Each year, most businesses start new initiatives across their entire operations in an effort to improve efficiencies and increase performance. These initiatives are Elemica Ed Rauschsimilar to ones made by individuals each New Year in an effort to grow profits and create a better working environment or build a better brand recognition. Cold food processors and their trading partners focus across a variety of initiatives, like building more robust technology infrastructures, automating more business processes, enforcing faster and better customer responses, offering greater control over inventories or improving collaboration with trading partners. But, at their most strategic level, these initiatives all tend to point to the same ultimate goal—to create a real competitive advantage.

Here are some Top 10 initiatives on how food processors can get their supply chains ready.

1. Be flexible to work with. Have a “come as you are” approach to business and meet your trading partners on their terms. Food processors have invested heavily in internal process standardization and company-wide ERP systems. The internal efficiency of these “inside-out” investments drive savings through standardization and centralization and increase control over internal operations. However, these companies are still leaving money on the table. Inside-out strategies stumble when companies try to extend them outside their own four walls because they force trading partners to meet the company’s standardized way to work. Conduct commerce without asking your partners to change their processes or the way they do business.

2. Speak your customer’s language and build more effective collaboration. Speak the language of your trading partners to create clear communications. More powerful collaboration across more trading partners grows the value of your business relationships. Supply chain operating networks are becoming the business equivalent of Facebook and LinkedIn, enabling communities of trading partners to communicate, collaborate and execute business processes in more efficient, scalable and innovative ways.

3. Capture keener insight to make faster decisions. Gain control over your operations using keen insight to make better and faster decisions. Plan and operate your business with a supply chain that senses and properly responds to market demand or supply disruption. Few organizations fully understand the huge potential that resides within their data. Getting a handle around this data and applying analytics to it helps organizations better manage exposure to risks in the supply chain. Companies can leverage these insights to ensure they are selling the right products and services to the right customers. With keener insight on economic conditions, consumer interests and demand, changing regulations, and more, companies can better identify potential business opportunities in a more competitive environment.

4. Find common ground with your customers. The reality is that people want things to be made easy, and your customers don’t want to have to go the extra mile to buy something from you… unless it’s really worth it. A recipe for unmet expectations occurs when businesses attempt to force trading partners to collectively adopt a single process or technology standard. Individual companies each have their own processes and enterprise requirements. While internal needs can be forced through corporate mandate, external supply chain partners are not necessarily accepting of their demands. A supply chain operating network truly integrates the extended, varied, distributed and complex needs of thousands of individual trading partners and their respective enterprises, without requiring any of them to change the way they do business.

5. Focus on the customer. Deliver a delightful experience to your customers with outside-in capabilities. Businesses need to extend their supply chain activities outside of their four walls into a multi-enterprise network. An outside-in supply chain is key to being customer-centric and delivering an experience your competitors can’t touch. Outside-in supply chains are concentrated on the demands of the customer and focus on sensing, shaping and driving intelligent responses to these demands.

6. Find greater cost advantages. Bring products and services to the market that are better than your competitors at a more competitive and profitable price point. Automating key business processes across trading partners ensures better and faster responses, optimized inventory levels, better materials and more. The goal is to find the best supply chain processes and policies to serve each customer segment and each product at a given point in time while also maximizing both customer service and company profitability.

7. Respond smart. Knowing with certainty the right response and acting faster to opportunities is dependent on insight derived from a critical mass of connected trading partners on a powerful network. Rapid responses and clear visibility into the supply chain are required to avoid costly mistakes. For example, excess raw material stocks held at a time of falling raw material prices incur huge losses, putting a manufacturer at a disadvantage relative to better prepared competitors. Alternatively, too low a raw material stock at a time of increasing demand can leave supply shortages, causing an inability to manufacture sufficient product and losing customer demand to competitors who had better insight into changes in the supply and demand balance.

8. Respond faster to mitigate risk. Knowing sooner what challenges or disruptions you may be facing and knowing how to best respond is dependent on clear visibility derived from your supply chain operating network. A comprehensive supply chain risk management strategy—and the incorporation of an array of predictive analytic tools to measure and manage risk—is now a central component of any successful business and often extends beyond the supply chain itself to encompass all major operations of the organization. In fact, modern predictive analytics is fast becoming a tool to recognize key trends, patterns and potential disruptions within supply chains and a means to protect the enterprise's most valuable assets while also creating sophisticated risk mitigation models.

9. Eliminate paper-based processes. Orders and invoices remain largely paper-, fax- and phone-based (up to 90%). Automating processes lowers energy use, saves trees and water and lessens greenhouse gas emissions. Thousands of companies connected seamlessly across a supply chain operating network allow participants to better conduct business with each other and leverage their collective activities to achieve operational efficiencies and cost savings. By eliminating paper-based processes, companies can exceed sustainability goals.

10. Become a lifelong learner. Supply chain leaders are lifelong learners. Inform your decisions and share relevant information from collected data, evolving practices, research, etc. to not only stay competitive, but also become a true supply chain innovator.

Today’s challenging global marketplace is compelling companies to create supply chain centers of excellence and work alongside valuable supply chain solution partners in order to design and put game-changing initiatives into practice. Otherwise, without these reimagined supply chain capabilities, the business climate is rife for missed opportunities.