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The International Journal of Logistics Management

Supply chain integration: a European survey


Prabir K. Bagchi Byoung Chun Ha Tage Skjoett-Larsen Lars Boege Soerensen

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Prabir K. Bagchi Byoung Chun Ha Tage Skjoett-Larsen Lars Boege Soerensen, (2005),"Supply chain
integration: a European survey", The International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. 16 Iss 2 pp. 275 294
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Stanley E. Fawcett, Gregory M. Magnan, (2002),"The rhetoric and reality of supply chain integration",
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Damien Power, (2005),"Supply chain management integration and implementation: a literature
review", Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 10 Iss 4 pp. 252-263 http://
dx.doi.org/10.1108/13598540510612721
Mark Barratt, (2004),"Understanding the meaning of collaboration in the supply chain",
Supply Chain Management: An International Journal, Vol. 9 Iss 1 pp. 30-42 http://
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Supply chain integration:


a European survey

Supply chain
integration: a
European survey

Prabir K. Bagchi and Byoung Chun Ha


School of Business, The George Washington University
Washington, District of Columbia, USA, and

275

Tage Skjoett-Larsen and Lars Boege Soerensen


Copenhagen Business School, Frederiks Berg, Denmark

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Abstract
Purpose The major goal of this study was to identify the underlying factors of supply chain
integration in European firms with particular emphasis on the role of information sharing and
interorganizational collaboration.
Design/methodology/approach In order to get an overall view of the state of supply chain
integration in European firms, a mail survey was done to investigate the extent and nature of supply
chain integration in 149 companies. Using statistical analysis, the study attempts to comprehend if
increasing levels of the intensity of supply chain integration show concomitant rise of operational
performance.
Findings European firms are starting to be aware of the strategic importance of integration across
the boundaries of the supply chain. Both correlation analyses and multiple regression analyses have
clearly shown that supply chain integration affects operational performance and the degree of
integration also influences cost and efficiency. An interesting and surprising finding from our survey
was the significant negative correlation between the length of relationship with suppliers and
performance measures such as total logistics costs, on-time delivery and rate of return. While
performance has been shown to have improved as a result of collaboration with suppliers and
customers alike in areas such as supply chain design, inventory management and customer
relationship management (CRM), the nature and extent of integration has been rather selective. Most
companies are quite cautious when it comes to sharing sensitive data and rightfully so.
Research limitations/implications In order to obtain more generalizable results, further larger
studies of supply chain integration are needed to reveal the impediments for a wider degree of
integration and to highlight potential strategies to increase integration across the supply chain.
Practical implications The main findings confirm that comprehensive supply chain integration
is more a rhetoric than reality in most European firms. However, we found a clear indication of the
value placed by the respondents on integration with key suppliers and customers for performance
enhancement.
Originality/value This is the first empirical work measuring the state of supply chain integration
in European firms and the challenges faced by them. Supply chain management professionals would
have a clearer idea about the areas ripe for collaborative effort.
Keywords Supply chain management, Continuous improvement, Knowledge sharing,
Information systems
Paper type Research paper

Background
The conventional wisdom in most supply chain management literature is that the
more integration the better the performance of the supply chain. Lambert et al.
(1998) define the SCM concept as integration of business processes. Lee (2000) argues
that a truly integrated supply chain does more than reduce costs. It also creates value

The International Journal of Logistics


Management
Vol. 16 No. 2, 2005
pp. 275-294
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0957-4093
DOI 10.1108/09574090510634557

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for the company, its supply chain partners and its shareholders. Prahalad and Hamel
(1994) and Hammer (2001) suggest that vertical integration should be replaced by
virtual integration where each participant concentrates on those processes that it
performs best, leaving the rest to others. The ideal situation is that the entire process
across the supply chain is designed, managed and coordinated as a unit. Fine (1998)
argues that clock-speed industries seem to follow a double helix oscillating between
vertical integration and horizontal disintegration. Harland (1996) reports a trend of
towards vertical disintegration in a range of industries.
However, not everybody agrees that integration and close collaboration is the best
solution in every case. Bask and Juga (2001) argue that it is necessary to reassess the
dominant view of integrated supply chain management (SCM). They advocate a
change from holistic integration towards semi-integrated supply chains. For some
companies, tight integration is the answer. For others, intensive integration might be
the goal in selected areas of SCM, such as quality management and performance
measurement, while in other areas it can be beneficial to strive for limited integration.
According to the authors, the pressures in contemporary SCM seem to be towards the
opposite direction: disintegration, divergence and differentiation. Harland et al. (2001)
suggest a classification of supply networks along two dimensions: the degree of supply
network dynamics and the degree of focal firm supply network influence. By
combining the two dimensions four types of supply networks are outlined with
different structure, process, and management characteristics.
Similarly, Bagchi and Skjoett-Larsen (2002) propose a contingency approach to
supply chain integration, arguing that factors such as dominance versus balanced
power in the supply chain, the degree of competition in the industry, the maturity of the
industry, and the nature of the products may determine the desired level of integration
in a supply chain. This is also in line with Fishers (1997) seminal distinction between
efficient and responsive supply chains depending on product and market
characteristics.
There is little evidence of research mapping the actual level of integration among
participants in a supply chain. How successful have industrial and trading companies
been in implementing integration in the supply chain? What is the scope of integration?
Is it limited to information sharing of transactional data or is it also encompassing
collaboration in R&D, inventory management, distribution, supply chain design, and
other activities included in SCM? What is the role of information technology? What is
the true nature of integration? To what extent are there established collaboration
mechanisms across the supply chain?
In this paper we will focus on one dimension of integration: interorganisational
collaboration with key suppliers and key customers. First, we will give an overview of
past research in this area followed by a statement of purpose of this research. Next, we
present some empirical findings from a survey covering various industries in eight
European countries. Finally, we describe some lessons learnt and discuss the
implications for both future research and management practices.
Past research
The terms supply chain, supply chain management and supply chain integration
are not well-defined constructs. They have different meanings to different people and
organizations.

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Handfield and Nichols (2002) define supply chain as encompassing all activities
associated with the flow and transformation of goods from the raw materials stage,
through to the end user, as well as the associated information flows. Material and
information flow both up and down the supply chain. SCM is defined as the
integration of these activities through improved supply chain relationships, to achieve
a sustainable competitive advantage. In this definition relationships in the supply
chain are emphasized. Mentzer (2001) define a supply chain as a set of three or more
entities (organizations or individuals) directly involved in the upstream and
downstream flows of products, services, finances, and/or information from a source
to a customer. The authors distinguish between a direct supply chain, an extended
supply chain, and an ultimate supply chain. The direct chain encompasses the focal
firm, a supplier and a customer. The extended chain includes suppliers suppliers and
customers customers. The ultimate chain includes all the organizations involved, e.g.
third party logistics providers, financial providers and providers of management
services. A widely quoted definition of the last-mentioned category is Cooper et al.
(1997), who define SCM as the integration of business processes from end user
through original suppliers that provides products, services and information that add
value for customers. This definition concerns the general management and control of
the firm and to Christopher (1998), it entails the management of upstream and
downstream relationships with suppliers and customers to deliver superior customer
value at less cost to the supply chain as a whole. Harland (1996) identifies and
discusses three different levels of SCM from a system perspective. These are:
management of supply relationships, management of inter-business chains, and
management of inter-business networks.
Such definitions emphasise two things. First there is an emphasis on flows of
products, services and information between firms, which have to be organised and
managed as if they belong to a vertically integrated firm. Of necessity, the
management of the flow of information in todays global marketplace has been greatly
enabled by the maturation of information technology. The composite entity conceived
here is the supply chain or supply network (Harland et al., 2001; Christopher, 1998).
The supply chain has its own justification outside the interests of the individual firm.
Supply chains are competing against supply chains. Secondly, the normative implicit
assumption is that integration is the best way to obtain efficiency of the supply chain.
Fawcett and Magnan (2002) found in an empirical study among managers from
purchasing, manufacturing and logistics in the USA that supply chain practice seldom
resembles the theoretical ideal. The data indicate that most firms are at early stages of
interorganizational collaboration. Very few if any firms were managing the entire
supply chain from suppliers supplier to customers customer. In most cases, the
responsibility for managing second-tier suppliers was handed over to first-tier
suppliers.
McAdam and McCormack (2001) presented a qualitative study of the relationship
between managing business processes and managing supply chains. They found that
there was little evidence of firms actually exploiting the integration of business
processes in their supply chains. Generally, the two fields were treated separately and
most business process management techniques were applied to one member of the
supply chain and their links with immediate suppliers and customers.

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Frohlich and Westbrook (2001) investigated supplier and customer integration


strategies in a global sample of 322 manufacturing companies. The authors developed
scales for measuring supply chain integration and identified five different strategies
(arc of integration) in the sample: inward-facing, periphery-facing, supplier-facing,
customer-facing, and outward-facing. The strategies identified by them represented
upwards or downwards integration and the degree of integration. The study showed
that firms with broader supply chain integration with both suppliers and customers
had the largest rate of performance improvement, compared to firms having narrow or
biased integration with their suppliers or customers.
Recently, Kemppainen and Vepsalainen (2003) published the results from
interviews with managers in six supply chains in Finland. In total 25 respondents
were interviewed, mainly executives responsible for management of the supply chain,
the logistics functions, or the entire company. Their analysis of supply chain practices
shows that information sharing and visibility in the supply chain is still limited. The
Finnish companies hesitate in their coordination efforts beyond order processing and
operational scheduling within the dyadic supplier-buyer relationships. Their study
reveals that key partners have better access to planning information and order-specific
data than arms length customers and suppliers. However, even with key partners,
information sharing could be limited. The companies seem to have a pragmatic view
on the benefits and risks of sharing information, and therefore information is shared
only selectively.
Olhager and Selldin (2003) investigated SCM strategies and practices in a sample of
128 Swedish manufacturing firms. They studied issues related to supply chain design,
integration, planning and control, and tools for communication with customers and
suppliers. The respondents considered their firms supply chain coordination ability to
be somewhat mediocre. The most important area for supply chain collaboration was
forecasting. The study confirms that companies are starting to appreciate the
importance of the supply chain. However, most firms have quite some ways to go to
take full advantage of the promises of supply chain integration.
Ragatz et al. (1997) did a study of 60 US companies about supplier integration in
new product development. The responses indicated that supplier integration has led to
significant performance improvements and competitive advantage for the firms. Direct
cross-functional, inter company communication was the most extensively used
technique in successful supplier integration.
Other authors Narasimhan and Kim (2002), Tan (2002) have studied the effect of
supply chain integration on performance.
Purpose of research
For the purpose of this research we define supply chain integration as the
comprehensive collaboration among supply chain network members in strategic,
tactical and operational decision-making.
Our objective is to uncover the realism behind the rhetoric of supply chain
integration. We want to understand the status of integration in supply chains in
European firms. Specifically, our objective is to examine the following:
.
To what extent do firms have information integration with their supply chain
partners and what role information technology plays in supply chain
integration?

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In which areas and to what extent do firms involve key suppliers and customers
in decision-making?
How does supply chain integration affect performance?

Research methodology and data collection


In order to get an overall view of the state of supply chain integration in Europe we
decided to perform a mail survey among selected countries and industries.
Given the exploratory nature of the study, the design of the questionnaire was
performed over a period of 6 months. The end-result of this iterative process was a
questionnaire divided into four sections: A: Company Profile, B: Interfirm
Integration, C: IT Integration and D: Performance. The first section captures the
demographic information about the company, and the respondents area of
responsibility. The questions in the second section were divided into the following
subsections: Feedback Seeking, Decision Making, Replenishment and Supply
Chain Relations. Except for the subsection Replenishment, all questions were
posed both for suppliers and customers. The section IT Integration was concerned
with the use of and external access to ERP systems, Supply Chain Planning,
EDI/XML connections and the use of Electronic Marketplaces. The last section posed
questions on performance improvement as a result of IT and organizational
integration in the supply chain. Most questions were based on five point Likert-type
scales. The questionnaire was pre-tested by three selected companies and refined
according to the comments received from the test respondents. The questionnaire was
prepared in English and German versions. The German version was sent to the
respondents in Germany and Austria, while the rest of the countries received the
English version.
Apart from the three research questions, the primary drivers for this research, a few
more questions regarding participation in electronic marketplaces were included.
Uncovering the mechanisms of comprehensive integration was the rationale for these
additional questions. As the nature and challenges of the electronic marketplaces is not
the subject of this paper, this part of the questionnaire is not presented in the
Appendix.
The link between the research questions and the questionnaire is as follows. The
first research question is covered by items C1-C5. The research question on
decision-making is covered by items B2 and B3, whereas the third is covered by items
in Section D. Items B1 and B4-B9 describe the relation between the focal company and
their suppliers and customers.
The selection of both countries and industries was based on previous experiences
and knowledge about the best practices obtained from the logistics literature (Bagchi
and Skjoett-Larsen, 1995; Holmes, 1995; PricewaterhouseCoopers, 1998; Kearney and
European Logistics Association (ELA), 1999; KPMG Consulting and ELA, 2002).
The selection of countries can best be described as convenience sampling. As the
research team has special knowledge of and an interest in the Nordic countries, these
countries were automatically chosen. The Netherlands and Austria were chosen because
these countries are comparable with the Nordic countries in terms of size. The UK and
Germany were included as we wanted larger countries which we knew from surveys,
trade journals, logistics conferences and other evidence were fairly advanced in logistics
and SCM. The population was limited to companies employing at least 100 people

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and having operating revenue of at least 10 million USD. The population was
downloaded from the company database AMADEUS (http://amadeus.bvdep.com/).
Besides size, industry was another selection criterion. The industries were selected
from a list of industries classified according to the US-SIC nomenclature. The
industries selected were those, where we expected to find the most advanced examples
of supply chain collaboration (e.g. the machine tool industry, see Singh and Ranchhod,
2004 and the paper industry, see Alajoutsijarvi et al., 2001).
To ensure as broad a representation as possible, a minimum sample size was set to
20 for each combination of country and industry. A 20 percent sample was drawn and
in case this sample was less than the minimum, it was rounded up. In those instances
where the population was less than the minimum sample size, the cell was discarded.
As shown in Tables I and II, the total sample size is 2, 607 companies, representing
24.2 percent of the population of 10, 387 and they are from a variety of industries.
Tables I and II also show the response rates from each country and industry group.
Each company in the sample was contacted to obtain the name and address of the
person responsible for SCM or Logistics. Subsequently the questionnaire was sent out
country by country. After approximately three weeks, a reminder was sent out to
non-respondents. Eight weeks after sending out the last questionnaire, the survey was
ended resulting in a total survey period of about four months. The responses were

Region

Country

Population

Sample

Count

Nordic

Denmark
Finland
Norway
Sweden
Austria
Germany
Netherlands
UK

377
331
216
611
385
5.143
558
3.162
10.783

180
160
100
180
140
1.028
187
632
2.607

27
14
12
19
7
27
7
36
149

Other
Table I.
Response rate
per country

Total

Industry Description

Table II.
Response rate
per industry

20
26
28
30
34
35
36
37
38
Total

Food and kindred products


Paper and allied products manufacturing
Chemicals and allied products manufacturing
Rubber and miscellaneous plastics prod
Fabricated metal products, except machines
Industrial and commercial machinery
Electronic and other electrical equipment
Transportation equipment manufacturing
Measuring, analysing and controlling instruments

Response
Percent
15.0
8.8
11.9
10.6
5.0
2.6
3.7
5.7
5.7

Response
Population Sample Count Percent
1.946
768
1.405
1.023
1.302
1.925
922
823
669
10.783

428
212
344
250
311
426
238
217
181
2.607

20
7
19
17
15
17
21
14
19
149

4.7
3.3
5.5
6.8
4.8
4.0
8.8
6.5
10.5
5.7

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registered in a Microsoft Access database and subsequently transferred to SPSS and


SAS for further analysis. The overall response rate was only 5.7 percent. However, the
response rate varied a lot from country to country. The highest response rates were
realized in the Nordic countries. There are probably several reasons for the low
response rate. First, the questionnaire was relatively lengthy, seven pages long.
Second, it was difficult to target one person in a firm as the respondent because the
questions covered both the supply side and the demand side. Third, firms are
frequently overloaded these days with questionnaires from universities, consultancy
firms and professional organizations and refuse to answer unless it can be done very
quickly. Fifty four respondents returned the questionnaires with a cover letter saying
that it was the companys policy not to answer questionnaires. In all, 149 completed
and usable questionnaires were returned. Despite the low overall response rate, the
results from the survey can give valuable insights to how European firms are
collaborating with their supply chain partners and what kind of integrating
mechanisms they are using. However, further in-depth studies are necessary to come
up with more confirmative conclusions.
Even if cross-industry comparison is not the subject of this paper, it is relevant to
briefly show the distribution of responses across industry to get an idea about the
respondent industries.
Discussion of results
Data analysis consisted of three steps. First, descriptive statistics of individual items
were considered to assess the overall profile of the respondent group and the practices
these companies followed for achieving supply chain integration. Next, the
respondents were divided into two groups: SMEs and larger firms[1]. Multivariate
statistical tests were done to understand if significant differences exist between the two
groups. Finally, simple and multiple regression analyses were done to establish cause
and effect relationships between the chosen supply chain performance measures and
predictor variables signifying various facets of supply chain integration such as
connectivity and nature and length of collaboration with suppliers and customers.
IT linkages with key supply chain partners
Our study clearly shows that European firms have started paying attention to the need
for IT integration in supply chains. More firms have adopted enterprise resource
planning (ERP) systems and use of electronic data interchange (EDI) and XML links
with supply chain partners have indeed become very popular among European firms.
Over 75 percent of the respondents confirmed that their firms have installed some
modules of ERP systems in recent years. Of the ERP systems used in these firms, SAP
leads with a 20 percent market share followed by Oracle, Baan, and others. Most
popular modules in order of preference are: accounting, manufacturing, procurement,
distribution, and forecasting. However, very few firms provide online access to the
ERP systems to their supply chain partners. Only 8 percent of the respondent firms
allow some online access to some of their suppliers and logistics providers and 10
percent offer access to their customers. Other supply chain partners such as
warehouses and carriers receive even fewer online accesses to ERP systems of the focal
company. However, when it comes to online data sharing with supply chain partners,
the picture is quite different. Almost 60 percent of the respondent firms have

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established EDI/XML links with their supply chain partners. More than 80 percent of
these firms have EDI/XML links with their suppliers, transporters and other logistics
providers, and 61 percent report links with customers. With their own subsidiaries
such as manufacturing plants, and warehouses, more than 90 percent have EDI/XML
links. Purchase orders, shipping documents and sales orders are the most commonly
exchanged documents via EDI/XML. It is quite clear from these results that firms are
selectively using IT links with their supply chain network partners.
These results are confirmed by other empirical studies of ERP implementation in
Europe. A European Delphi study encompassing 23 Dutch supply chain executives of
European multi-nationals (Akkermans et al., 2003) shows that implementation of
ERP-systems is seen to provide support for SCM trends such as mass customization,
standardization of processes, and Global IT-systems. However, ERP systems have a
number of shortcomings, when it comes to data sharing with external supply chain
partners, flexibility in adapting to changing supply chain needs and decision support
capabilities. Similarly, a survey of ERP implementation in 190 Swedish manufacturing
firms (Olhager and Selldin, 2003) showed that the firms have experienced improved
performance mainly from internal information sharing, whereas information
interaction with customers and suppliers have been implemented to a lesser extent.
Quality monitoring
It seems our respondent firms have been paying attention to the old adage, What gets
measured, gets done. There seems to be a continuous evaluation of supplier performance
in both large and small firms. More than 77 percent of the respondents carry out supplier
performance evaluation at least once a year, and over 40 percent do so more frequently.
Logistics providers such as carriers, freight forwarders and warehouses are evaluated
annually by over 72 percent of the firms and more than 40 percent do so more frequently. In
addition, a large number of respondent firms are involving supply chain partners in joint
quality monitoring. For example, almost 36 percent of the firms involve supply chain
partners in measuring customer satisfaction levels.
Collaboration with key suppliers
Overall, it was clear that more firms are seeking to involve supply chain partners in
decision-making and most of them have long term relationships with key suppliers and
customers. Over 60 percent of the firms had long-term relationship (more than 5 years)
with their suppliers and over 67 percent with their customers. Only 14 percent of the
firms did not involve their key suppliers in decision-making. More than 60 percent of
the respondents confirmed that they have medium to high involvement of their key
suppliers in decision-making. However, the level of involvement varied from area to
area. For example, the highest involvement was found in R&D, procurement and
distribution, while the lowest involvement was found in inventory management,
manufacturing, supply chain design, and implementation of supply chain software.
Clearly, senior managers, in both large and small firms, recognize the need for better
coordination among supply chain partners for more efficient decision-making.
Additionally, it is clear that managers in our respondent firms believe that suppliers
can make more significant impact in R&D, procurement and distribution where
suppliers are directly related. They also recognize that in areas such as inventory
management, supply chain design, and supply chain software implementation, the

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suppliers do not influence the outcome as much. Table III summarizes the nature of
involvement of European firms with their partners in various areas.
These results clearly demonstrate that in todays competitive marketplace, firms
realize that one cannot go all on its own and there is a need for seeking reinforcements
from supply chain partners in complementary activities. It is interesting to note that
smaller firms are almost equally likely to solicit cooperation from supply chain
partners as the larger firms.

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European survey
283

Collaboration with key customers


It appears that firms indeed pay attention to customers in todays marketplace. Almost
75 percent of the small firms and 83 percent of the large firms measure customer
satisfaction at least annually. Over one third of both small and large firms regularly
measure customer satisfaction at least once a quarter and a sizable 24 percent measure
monthly. However, no significant differences were found between the small and large
firms. Increasingly, firms are realizing that customer satisfaction measures must start
very early in the product life cycle. More firms now solicit customer inputs at the design
stage. In so doing, these respondent firms can avoid downstream potential problems. As
a result of close involvement, customers identify themselves as part of the design
process resulting in better acceptance of the products and services later. Overall, more
than 50 percent of the participating firms indicated that they involve customers for close
collaboration or joint decision-making in R&D decisions. Only a small percentage
(8 percent) indicated that they do not consult customers at the design stage. It also appears
that both small and large firms equally value customer participation at the design stage.
The measurement regime does not end there. More firms have started measuring
logistics providers about their performance. Overall, more than 70 percent of the
respondent firms measure the performance of their logistics partners. However, there is
a large segment, both small and large firms, that does not measure at all. For example,
almost 35 percent of the smaller firms do not even measure their logistics providers
annually as against 21 percent of the larger firms. Larger firms with their more
formalized reporting systems may be better suited for carrying out periodic
measurement of the logistics providers. Also, smaller firms short-term relationship
with logistics vendors and/or the use of forwarding companies as intermediaries may
preclude small firms of regular measurement procedure.

Areas of collaboration

Low (percent)

Level of collaboration
Medium (percent)

High (percent)

R&D
Procurement
Inventory management
Manufacturing
Distribution
Supply chain design
Supply chain software

38.7
28.1
53.1
53.9
40.1
50.7
52.7

25.4
37.2
26.2
29.4
31.3
30.4
21.4

35.9
35.9
20.8
16.8
28.6
18.9
15.9

Note: High degree of collaboration includes joint decision-making and close involvement. Low level of
collaboration includes none or some consulting or seeking advice

Table III.
Summary of supplier
collaboration

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Data show that firms are collaborating with customers in sales administration
presumably because it directly affects the customers. However, in operational decision
areas such as inventory management and manufacturing, relatively lesser number of
firms gets involved with customers in close collaborative arrangements. Only about 20-24
percent of the firms engage in close collaboration with customers in these operational
areas. Also, in more strategic issues, such as supply chain design and implementation of
supply chain software, there is a low involvement of customers in the decision-making. As
expected, among the firms practicing customer relationship management (CRM), there
was widespread involvement of customers in supply chain decision-making. Over
75 percent of these firms have medium to high collaboration with customers. Similarly, in
areas related to distribution management, we came across large-scale collaboration with
customers presumably to ensure that deliveries reach customers in a manner desired by
them. Almost 75 percent of the participating firms reported medium to high involvement
of customers in some way in distribution related decision-making.
Table IV summarizes the nature and extent of customer collaboration in the
respondent firms.
So, while collaboration with customers is considered important, respondent firms
are quite selective as to the sphere of collaboration. Data clearly show that firms are
prudently balancing the risks and benefits before jumping to the supply chain
integration bandwagon. In areas where customer collaboration is considered important
such as R&D, CRM and distribution, these firms engage in high levels of collaboration,
while in other areas such as supply chain software implementation or manufacturing
there less intense (low) collaboration.
Performance improvement
To better understand the effect of supply chain integration, respondents were asked to
rate performance improvements after integration in eight specific areas using a
five-point Likert-type scale. Over 60 percent of the respondents confirmed some
improvements in order fulfillment lead-time after integration. This is important in as
much as across-the-board significant perceived benefits may lure other firms to
consider supply chain integration. In terms of order fill rate, while 39 percent of the
small firms reported improvement after integration, a larger number, about 48 percent
of the large firms realized similar improvements. Although not statistically significant,

Table IV.
Summary of customer
collaboration

Areas of collaboration

Low (percent)

Level of collaboration
Medium (percent)

High (percent)

R&D
Sales administration
Inventory management
Manufacturing
CRM
Distribution
Supply chain design
Supply chain software

21.7
39.3
55.1
49.7
23.7
26.0
46.3
63.8

25.2
33.1
18.4
25.9
38.2
30.8
26.2
19.1

54.2
27.5
26.6
24.5
38.2
43.1
27.6
17.0

Note: High degree of collaboration includes joint decision-making and close involvement. Low level of
collaboration includes none or some consulting or seeking advice

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larger firms were able to achieve somewhat higher improvements in order fill rate than
the smaller ones. As to production flexibility, 43 percent of the respondents perceived
improvements occurred as a result of supply chain integration. When it comes to total
logistics costs, more than 56 percent reported reduction. Almost 60 percent of the
managers believed on-time delivery rates improved in their organizations. With
respect to inventory turn rates, while 46 percent of the small firms reported
performance improvement after integration, almost two thirds of the respondents from
large firms realized similar performance improvements. The group differences in this
case were found to be statistically significant at 0.1 level ( p , 0.1). This is an
important result since inventory turn ratio is a composite metric and captures the
effects of various processes and initiatives in the supply chain and thus is a reflection
of the general well being of a supply chain. One possible explanation for the difference
may be that larger firms may have implemented systematic inventory control tools and
procedures such as EOQ, reorder point, vendor management systems and warehouse
management systems; thus larger firms may be better placed to realize the advantages
of supply chain integration. Table V below summarizes these results.
To understand the cause and effect relationship between the eight performance
indicators and supply chain integration variables, simple and multiple regression
analyses were carried out. Individually, order fulfillment time improvement was found
to have significant positive correlation (at 0.01 or better levels) with organizational
integration factors such as involvement with key suppliers during R&D, inventory
management, supply chain network design and CRM. As expected, improvement of
order fill rate had a significant positive correlation with factors like involvement with
key suppliers in inventory management, supply chain design and supply chain
software implementation. Performance improvements in both order fulfillment time
and order fill rate were found to have significant negative correlation with IT software
related problems. This is perhaps expected. When companies face software
implementation problems, benefits often elude them until root causes are identified
and countermeasures are taken and sometimes performance may even drop in the
short term. Performance metrics such as production flexibility, inventory turnover
ratio, and rate of returns were seen to have significant positive correlation with factors
like involvement of key suppliers in supply chain design. When suppliers are involved
in supply chain design issues like network configuration including location of facilities,

Performance improvement in
Order fulfillment lead time
Order fill rate
Production flexibility
Total logistics cost
Returns processing
Rate of returns
On-time delivery
Inventory turn ratio

Large firms
(percent)

Small firms
(percent)

Total
(percent)

60
48
40
57
28
33
58
66

61
39
46
56
32
27
63
46

60.5
43
43
56.5
30
30
60.5
56.5

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285

Statistically significant
difference
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
Yes at p , 0.1 level

Note: Performance improvement scale ranged from 1=deteriorated, 3=neutral or no change and
5=improved. Those respondents who indicated 4 or 5 have been included here

Table V.
Performance
improvement realized
after supply chain
integration

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286

selection of suppliers, mode of transportation, transport carriers and equipment, it


ought to have positive influence on supply chain performance and our analysis lends
support to this widely held belief. Other performance metrics such as total logistics
cost, returns processing cost, inventory turnover rate, timeliness of deliveries, and rate
of returns were also, as expected, found to have significant positive correlation with
involvement of key suppliers in inventory management, supply chain design and R&D.
Multiple regression analyses with the above-mentioned eight performance metrics as
dependent variables and with all the predictor variables in the model were done to better
understand the parameters and obtain model adequacy. The selection of the predictor
variables was done by adding variables to the model up to a point where an additional
variable was found not to be useful as measured by its incremental contribution to the
coefficient of determination (r2). This was further confirmed by ranking the candidate
variables in order of descending values of the t-statistic. The results of the multiple
regression showed that order fulfillment time, order fill rate, and production flexibility
were positively correlated with supplier involvement in supply chain design. These
relationships were found to be statistically significant. Collaborating with suppliers in
supply chain design activities such as facility location, mode and carrier selection, and
flow management, to improve supply chain efficiency has been widely recommended in
many studies. Our study supports this premise. Multiple regression tests with total
logistics cost as the dependent variable showed significant positive correlation with
collaboration with suppliers in inventory management and long term relationship with
customers. Order fill rate, total logistics cost and rate of returns were found to have
significant positive correlation with length of relationship with customers. An interesting
and somewhat surprising result was the significant negative correlation found between
the length of relationship with suppliers and performance measures such as total logistics
cost, on-time delivery and rate of return. One explanation could be that long-term
relationships limit the companys ability to disseminate and interpret new information and
innovations from the marketplace. Another explanation could be that over time
complacency sets in and partners may take each other for granted and may not go the
extra mile to please each other and performance declines as a result. Although the
relatively low values of the coefficient of determination (r2) may raise a few eyebrows of
some critics about the robustness of the results and we acknowledge the deficiencies, yet
we decided to report these to start a dialog which may lead to future confirmatory research.
However, when we realize that these eight performance metrics are the culmination of
myriad factors many of which are external and beyond the firms control and possibly
have not been captured in our study, we begin to understand that r2 is not all that
important here and we should be more concerned about statistical significance. Table VI
gives the excerpts of the results of the multiple regression analyses and a close look at the
data clearly reveal that many supply chain integration variables do affect performance
significantly.
Facilitating integration with supply chain partners
Integration with supply chain partners cannot take place in a vacuum. Conscious
efforts are required to prepare the environment where close coordination can take
place. Coordination becomes possible when information is transparently shared among
supply chain partners. But, how pervasive should the information sharing be? To what
extent should firms trust supply chain partners with business information some of

Dependent variable Significant predictor variable(s)


Order fulfillment
time
Order fill rate

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Production
flexibility
Total logistics
cost

Returns
processing
cost
Inventory turn

On-time delivery
Rate of return

Supply chain design *


Supply
Length
Length
Supply

chain design * *
of supplier relationship * *
of customer relationship *
chain design * *

Collaboration with suppliers in


inventory ctrl * *
Collaboration with suppliers in sales
administration *
Length of supplier relationship *
Length of customer relationship * *
Collaboration with supplier in R&D * *
Collaboration with supplier in procurement * *
Collaboration with supplier in R&D *
Collaboration with supplier in procurement * *
Collaboration with supplier in inventry
control *
Collaboration with supplier in software
implementation *
Collaboration with customers in
production *
Length of supplier relationship *
Collaboration with supplier in R&D *
Length of supplier relationship *
Length of customer relationship *

Model
coefficient of
Parameter
estimate determinance (R 2)
0.17

0.18

0.24
20.28
0.25
0.20

0.19

0.23

0.27

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integration: a
European survey
287

0.11

20.19
20.22
0.37
0.20
20.17
0.16
20.18
0.21

0.25
0.24

0.15
0.14
20.22
0.12
20.22
0.21

0.23
0.26

Note: * Indicates significance at 0.1 level; * * indicates significance at 0.05 level

which are likely to be sensitive? Despite the significant positive correlation found
between the selected performance metrics and involvement of key suppliers in supply
chain design, we have not found many companies willing to bet their future on such
close integration with supply chain partners. While managers are often willing to share
some information within the supply chain to ensure smooth flow of materials, very few
seem to be willing to provide online access to their ERP-systems or access to sensitive
areas such as design or strategic decisions. We have also noticed that fewer firms
engage into close relationship with customers in strategic areas. The root cause, some
experts point out, for the selective lack of trust plaguing many supply chains, is the
fear of loss of such elements of core competence as proprietary technology, business
plans and competitive strategy (Kemppainen and Vepsalainen, 2003; Bagchi and
Skjoett-Larsen, 2002). In this survey, it was clear that although the respondent firms
have begun to share some information with supply chain partners, they are quite
selective as to how and to what extent information should be available to supply chain
partners and who should receive them. For example, while 20 percent of the respondent
firms confirmed providing direct access to the suppliers to their manufacturing

Table VI.
Results of multiple
regressions

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288

systems and a much smaller 9 percent giving direct access to third party logistics
providers, very few do so to other logistics providers such as carriers, brokers and
freight forwarders. As expected, much greater direct access is provided to the firms
subsidiaries, manufacturing plants, and own warehouses. Simply stated, information
relating to inventory, manufacturing plans, etc. was not equally transparent across the
supply chain. Rather, transparency was quite selective and access to such information
was on a need to know basis. Perhaps this is not unexpected. Even the recipient of
information would not be interested if he has no need for it. That is, firms will share
information with supply chain partners if they (the partners) find value in it.
It was interesting, although not entirely unexpected, to note that larger firms
provided greater access to their suppliers and they also tracked their performance more
often. Perhaps because larger firms are better aware of SCM concepts and many may
have vendor managed inventory (VMI) programs, and more professional managers
who are aware of the needs for close collaboration with suppliers. More research will be
required to authenticate these findings.
Managerial implications and suggestions for future research
Our study shows that many European firms have adopted ERP systems and also
established some electronic links with their supply chain partners. Over 75 percent of
the respondents had installed some modules of ERP systems in recent years. However,
very few firms provide online access to the ERP systems to their supply chain partners.
This is in accordance with the findings in earlier studies (Bagchi and Skjoett-Larsen,
2002; Kemppainen and Vepsalainen, 2003) that many managers are not convinced
about the true value of such across-the-board links and fear potential loss of
proprietary information and loss of control. These results are also in line with
Akkermans et al. (2003) findings that the panel of experts saw only a modest role for
ERP in improving future supply chain effectiveness and a clear risk of ERP actually
limiting progress in SCM. A major problem is that ERP systems generally support
internal coordination across functional activities, but are less supportive in
decision-making across organizational boundaries. Longitudinal studies of supply
chains are suggested in order to find out if firms are advancing from a stage of
information sharing to a stage of online access to their ERP-systems.
The results from the survey also confirm what has already been found in a number of
case studies that supply chain integration is more a rhetoric than reality in most
industries in Europe. While performance has been shown to have improved as a result of
collaboration with suppliers and customers alike in areas such as supply chain design,
inventory management and CRM, the nature and extent of integration has been rather
selective. Whereas many studies have advanced the virtues of inventory transparency
and sharing of strategic manufacturing plans across the supply chain for better
decision-making, the ground realities are quite different. Most companies are quite
cautious when it comes to sharing sensitive data and rightfully so. Very few companies
have established joint decision-making with their key suppliers or customers. However, a
majority of the respondents confirmed that some consultation took place with their
supply chain partners. This is also in accordance with other studies (Fawcett and
Magnan, 2002; Kemppainen and Vepsalainen, 2003; McAdam and McCormack, 2001).
An interesting and surprising finding from our survey was the significant negative
correlation between the length of relationship with suppliers and performance measures

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such as total logistics costs, on-time delivery and rate of return. The conventional
wisdom during the last two decades has been that long-term buyer-supplier
relationships would increase the efficiency and service level in the supply chain.
However, the backside of long-term relationships might well be a lack of innovation and
benchmarking with the most efficient suppliers at the marketplace. The managerial
implication of this finding is that supply chain managers should continuously
benchmark their suppliers with best practice in the supplier market. E-procurement,
e-auctions, electronic marketplaces and supplier development, certification and
performance measurement programs are some of the devices, which can be used to
make sure that long-term relationships are not leading to stagnant and inefficient
relationships. More research is necessary to provide knowledge of how leading edge
companies are dealing with their suppliers to keep them on their tiptoes.
To further the research on the whys (or rather: the why nots) of supply chain
integration, risk management might prove a beneficial concept. Currently, risk
management is being integrated into SCM from various fields, e.g. Svensson (2000,
2001, 2002) on vulnerability, Zsidisin and Ellram (2003), Smeltzer and Siferd (1998) and
Harland et al.(2003) on supplier risk management and Lonsdale (1999) on outsourcing.
So far, these contributions have not been able to come up with a general model of where
to draw the boundaries of the supply chain network.
Note
1. SMEs are here defined as companies with an annual revenue below 50 million USD. Since the
European Community Commission with regulation (EC) no. 363/2004 of 25 February modified
the regulation (EC) no. 68/2001 there are no generally acceptable definition of SME. Instead
local interpretations, normally using no of employees and revenue as measures, are accepted.
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Figure A1.

Appendix. Questionnaire: supply chain integration

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Figure A1.

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Figure A1.

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32. Paul Hong, David Dobrzykowski, Young Won Park, Dag Nslund, Hana Hulthen. 2012. Supply chain
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82. Abirami Radhakrishnan, Dessa David, Douglas Hales, V. Sri SridharanMapping the Critical Links
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