning to procurement and supply chain planning, into a single, coherent framework. 

The benefit of ERP is the visibility and control it offers over complex supply chains, leading to improved supply chain performance and decision-making. A retailer, for example, might use an ERP system to synchronize their supply chain with real-time sales data from retail stores.


The manufacturing phase within SCM turns raw materials into finished products. This stage is all about efficiency and precision in process manufacturing, ensuring products are made to specification and at the required volumes. 

Successful manufacturing operations are tightly integrated with other SCM components to ensure timely delivery of raw materials and distribution of final products. An example is an automobile manufacturer coordinating with parts suppliers to ensure a smooth manufacturing process aligned with projected market demand.


Delivery, or logistics, is the SCM component where products are transported to their final destination. This stage is crucial for maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty, as it directly affects the customer’s expectations of receiving their products on time and in good condition. 

Efficient delivery systems utilize a mix of transportation modes and logistics providers to optimize routes and reduce costs, such as a furniture company using a combination of shipping and trucking to deliver products to distribution centers and customers.


Returns or reverse logistics move goods from their final destination for recovery or disposal. In SCM, managing returns effectively is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and sustainable practices. 

A robust returns process can recover value, reduce waste, and improve inventory levels. An example is a clothing retailer implementing an efficient method to handle returns from online purchases, ensuring customer expectations are met during exchanges or refunds.

Customer Satisfaction

In Supply Chain Management, customer satisfaction is the end-goal metric that gauges the effectiveness of the supply chain. It involves ensuring that the final product meets the customer’s quality standards and delivery expectations. 

High customer satisfaction leads to repeat business and customer loyalty, which is vital in a competitive market. For example, a smartphone company that consistently meets its promised delivery dates with devices that match the advertised specifications will likely retain a solid customer base.

Supply Chain and Supply Chain Management Roles

Effective Supply Chain Management profoundly impacts the supply chain by ensuring that all business functions—from sourcing and manufacturing to delivery and returns—are optimized to meet customer demands. 

Professionals in this field must be adept at risk management, demand planning, and integrated planning. They must also be proficient in using tools such as ERP systems and analytics platforms incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning for data-driven decision-making. 

In the automotive industry, for example, supply chain managers work closely with logistics providers to ensure just-in-time delivery of parts, which minimizes inventory costs and maximizes efficiency.

Model Components of Supply Chain

Model supply chain components are blueprints that guide organizations in designing their supply network to align with business goals. They are vital because they provide a framework for establishing efficient, resilient, and scalable supply chain operations across industries.

Continuous Flow

The Continuous Flow model in the supply chain emphasizes a steady and uninterrupted movement of products from supplier to customer. 

This model is advantageous for stable, high-demand products with predictable consumption patterns, as it allows for constant production and can lead to economies of scale. An example is the flow of consumer staples like food products from farms to grocery stores, where a disruption could lead to significant losses.


The Agile supply chain model is designed to be highly flexible and responsive to market changes and customer demands. It’s beneficial for industries where demand is volatile or unpredictable. 

By being agile, companies can quickly adapt to new trends or changes in customer expectations, like fashion retailers, who need to respond rapidly to changing styles and preferences to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty.


The Fast supply chain model prioritizes reduced lead times and swift response to customer demand. This model is especially beneficial for industries with short product life cycles or those requiring rapid market deployment. 

Companies can capitalize on market trends and reduce inventory overhead by focusing on speed. For example, technology companies utilize a fast supply chain to launch new devices quickly in response to consumer trends and competitor activity.


A Flexible supply chain can adjust its operations easily to handle changes in volume, capacity, and capability, making it ideal for businesses that experience seasonal fluctuations or a wide range of products. 

The flexibility allows companies to scale up or down without significant delays or cost impacts. For instance, toy manufacturers often rely on a flexible supply chain to increase production during the holiday season.


An Efficient supply chain model focuses on maximizing productivity while minimizing waste and costs. It’s about doing more with less, essential in highly competitive markets where cost leadership is a strategy. 

This approach often involves streamlining operations, optimizing inventory levels, and improving supply chain planning. A prime example is large-scale retailers like supermarkets, which need to manage a vast range of products and ensure on-shelf availability with minimal waste.


The Custom supply chain model is tailored to meet the business’s or its customers’ specific needs, often involving the personalization of products. This approach is beneficial for companies offering bespoke products or services. 

A luxury car manufacturer, for instance, might employ a custom supply chain to manage the production and delivery of vehicles configured to individual customer specifications.


A Hybrid supply chain combines elements of other models to suit the unique needs of a business. It offers the flexibility to apply different strategies for various products or market segments. 

The hybrid model benefits companies with diverse product lines or those operating in multiple markets with other demands. An example could be a global company that uses a fast supply chain for high-demand products while employing an efficient model for more stable, predictable product lines.


The Lean supply chain model minimizes waste and maximizes value. By streamlining operations and eliminating non-value-adding activities, businesses can focus on what is truly important to the customer. 

This model is widely beneficial across industries, particularly in manufacturing, where reducing excess inventory and enhancing manufacturing processes can lead to significant cost savings. Automotive manufacturers, for instance, use lean principles to refine their production lines and reduce the time cars spend in the assembly process.

Modern-Day Supply Chain Management Users

freight containers at a port

Today, virtually every industry relies on Supply Chain Management (SCM) to some extent, as it is vital for managing the flow of goods from raw materials to finished products. 

The retail industry, for example, hinges on sophisticated supply chains to stock retail stores effectively, while the tech industry depends on SCM to manage global supply chains for the timely delivery of components and finished devices.

The pros include improved efficiency, cost savings, and enhanced customer satisfaction. However, the cons can involve the complexity of managing extensive supply networks and the risk of disruption in global supply chains.

Ethics and Supply Chain Management: Their Partnership

Ethics in Supply Chain Management is about conducting business in a way that is not only profitable but also socially responsible and sustainable. 

The partnership between ethics and SCM is significant as it reflects a company’s commitment to fair labor practices, environmental stewardship, and sustainable sourcing. It impacts brand reputation and customer loyalty, with consumers increasingly favoring businesses prioritizing ethical considerations in their supply chain.

SCM and Cloud Technology

Cloud technology has revolutionized SCM by providing companies with scalable, on-demand resources to manage their supply chain activities. 

The pros include enhanced supply chain visibility, collaboration, and cost savings from reduced investment in IT infrastructure. However, cons may include concerns over data security and the potential complexity of integrating cloud solutions with existing systems.

SCM: Past, Present, Future

SCM has evolved from simple logistics providers and transportation of goods to a strategic element of corporate success that encompasses demand planning, risk management, and supply chain sustainability. 

In the future, SCM is expected to become even more technologically advanced, with artificial intelligence and machine learning playing significant roles in predictive analytics and decision-making, driving further efficiencies in global supply chains.

Benefits of SCM Software Technology

SCM software technology brings numerous benefits, including automation of manual tasks, improved demand planning, and real-time inventory management. 

These tools can help optimize supply chain performance, leading to cost savings and increased customer satisfaction. However, implementing these systems can be costly and complex, and may require significant change management efforts.

Careers in SCM

Careers in SCM offer diverse opportunities ranging from operations managers to supply chain analysts. Skills in analytics, strategic thinking, and familiarity with ERP systems and supply chain software are highly valued. 

Salaries can be attractive, reflecting the importance of the role in optimizing business processes. Education typically ranges from bachelor’s degrees in related fields to specialized certifications in SCM.


Navigate the essentials of supply chain management with these quick answers to frequently asked questions.

What are the 7 S’s of supply chain management?

The 7 S’s are sourcing, systems, synchronization, speed, sustainability, strategy, and social responsibility.

What is the supply chain, in simple words?

A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a product.

What are the four areas of supply chain management?

The four main areas are procurement, operations, distribution, and integration.

Supply Chain Performance and Management Summary

Effective Supply Chain Management ensures the smooth operation of the supply chain, from raw materials sourcing to finished product delivery. It’s essential for meeting customer demands and maintaining supply chain sustainability while adapting to the ever-changing global market landscape.