Blockchain technology is quickly changing the way business is being done nowadays. Some are hailing it to be the most important invention since the dawn of the Internet, and for good reason.

What exactly is blockchain?

Blockchain, in a nutshell, is essentially a tamperproof, publicly-available digital ledger. Without getting into the technical specifics, it’s basically a decentralized database of records that anyone can inspect, but not alter. Updating these records requires a consensus of a majority of the participants involved.

Blockchain technology is commonly associated with Bitcoin, as well as other cryptocurrencies, but it can also have applications in other fields and industries. Already, this secure record-keeping technology is being employed in supply chain management firms.

What are the benefits of blockchain for supply chains?

Blockchain’s accessibility, integrity, and transparency are its most prominent features. Transactions involving transportation, warehousing, and payment can benefit greatly from the application of the technology. Blockchain can make supply chains much more streamlined and transparent.

Ease of access

As a digital ledger, blockchain can possibly accommodate any number of participants from anywhere. All transactions and their details can be easily accessed by any user.

Integrity of records

All participants in the chain have a consensus on the validity of the transactions. Nobody can tamper or falsify these records. Only a new transaction can reverse the effect of an old transaction.

Transparency of sources

The blockchain stores data involving each asset’s origins. Participants are given information on who owned these assets before and when. This knowledge can be useful in determining whether goods are fair trade, or whether a food product is sourced organically.

What are the current applications of blockchain in supply chains nowadays?

Major US retailer Walmart is currently taking advantage of blockchain technology to track pork meat sales in China. The system allows Walmart to see where their meat is sourced from, as well as all the other important details such as processing, storage, and sale dates.

China’s Alibaba Group has just recently rolled out a blockchain database to combat counterfeit Australian and New Zealand food items. The conglomerate has teamed up with Australian vitamin brand Blackmores and New Zealand dairy brand Fonterra.

IBM has partnered with jewelry-maker Richline Group to track the provenance of precious metals and gems with the goal of promoting ethical fair trade.

Outsourcing has a lot of benefits and advantages, especially for growing businesses. It’s a popular strategy that’s quickly gaining traction in all industries.

Before you jump head-on into your first outsourcing project, here are some useful tips.

Prepare your home front first.

Outsourcing can be a sensitive subject for some companies. It’s up to you to reassure your employees of the goals and benefits of the strategy. After all, having their support is crucial to the success of the project.

Consider a trial run before going all-in.

Finding the right outsourcing provider that fits all your business’ needs can sometimes be elusive. It’s a good thing that there are plenty of options at your table. Instead of going all-out from the get-go, do a trial run first with your outsourcing partner. This way, you’ll be able to gauge their true capabilities during the trial period. It will help you assess whether they’re the right people to enlist for a long-term collaboration with your business.

Understand your partner’s capabilities.

Like any other company out there, your outsourcing partner will have their own unique workflows and processes. Knowing these things will guide you in forming the right expectations from your provider. These insights will also help you align your end of the business to maximize the benefits of the outsourcing partnership.

Agree on a definitive timeline.

A successful relationship between your business and your outsourcing provider must be built on a clear-cut timeline. Collaborating together to achieve these goals and milestones is the overall strategy, after all. Having a definitive timeline ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Regularly communicate with your provider.

Open communication is a necessary part of a successful collaboration. Get into the habit of asking for updates from your service providers. Regularly feed them relevant updates from your end as well. Feedback is also a vital part of this two-way street. By keeping both ends informed and in-the-know, things get done quicker and more efficiently.

Social media is an undeniably powerful tool that small businesses need to take advantage of to ensure long-term growth and competitiveness. In this digital world, online marketing is king and social media is one of the largest domains to fight over. Here are four quick benefits of establishing a social media presence.

1. Social media can help you build your brand.

Having an official presence on the most popular social media platforms opens your business to a wider audience. When regularly updated, your social media pages can significantly improve your brand awareness. For any business, adequate exposure is crucial for fueling growth.

2. Social networking leads to stronger relationships.

Properly leveraged, your social media footprint can attract more of your target audience and can help you sustain longer-lasting relationships with them. After all, social media is all about interaction and dialogue. They’re convenient venues where businesses and customers can freely converse with each other. Customers are more likely to be loyal to companies that carefully listen and respond to their needs.

3. Social platforms can easily drive traffic to your website.

Social media hubs like Facebook and Twitter have millions of users. A well-maintained social media site can funnel a lot of traffic to your business webpage, increasing your chances of hooking new customers and clientele. These platforms also offer targeted ads and boosting services to further improve your site’s visits.

4. Social media can be used to evaluate your competitors.

Some, if not all, of your competitors, are most likely taking advantage of social media already. If you don’t have a social media presence, then you’re at a clear disadvantage. Even if you’re not interested in building an official footprint on social media, you can still use the platforms’ built-in analytics to keep tabs on your rivals. Knowing what makes your competitors tick and what customers like about them is important for improving your own strategies.

 

The Philippines today is a prime destination for outsourcing services. More and more companies are choosing to bring their enterprises to the country’s shores for good reason. A unique combination of factors positions the island nation as a premiere haven for business process outsourcing.

1. Competitive costs

Labor costs in the Philippines are much lower than in developed countries. That fact alone is already an alluring draw to a lot of foreign investors. On top of that, commercial real estate, office setup expenditures, and maintenance costs are relatively cheaper as well.

2. English proficiency

The Philippines’s history as an American colony has significantly influenced its educational system. As such, Filipinos are generally proficient in written and verbal English. Their accent is also relatively neutral, especially when compared to other Asians. This makes Filipinos good conversationalists in the language and very desirable in call center tasks.

3. Cultural affinity

Due to its colonial past, the Philippines is comparatively more Westernized than its other Asian counterparts. With English as an official language in the country, the populace is generally more receptive and in tune with Western influences and media. Having this cultural affinity is a distinct advantage in outsourcing services. In a highly-competitive market, every little advantage counts.

4. Skilled labor

The Philippines’s educational system is robust and produces many highly-qualified professionals in a wide range of industries. The Filipino workforce is young, highly educated, and very competitive. Access to this pool of skilled labor is a major reason why many foreign companies outsource to the country.

5. Filipino characteristics

The Filipino worker is known worldwide for their hard work, diligence, and loyalty. This combination of characteristics makes them very productive and reliable members of a team.

6. Economic environment

The Philippine government has long been priming the country’s economy and infrastructure for call center operations and business process outsourcing. Current legislation greatly favors foreign investment and offers a lot of attractive incentives and exemptions. It’s no surprise that many companies have already offshored parts of their business to the country.

In today’s hyper-competitive business environment, managers must always think of ways to evolve and stay ahead of the competition. With lower margin for error, this is even more pronounced for small and midsize companies. One way to stay ahead of the curve is by outsourcing. While virtually all big companies have taken advantage of the global work force, many smaller firms have not. This may be due to the fear of the unknown or because they do not know the overall benefits outsourcing can bring to their organization. Below I have outlined three compelling arguments of why outsourcing should be seriously considered by small business owners.

1. Cost Savings –unless you’re a non-profit company, the significant cost savings that can be achieved is reason enough to outsource. Of course, one should do due diligence. And while some will see to the contrary, many will find that the significant cost reductions outweigh the risks. For instance, the following illustrates the cost of a Buyer II in Los Angeles and an Accountant in New York. These figures don’t include other overhead such as cost of office space or HR and IT support. Compared to the Philippines, one can get the same level individual for around $70,000 to $80,000 less. Imagine what that savings could mean for a small or midsize business.

2. Improved Productivity – Improved productivity is also another major reason for outsourcing. And it can be achieved in two ways:
a.Minimized clerical work – with less “busy” work, your local staff who are getting paid U.S. rates can focus on doing what they are supposed to be doing. For a purchasing department, outsourcing can help in following up on purchase orders or expedites while the U.S. based buyer can dedicate time on harder, more strategic issues. For an accountant, he/she can focus on financial analysis and problem solving rather than doing data entry. The list goes on but the main gist is the clerical tasks are taken away to make room for local office to accomplish more important tasks besides completing clerical to-dos.
b.Focus on what you do best – We’ve all been there, doing work that we were not hired to do. Did you give maximum effort when this happened? If you’re like most people, especially if the task had become part of the norm, you didnot. Not only were you not as productive as you would have been doing your specialitybut also you weren’t happy. By outsourcing such tasks, the U.S. staff gets to focus on what they do best which results in higher levels of productivity.

3. Gain Expertise – Most companies get into business because they know how do something specially well. This thing, called core competency, cannot be everything. It could be great product design or top-notch technology, but not the proverbial kitchen sink. Apple, for instance has great marketing and R&D but chooses to outsource its manufacturing to contract manufacturers who have the expertise in manufacturing electronics at the right price. Small business should follow suit and realize that they can’t do it all.

Surely, it’s tempting for small business owners take on everything themselves. But with limited resources one must exhaust all options to maximize their time and maintain their competitive advantage. Outsourcing can provide such an advantage: from the substantial cost savings that can be reinvested back into the business, to the re-invigorated team providing high levels of production, the onus is on small business to make that leap. Big organizations realized these decades ago when they started outsourcing. And with an extremely competitive landscape, now is the time for small business to jump in, as the global workforce awaits.

When was the last time you placed an online order and you anxiously waited for your order but didn’t know whether it has shipped or when it’s arriving? As a customer, was this a positive experience for you? Supply chain visibility is the ability to see where the product or service is within the supply chain at any given time. From the point the order is placed until the time the product is delivered, providing information, on the product’s (or service’s) whereabouts adds value to the customer’s or any other stakeholder’s experience, impacting productivity and customer satisfaction.

When talking about supply chain visibility, what’s good for the end customer is even better for the upstream stakeholders (planners, buyers, operations). Having worked in supply chain and operations my whole life, seeing where my order is within its delivery life cycle is critical in my ability to run my business. From a buyer’s or planner’s point of view, this gives me improved planning and reaction time. If I get enough time to see that an order will be late, I can try to find solution or alternate products to still hit my target due dates and minimize the impact of the delay. And from a customer service perspective, seeing where an order is in its journey to being picked and delivered is a win for the organization as we can provide the customer updated information so they can plan accordingly.

A good example of this is online retail giant, Amazon. Not only do they track orders at every step of the way internally so their planners within the fulfillment center know where every order is, but they also relay key information proactively to their customers. Another good example are the supply chain visibility norms within the ridesharing industry. Companies like Uber or Lyft, using GPS technology, through an app, the customer can see his order from the time he places it to its route to delivery (when the customer is picked up).

It used to be, to attain supply chain visibility, a buyer must call his supplier to get information. Or customer service contacts the warehouse and have a person hunt the order down physically. Or a customer would call the vendor to track his/her order. This took some time, a lot of effort and therefore additional cost depending on where the order is. But with today’s technology and access to a global workforce, attaining supply chain visibility is cheaper and faster.

While the Amazons and the Ubers of the world, with their virtually unlimited budgets, have no problem providing a high level of supply chain visibility, with today’s technology and global workforce, even smaller and midsized companies can provide supply chain visibility semi instantaneously and at a low cost.

If your company exports from overseas, one way to achieve this is via a PO Management system. A contract might be required with a freight-forwarding company such as DHL or Fed-Ex to pursue this option but rates are very competitive. By signing with a freight forwarder, provide an online PO management tool where purchase orders are communicated to vendors from your MRP/ERP system to their platform. Essentially, your company’s platform talks to the freight forwarder’s system directly. Any updates to POs from the factories (i.e. ship dates, delays, quality issues, pricing, etc) can be entered directly on to the PO management tool so buyers can see updates without calling the factory.

If your volume doesn’t justify hiring a PO management tool just yet, another method of gaining visibility to international POs is to have a global team follow up on orders and update your system directly. They can call and follow up on vendors, carriers, freight-forwarders, and other stakeholders and provide updates to your domestic team here in the U.S. Since the setup is global, costs would be minimal while value to the business is maximized.

In the world of small business, every dollar saved is a big win. But with limited time and resources, where do you focus your cost-saving initiatives? I’ve worked for start-ups and smaller companies who are rightfully very cost-conscious, but did not have the correct approach, that their efforts cost them more money overall. To maximize any company’s efforts there are two ways managers should focus on, value and data.

Looking to find cost-savings without thinking about the value a process, thing or resource brings is a simplistic way of lowering costs. One of the companies I worked for refused to buy managers, who are often traveling or in meetings, work laptops.

Therefore, they print stacks of paper prior to meetings or not have information at all when traveling. The logic was, laptops are more expensive than computers and they didn’t want to spend more than what they had to.

However, the one-time savings of buying a laptop is greatly outweighed by the savings a manager could save by having accurate information and/or not having to go back to their desks to find information. Multiply these scenarios to a span of three to four year (a laptops’s life span) and the difference in cost saved versus value lost is immense.

I also highly suggest that you should looks at the data behind the processes. In a world where many no longer value hard scientific evidence, one can still gain advantage by digging deep into the data and gathering facts about their business, or risk being caught in a hamster wheel. The same company above did not care for data-driven decision making that most business decisions were reactionary and tactical. They are passionate about the most non-impactful cost savings such as saving on paper clips and not buying laptops. Thus, supply chain costs are high, rework costs are through the roof and employee morale is down.

It is critical, especially for small business owners to look at every aspect of their business to lower costs. But as your company grows and looks for ways to lower expenses where it could, it is just as important to understanding the difference between value over cost and the use of data-driven decision making. It is not a winning business practice to achieve a 10% cost savings on a certain item if its value is low and adds 20% or more to your overall cost. And by this is kind of analysis one can determine if they spend time running reports and getting their hands dirty with data. Which is the best starting point to focus your limited time and resources.

From the way an order is entered into the system by customer service to the way a truck is loaded by a shipping associate, every company has its step-by-step method of executing everyday tasks. These “steps,” in getting a task completed are called procedures. While these procedures are common practice, what many companies do not do are standardize the work, document the procedure, and train its employees to the standardized procedures.

Other topics in the series are:

  • Steps in creating effective SOPs
  • SOPs and Continuous Improvement – how are they related and how do they help my company?
  • Templates and examples of SOPs

As long as the job gets done, that should be enough right? Why do I need to invest company time and resources in developing and maintaining an SOP program? The answer is to the first question is false. Having an effective SOP program doesn’t just get the job done but get it gets the job done right the first time.

SOPs are important in many ways. First, an effective SOP standardizes the steps. This means every employee, assuming training was conducted, is expected to follow the same exact procedure. This increases productivity as there’s no more thinking involved on how to perform a task. The “thinking” part was done during the SOP creation. And at this point, once the SOPs have been signed off and training has been administered, it’s all about execution for the users.

Secondly, having SOPs reduces errors. So long as the SOPs were created with input from stakeholders (workers, supervisors and internal customers and internal suppliers), best practices should have made it on to the procedures. This means quality issues were addressed and countermeasures were embedded on to the processes.

Third, it’s good for employee morale. I took over a company’s distribution facility once where virtually every employee had his own way of performing the same task. No one knew what their inventory accuracy were, including management, but they would quote 95% to customers. Meanwhile, on-time shipment was below 40%, mainly because of the warehouse and inventory team. When I finally completed a physical inventory, their accuracy was at 30%. Not having SOPs resulted in distrust within the department and from other departments.

Lastly, an SOP process makes financial sense. Your operational cost will be reduced due to increased productivity (from having procedures and happier employees), and from lowered re-work costs as quality issues should also go down. And an optimized operation results in happier customers and an improved chance of additional sales.

Having Standard Operating Procedures is not an option but a necessity for any business, big or small, to be successful. It is even more important for small businesses since every dollar lost is much more to it than it would for a big company. While it is cumbersome and you will incur some cost from development and training, the return on investment will be ten-folds. From the cost reduction and contribution to increased sales, to the improved employee morale and having a process-oriented company culture, having an effective SOP program can and will prove to be a win-win for your company.