Accounts receivable is something many companies rarely excel in. Most supply chain execs see it as a necessary evil. What they may not realize is every interaction with a customer provides an opportunity to improve your relationship.

No customer likes to be hounded about payments. But the vendor needs that money to run their business. Supply chain companies must strike the balance of getting paid in a timely manner without spending a lot on collections or hurting relationships. Many available resources highlight the best strategies to get paid quicker, but here are a few ways to improve customer relations at the same time.

Cloud-based solutions can be the right – and smart – way to manage the global retail supply chain.

Today’s retail value chain requires companies to quickly and efficiently adjust operations to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers. But keeping up with demand while protecting profit margins can be nearly impossible without the right tools. Organizations must collaborate across all moving parts within the supply chain, facilitating tighter management of the flow of data, goods and capital, without which the omni-channel retail chain would crumble.

For years now, manufacturers have implemented lean strategies and techniques with profound results. Improvements occurred in almost all aspects of manufacturing and operations through lean. Its transformational power would be hard to overstate.

But what about the next decade? Will it be more of the same for continuous improvement through lean? Lean manufacturing certainly isn’t going away, but how can manufacturers build on lean? The concise answer for what’s next is technology and data.

The boom in shale plays and natural gas has created a new crop of producers while creating opportunity for energy industry veterans. The often-rural nature of onshore shale plays, the geographically dispersed nature of the shale plays and the recent resurgence of onshore production dictates a different approach to supply chain and procurement.

Among the challenges for onshore producers are differences in scale, which means managing greater numbers of deliveries that contain smaller quantities of supplies to geographically dispersed facilities, and the rapid pace of development and activity in shale production, meaning shorter lead times and competition for resources of all kinds.

Many companies think they use supplier partnerships for warehousing and fulfillment, but in reality they are just one-sided relationships. I once asked a Fortune 500 company if they used partnerships and their response was, “Of course! If you provide the price, quality and lead time we want, you can be our partner.”

Partnerships built on that kind of foundation typically don’t lead to breakthrough results. In a real partnership, success is measured in terms of both parties increasing their revenue, profitability and cash flow. A company I know embodied this model by striving to be their supplier’s most profitable account, while the suppliers gave them world-class pricing and the chance to dramatically increase inventory turns. A true partnership is about collaboration and mutual success.

According to the International Food Service Distribution Association (IFDA), it takes 2,500 companies operating thousands of warehouses and massive transportation fleets to power the foodservice distributorship in the United States, a $200 billion market.

Getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow – while minimizing waste – is the classic definition of supply chain lean technology.

Lean is perfect for making cars, selling beverages or moving commodities. But what about treating patients?

Proving Ground

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. is proving that being lean can improve patient care and save millions of dollars in the rapidly changing world of healthcare.

As supply chains evolve and adapt to meet increasing customer demands in a more dispersed and volatile business environment, the notion of supply chain visibility is emerging rapidly as a hygiene need.

Today, analysis of common supply chain challenges in the global distributed supply chain paradigm clearly brings out the need of three critical interventions across all supply chain processes – design, source, make, deliver and service, namely:

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