Boeing’s recent decision to purchase a plant that produces large sections of its new 787 airliner from a subcontractor I think underlines the importance that supply chain management and manufacturing will increasingly play in customer relationships moving forward. It’s an effort to rein in supplier problems that have led to costly delays of the next generation aircraft and hurt the company’s credibility with customers.
I remember back in 2004 when Boeing announced it would take a new approach to building planes. It would leverage suppliers around the world to build huge sections that would later be assembled at the company’s plant in Seattle, all to the benefit of airlines’ wallets.
But at what cost? The 787 was originally supposed to enter airline service in 2008 and hasn’t even made a single test flight, leaving customers annoyed over a nearly two-year delay. We’ve heard a lot about the globalization of economies, the growing importance of manufacturing centers in Asia, etc. Combined with the emerging concepts around Web 2.0 and bi-directional selling, Web portals through which partners and/or customers can check inventory levels, order status, shipments, etc., are becoming increasingly important. Across all industries in general – and not just manufacturing – the integration of these data points across companies and time zones will only increase.
Now granted the design, production and assembly of commercial aircraft is far more complex than nearly all other products and services out there, but Boeing’s attempt to globalize and scale their manufacturing and supply chain I believe shows, particularly in a B2B model with increasingly complex sales cycles and delivery, that big business and enterprise software still have a ways to go before reaching a point where the globalization of manufacturing and customer bases will become as practical as heading down the street to the local ma and pop store.