The most prominent and arguably most critical supply chain tool in the world is Microsoft Excel.  In supply chain conversations, manufacturer after manufacturer reflect back to me their tremendous dependency on this tool for supply chain processes.  As we delve deeper into topics of supply chain collaboration and visibility we see that Excel acts as a bridge "language" between most organizations whom for reasons of expediency and simplicity often rely upon excel and email to form the glue of unstructured supply-chain processes. 

I've heard this so much that I often jokingly refer to this model as the "E-Squared" supply-chain that is Excel * Email.  And when I describe it that way, our customers all smile and know exactly what I am talking about.  While many executives tout the tools, it's very clear that they want more from Microsoft in supply chain collaboration.  You can almost sense a nervous dependency here with these executives, meaning that they are running into limitations.  There are still too many redundancies in the data exchange, constant proliferation of multiple versions of the truth, and almost no auditability within or between organizations. The spreadsheets are getting bigger and bigger while the collaboration is getting tougher and tougher.

I realize that this is by no means "news" to anyone reading this blog.  My comments here are definitely not meant to be a criticism "E-Squared."  Instead, I see tremendous opportunities to unleash new capabilities to tackle these increasingly complex supply chain scenarios.  Our challenge at Microsoft is to introduce manufacturers to the new capabilities that are available and that in many cases are already on the computer right in front of them. 

We need to change the supply chain collaboration discussion from an Excel and Email model to instead a model leveraging the entire capabilities of Microsoft Office System 2007.  It's now about using things like Office Sharepoint and Excel Services to build interactive BI portals and dashboards.  Using Excel Services analysts within or between companies can now collaborate, analyze, pivot, and interact with data using Excel Web Access and work from a single version of the truth.  It's now about building Office Business Applications to manage data interactions between Office and your ERP, SCM and CRM systems.  Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division just released a powerful case study on how they used Office System to connect together over 140 different supply chain workflow activities (previously managed in Excel) in under 45 days.

When I talk to customers about these capabilites they are excited but are often skeptical.  They wonder if they could ever build the proficiency in their employees necessary to leverage these capabilities.  I think its a valid and fair concern.  I have the advantage however of seeing the creative ways our manufacturing customers are using these innovations in their business across the country.  It can be done and is being done.  Deploying these capabilities and training your people how to use them is clearly not a "big-bang" supply chain solution.  Instead its based upon the idea of empowering your people.   

If we can get these capabilities to the right people (the same ones who resourcefully use "E-Squared"), I am extremely confident that a new wave of creativity and innovation would proliferate across supply chain and operations teams, driving responsiveness and efficiency across the value network.

 I welcome your feedback and thoughts here.