COVID-19 has demanded that firms take a long hard look at their global supply chain models and assess the vulnerabilities that exist. Doing so has highlighted the ever-increasing role of the ‘supply chain partner’ and what it truly means to be a successful collaborator. At this point some might question what a supply chain partner is and how can such a term be defined?

A supply chain partner is an organisation that handles the supply of goods or services on behalf of its partners for both the short and long term. Supply chain collaboration in particular refers to different firms working together in order to plan and execute supply chain operations. This type of partnership has been known to create mutual benefits for however many parties are involved. Having a supply chain partner rather than three separate entities that each manage a stage in the process – sourcing, logistics and finance – brings a wider range of collaboration and customer facilitation.

It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of all supply chain partnerships ultimately fail. This is due to the fact that some businesses are unable to handle the challenges that arise with building inter-organisational synergies. This leads to the question of what businesses can do to ensure that their supply chain partnerships prove profitable and efficient for all the parties involved.

A truly great supply chain partner is one that knows which aspects make supply chain operations successful and which don’t. For example, some partners can advise on the technologies deployed and how to integrate these into supply chain operations while others could advise who to contract for manufacturing and transportation. Each piece of advice given can help an organisation to finance supply chain operations, mitigate risks and bring together all the components in order to streamline the business.

The interconnected nature of business of today means that business leaders have to be wary when choosing their supply chain partner. Modern supply chains often resemble a web of connections as opposed to a chain. With several partners involved in a supply chain partnership, mutual trust and reliability between parties are key.

Success is guaranteed through the delivery of each partner’s promises which will result in a streamlined business whose operations become almost effortless. Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the relationship between partners is the sharing of a vision for the business which leads to an understanding of what it takes to be successful in a given market with each partner embracing the strategic plans of the entity.

The main characteristics that embody a successful supply chain partner are transparent communication, cost optimisation and having similar goals (long term and short term).

A supply chain partner must bring the following traits in order to fully assist a business and optimise their supply chain operations:

  • Reliability
  • Value

  • Expertise

  • Problem solving skills

  • Continuous improvement

  • Support

  • Positive attitudes

  • Global reach

  • Strong leadership

Improving performance has become an important objective for supply chains and thus strategies must be adopted in a way that shows the progression of an organisation and continuous improvement. As well as the appropriate strategies, partnership, collaboration and integration have all been identified as key aspects with the first two of these being the most important. The benefit of liaising with other organisations is evident but it does depend on the compatibility of the organisations/partners. It has been argued that the ability to exhibit organisational compatibility depends on the effective partnership and collaboration between the members that make up the relationship.