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How Understanding Customers Can Strengthen Your Supply Chain

Understanding customers, man scratching head

This article was originally posted on the PNC Business Insights e-news section. David Boulay, Ph.D. talks of how the Manufacturing Extension Partnership provides a roadmap for manufacturers to create more dynamic, customer-focused supply chains…

I’m of the belief that supply chain discussions don’t always have to be “doom and gloom.” Manufacturers are well aware of the negative aspects of the lack of a supply chain strategy. With ramifications of productivity losses, supplier failures or the inability to react to adverse events, manufacturers understand that the lack of a plan has many consequences. But perhaps it leads to opportunities, too; one in particular brings us even closer to the customer.

According to Business Continuity Institute’s latest report*, 75% of 500 businesses surveyed said they did not have full visibility of their supply chain. A total of 30% did not know where they fit into any of their suppliers’ priorities.

Success MapIncreasing visibility is a key component of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s (MEP’s) Supply Chain Optimization program. This program, which places a priority on customer-driven factors, defines the value system as an interdependent structure of both value and supply chains that begin with the determination of the customer’s needs and extend through all supplier and distribution channels required to provide the good or service.

Facilitated by MEP’s nationwide network, the Supply Chain Optimization program increases visibility and demonstrates how understanding the total cost of ownership helps equip manufacturers to identify and mitigate volatility, while increasing their ability to create a multi-layered network of collaboration. The program offers a strategic approach facilitated through a coaching and mentoring partnership that positions manufacturers to more effectively anticipate required future capabilities and better qualify suppliers to meet them.

By optimizing value and supply chain connections, manufacturers can increase the competitiveness and functional capacity of their entire value system — all thanks to harnessing a customer-driven focus.


* Glendon, L., & Byrd, L. (November 2013). Supply Chain Resilience 2013. Retrieved from

Meet the Author

David Boulay

David Boulay is President of Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC), a public-private partnership transforming manufacturing through economic and workplace development as well as manufacturing competitiveness. Using his extensive industry background encompassing manufacturing leadership, business development and technological support, David has been key in the development and deployment of the MEP Supply Chain Optimization program. He can be reached at His full bio may be viewed here.

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