What a Tangled Supply Web We Weave

Feb. 5, 2016
Today's supply chain is so complex and interconnected that some are saying it's more accurate to call it a supply web.

The term “Web 2.0” refers to the current state of online technology as it compares to the early days of the Web, and is characterized by greater user interactivity and collaboration, more pervasive network connectivity and enhanced communication channels.

The same (or similar) thing can be said about today’s complex, interconnected “supply web” versus the traditional, almost quaint and simplistic concept of it as a linear “supply chain.”

Today’s global supply chain has become increasingly complex, and as pointed out in this article by two economists at consulting firm IHS, “the metaphor of a linear supply chain, with product moving chronologically through the stages of supply, production and distribution, may be heading toward obsolescence. Instead, today's global supply chain is increasingly looking and acting like a global supply web. The concept of a series of interconnecting links, from the input link (supplier) to the output link (distribution), has given way to a network pattern involving myriad suppliers, producers and distributors cascading across international boundaries.”

This can be seen “not only at a country or regional level but also at the supply chain and individual company level. Supply chain managers, therefore, can benefit from a basic understanding of some of these shifts and their consequences.”

Once you come to this realization and map your actual global supply web in all its detail, in addition to having the complexity of it all sink in, you will also be able to identify information and process gaps, duplication of effort and rework of tasks that are opportunities for improvement, collaboration and integration.

Another thing pointed out in the article is that global supply patterns have changed dramatically since the beginning of the 20th century and will continue to change over time. So we’re actually dealing with a moving target here… another reason a Lean philosophy that includes a focus on continuous improvement is critical to one’s supply web.

About the Author

Paul Myerson | instructor, Management and Decision Sciences

Paul Myerson is an instructor, Management and Decision Sciences at Monmouth University. He is the author of four books in the field of supply chain and logistics management, a developer of a Windows-based supply chain planning software (, and co-author of a lean supply chain and logistics management simulation training game by ENNA (

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