Technology & Supply Chain Relationships with Customers & Suppliers

Product Development

Design and development are all about close, collaborative teamwork – both internally with project team members, and externally with your customers and suppliers.

Technology allows everyone who needs to be involved in your product design and development to work together, wherever they are based.

Better product development

Having a bright idea for a new or improved product is rarely enough on its own. Before investing time and money in production, you will want to ask some questions and get some feedback. There are a number of information-sharing options that can aid successful collaboration:

  • ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) is a broadband connection to the internet via your existing phone line. It is ‘always on’ and offers almost instantaneous web browsing and internet transactions. Broadband’s high speed connectivity is also great for promoting collaborative working: you can set up virtual teams wherever people are using workspace co-ordination programmes like Teamsite, allowing everyone involved to work together to complete complex design projects online.
  • There are numerous broadband providers, each offering different packages, many targeted at the business user. You will need to shop around for the best deal for you.

  • Information can be posted on a secure, protected area of your intranet or internet site that only authorised people can access. An intranet is effectively a scaled-down version of the internet, and it links together all of your computers into a network.

  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow secure, controlled access to your computer network from any location.

  • Mobile phone technology allows staff to work anywhere and still access network systems. Ever greater connection of technologies, including the latest 3G mobile technology, means that key people, whatever their location, can be actively involved at all stages of design and development.

Make to order

The ability to exchange information with your suppliers, rapidly and in compatible formats, allows greater responsiveness, so you can create one-off or customised orders more efficiently.

Better speed to market

Getting your product out there first, or being quickest to react to changing market trends, can have a huge impact on its success. Digital design and information sharing can shorten this time to market, giving you a real competitive edge. Increasingly reliable and scaleable solutions such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) software are available: these allow computer-to-computer exchange of structured data and can be operated from within your organisation, or outsourced and managed for you.

Product Development Best Practice Implementation Plan

1 Share what you know

  • Capture what you know about your customers and suppliers and share it internally using a company intranet. Key people in your business can be kept up to date with product development, even if they are not in the same office.
  • Set up an intranet or an electronic bulletin board to allow more efficient job tracking and resource management.
  • Web-based workgroups allow you to upload work in progress, like 3D or animated images. You can get feedback from customers or suppliers as products are developed.

2 Talk online

  • In Instant Messaging (IM) Service is a readily available, cheap and reliable technology that is highly effective at encouraging collaboration, allowing customer involvement every step of the way.
  • Compatibility with your trading partners’ business systems and technologies, both now and as they change in the future, will facilitate collaboration.
  • Phone, video and web conferencing allow you to hold regular meetings, no matter where the participants may be at the time. It is more convenient and ensures that everyone remains involved.

3 Let systems talk

  • Work towards a situation where your systems can talk directly to those of your customers – this may involve an ongoing investment from all parties involved. You will have to conform to industry standards for formatting and transmitting the data you exchange.
  • Contact your trade association or industry body to find out more about industry-wide standards and systems. Visit for more contact details.

4 Build trust

  • Use a password-protected extranet to extend your business intranet and allow customers and suppliers to share information. Ask your suppliers and customers if they will set up extranets so that you can access their networks.
  • Ask for, and act on, feedback.
  • Involve customers in product development so that what you develop is more likely to fit their needs.

Successful collaboration is likely to involve some up-front investment. It is also likely to take up significant management time. Balance these against the benefits of becoming a preferred supplier. Most importantly, set yourself realistic targets and stick to them.

The internet is a key business tool for improving your purchasing processes. Whether identifying potential new suppliers, browsing online catalogues, or taking part in online auctions, the internet offers purchasers real cost savings and competitive advantages. For example, you will be able to:

  • Quickly and easily compare what’s around and how much it costs
  • Negotiate deals directly with suppliers, with potential cost savings
  • Reduce overheads by limiting the time your organisation spends on administration
  • Improve response times as you place and track orders.
Technology & Supply Chain Relationships with Customers & Suppliers business advice – Crown Copyright © 2004-2011
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