Outsourcing Competence

Continuing on a supply-chain theme from Doing Outsourcing Right and Don’t Lose How To Make Things, I found this Reuters article carried on MSNBC interesting.

Surging China costs forces some U.S. manufacturing companies back home

 

Like a lot of popular press articles, the title and even the lead kind of miss the point. They are focusing on simplistic factors such as costs and whether or not the high automation type solutions are going to create more jobs or not.

This isn’t to say that costs aren’t important. Of course they are. And the article correctly points out (as we have said here as well) that many times the full costs of outsourcing are not understood.

As for the automation – though I can’t speak for the solutions cited in the article, what I often see is overboard with high-tech / high-maintenance solutions. That is a subject for another day when we really start digging into “right sized automation” and 3P.

With all of that, what caught my eye was the last three paragraphs, and in my mind, they are the true lead here:

"If you’re going to go into the high-tech electronics business here in the States, most likely a big portion of your high-tech electronic components are going to be sourced from China," said Cort Jacoby, a principal in the supply-chain group at Archstone Consulting, a unit of the Hackett Group Inc . "Then the question becomes, what is the true value-add that’s going to take place in the United States?"

Beyond that, a company that has outsourced most or all of its manufacturing may find that it no longer has a pool of engineers, plant managers or other workers with the experience to resume production.

"There was always this notion that if you controlled the design and the brand, you could park your production somewhere else," said GE’s Campbell. "I’m not sure that’s completely true anymore. Because what happens over time is you lose competency."

[Emphasis added]

The key point is that you can always outsource what you do today, but what remains is what are you going to do tomorrow?

Today’s markets and technology change so fast that unless you are SO good at supply chain management, AND retain the knowledge so you know how to manage production – like Apple – you end up outsourcing your entire future for a short-term cost “savings” that might not even show up.

Bottom line: You can’t outsource basic business competence. What are you striving to be best in the world at doing? If you don’t know, you are in trouble.

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