Optimizing the Service Supply Chain using Portals

Grant Gordon, Managing Director – KPMG Business Effectiveness, recently blogged on optimizing the service supply chain, profiting from product lifecycle opportunities”  (http://ow.ly/7IrzL).   In the blog and associated white paper, Mr. Gordon noted “An effective reverse logistics program within the service supply chain is key to managing the customer experience. The seemingly simple process of exchanging a defective part during the product’s life cycle can “make or break” a customer’s long-term relationship with the technology provider.”


I agree completely with Grant, and it seems to me that this “seemingly simple process of exchanging a defective part” is a great example of value of advanced portal solutions.

Previously, portals were mostly focused on information sharing, with a customer retrieving product information from a supplier or vendor.   They have now evolved to become a gateway to community based workflow and automation, helping cooperation between multiple parties, improving and measuring performance by adhering to a “best practice” workflow , and most recently  – automating much of the customer service functions by using timely data from supporting systems; resulting in faster and more accurate service for customers.   This helps reduce the suppliers cost through improved efficiencies and decision making quality through better insight in their customer/supply chains.

This approach also lays the foundation for the fundamental point within Mr. Gordon’s blog entry – “Embracing service as a revenue generator rather than a cost center to earn and retain a valuable asset—your customer’s Long-term loyalty

Our own portals provide these types of benefits, but I believe over time they will/can do more.

Our spare parts management portal presents to users the association of spare parts to specific products, allowing online ordering through ecommerce, quoting or P.O. issuance.   Our returns management portal allows users to report and manage RMAs/cases while automatically determining warranty status and tracking workflow performance.

However, I do believe we will see even greater benefits from collaboration across additional departments and functions as they extend further into the global supply chain and the end user activities, enabling an even higher level of workflow efficiency.   Microsoft knows this, and has invested a great deal in their SharePoint platform and its fundamental portal capability, with some great out of the box document management and workflow automation capabilities resident within SharePoint 2010.

And of course, a well designed portal solution fits well with the “cloud” movement, enabling theses benefits to be deployed rapidly and universally across multiple stakeholders and systems; using SOA and other information exchange architecture that supports real time availability of important information.    Providers (like GlobalNow) must ensure customers receive a high level of value, basically making their lives easier as they service their customers in a fashion that shifts their operations from a cost center to a revenue generator.


  1. This is an excellent post. So often the problem that is addressed is approached from a purely tactical level. For example, a part is broken and we have to replace it! Well, in reality, the client has to find an efficient way to understand the full cycle of replacing that part physically, ordering it and paying for it. There may be multiple internal and external touch points in that process for that client. The journey to taking a service interaction from transaction and cost to revenue generator for those supplying the parts relates to understanding these processes and helping the client do this faster and at lower cost than they can do so themselves. In other words, there’s mutual value in peeling back the layers “of the onion”…
    We do something similar in our organization, though not in service logistics. We peel back the curtain on productivity dynamics in the organization and generate revenue by helping our clients’ employees. We help by addressing the issue of productivity leakage through social media, unidentified training needs or just bad online time habits. The parallel is that by taking the client centric view, value is identified and revenue can be associated.

  2. Great blog and very powerful quote that you included … “Embracing service as a revenue generator rather than a cost center to earn and retain a valuable asset—your customer’s Long-term loyalty”. It’s so important to be keeping that big picture in mind in everything your business does to help your customers. If not, soon you won’t have any customers to service. I respect GlobalNow as a partner because of your ability to strategically look beyond “the here and now” issues and quick fixes by always offering up valuable solutions for the long term.

  3. Bob, great post. I did my MBA at Lehigh University, and the have a center dedicated to supply chain research. I worked with some of the professors there, but never dove in too deeply.

    It sounds a bit silly, but I had never thought about aligning supply chain strategy to product lifecycles. It makes perfectly good sense that as a product moves from launch to retirement, you should have different supply chains. It then would seem to follow that your systems need to be agile enough to adopt those strategies. A well designed portal would be an excellent way to embrace both.

  4. Good blog. Another way to look at portals of the past is “what can I can I push/sell to the customer” or “how can I get them to do my work”. The new view is “how can I make this easier for the customer” or “what is it the customer needs from me so I can deliver excellent service”. A company can say they are the best, but it’s what your customer says that makes it real.

  5. Maximizing shareholder value is all about captivating customers and making them irrationally loyal to your product or service. This requires satisfying customers at all points in the life cycle. Product failure support is rarely incorporated into the cost of revenue calculation, yet the cost of satisfying a customer’s need is often inversely proportional to the level of customer satisfaction. If the cost is high, then the company may succumb to the pressure to minimally satisfy the customer. However, if the cost of supporting the customer is low due to streamlined portals and easy access to data by the customer and the customer response team, then a company can more easily justify the cost of maintaining excited customers that ensures high loyalty and satisfaction (equating to repeat business and/or referenceable accounts)…as long as the company can ensure timely resolution while providing good communication feedback to the customer. Notable companies good at this include Apple, Zagg, SquareTrade, and Amazon. Make it easy on the customer and give the customer more than s/he expects, and you have created a revenue event.

  6. Good job Bob. I would add that for companies with strictly service offerings (financial services companies for instance), the portal concept could also work – especially as a means to route customer service requests to the right parties. Too many financial companies, especially the large ones, give only lip service to customer service, and I am aware of exactly zero companies of this typ that offer any on-line customer service that is worth a darn. It would be interesting to look at the portal concept for services companies in more detail

  7. Great post Bob, people all too often ignore that many usees of a portal. As mentioned above, originally portals were more like directory listings to find related services or products.

    But with the sophistication of technology portals can be used for anything from an directory listing to actually putting together an entire ERP system to keep track of potential customers, order and replacement process management, to offering general sites and videos that act as a marketing engine, sales tool, operational tools for efficiency – everything must be in alignment with back up processes in the event of delays/issues.

    Look at the auto and oil industry. These two industries have been utilizing global manufacturing and procurement on a global basis for as long as I have have been alive. you are correct, it is a matter of reverse engineering to portal to take into account any contingencies.

    Now, one you have your systems in place, it is time to integrate the various marketing and sales tools into your processes so no leads are lost due to lack of integration, all notes on potential customers and every touch point should be noted to analyze the success of any given marketing campaigns or activities.

    All this can be interfaced together to break down your business into the smallest components. .

  8. very nice, I love to read examples of how using specific technology is utilizing the cloud. Although I think there’s still a lot of confusion about how the cloud can be used effectively and also how to make it secure. But as various government entities are being mandated to move to the cloud, high security is no longer a question with the right provider.

  9. “Embracing service as a revenue generator rather than a cost center to earn and retain a valuable asset—your customer’s Long-term loyalty” is really a great quote. Our business looked at Chip Connelly’s “Peak” strategy, which is an application of Maslow on business. The idea was to deliver unparalled service that met your customer’s unrecognized needs, ie. you deliver the basic/required elements so well, you can work with your customer to achieve greater levels of service and performance for both parties.

    The supply chain example is in line….until the supply chain is under control to deliver from supplier to customer, the idea of the customer returning something to the supplier in an organized way is too difficult to consider. With the aid of portals and other technology, problem 1 is solved to the point where focus can be applied to the previously unrecognized need of returns, and that becomes recognized and the basic expectation of all customers, therefore raising the bar again. Until the competitors realize you have solved a previously unrecognized problem, you have the leg up until they catch up. Hopefully you are delivering the next unrecognized need by the time your competitor copies your first need and you stay ahead. Well designed and implemented portals can clearly go a long way in achieving that goal of meeting your customer’s unrecognized needs and lock in that long term loyalty.


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