More than two centuries later and the image of Frankenstein’s monstrous creation still looms large in our collective imagination. Mary Shelley’s timeless piece unfolds the story of a highly gifted scientist who is driven to uncover the secret of life. Using his expansive knowledge and unthinkable feats of engineering, he manages to assemble and animate a creature.
As with so many works of art – and as is so clearly our distinct pleasure – there are many lessons to take away from this tale. Even for supply chain solutions.
Despite the individual beauty of each selected feature, combined they form a monstrosity.
The supply chain is a complex ecosystem made up of many moving parts and partnering organizations. Fulfillment involves incredible coordination between these parties and channels, and the desire for the ‘perfect order’ motivates businesses to try and streamline their processes to make them as efficient, reliable, and cost-effective as possible. Supply chain practitioners, much like the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, are after their own secret: What would make the perfect order consistently attainable?
While most software providers develop the core of their solution suite in-house, the remaining solutions are, much like Victor’s creation, assembled through mergers and acquisitions. On its own, each component is a ‘beautiful part.’ Combined, however, they form a disparate and unwieldy whole. That impression of ‘unity’ offered is frequently deceiving.
For instance, M&A companies are sometimes forced to duplicate business documents on multiple platforms. Some will delay normalizing their processes and rely on a multitude of back-end systems, thereby exposing customers to unnecessary errors and inefficiencies.
Victor did not end up discovering the secret of life, but only a facsimile. Software providers who cobble together various solutions to create a ‘living suite,’ have not, in fact, discovered the secret to optimal supply chain orchestration nor the perfect order, but an unsustainable approximation.
Why am I here? What is my purpose?
Though there are many interpretations surrounding the story’s meaning, Professor of philosophy, Patricia MacCormack, offers a compelling one: That the story of Frankenstein reflects the fundamental question of purpose.
This deeply existential question easily translates to the solutions scenario discussed above. Why is your supply chain solution here and what is its purpose? In other words, why do you use the tools that you do and are they ultimately and optimally fulfilling your needs? The end aim is never to fix a single pain point but to create a cohesive and high-functioning ecosystem that will enhance for your customers the singular character and experience of your brand. Just as software providers cobble together suites, businesses often do the same by cherry-picking components from different vendors and similarly perpetuating silos and “unnatural” solutions.
“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.”
The monster utters these words to his maker, Victor Frankenstein. Where the scientist set out to create a life that would be indistinguishable from a naturally occurring one, his cobbled attempts yielded a creature that was unable to assimilate in the world – despite its being highly articulate and persuasive.
Supply chain solution suites that have been cobbled together are ultimately an assemblage of parts – no matter how articulate and persuasive they may seem. Behind the curtain, the architecture continues to isolate systems in critical ways through unnecessary silos, which often require, for instance, special processes to obtain significant information.
To unify their patchwork architecture, companies will often employ middleware or integration applications to connect and translate between systems. This is at the heart of what makes it a “Frankenstein” construction. This tenuous connectivity offers suboptimal visibility compared to a natively built platform. Middleware also can’t optimize end-to-end management as fully as a native design, as it can’t take into account special constraints and service needs or determine the lowest costs for various options. Attempts to emulate these greater, missing capabilities again requires further add-ons, intensifying the monstrosity without ever reaching the full potential of a natively built solution.
If the secret sauce to delivering on the perfect order and delighting customers is optimization and intelligent planning, then silos and isolated systems and processes undermine them. When underlying data models are ultimately incompatible, they are like parts taken from differing bodies: Unnecessarily restrictive, not natively communicable, and unable to provide the kind of holistic and proactive decision-making leaders need to stay agile and ahead in a complex, challenging, and perpetually shifting market.
The moral of the story, for our purposes, is that despite utilizing the greatest tools, knowledge, and feats of innovation, cobbling disparate parts together yields a monstrosity of disparate architectures and not the cohesive, holistic entity businesses seek. When transportation management systems communicate minimally with order management systems, and when vendor managed inventory software is highly developed for planning but cut off from execution, supply chain management cannot be optimized to thrive within a high-functioning ecosystem.
Confronted with the monstrous results of his experiment, Victor Frankenstein remained paralyzed with fear and indecision until it was too late. Will you?
The industry will only continue to evolve and grow more complex. Are you prepared to let cobbled supply chain solutions go and opt for those that are natively built? It’s time to stand like Captain Robert Walton and watch the creature drift away “lost in darkness and distance,” never to be seen again.
MPO offers a suite of differentiated and natively designed supply chain orchestration solutions. Built from the ground up for seamless communication, our modular and infinitely configurable platform is a cohesive and silo-free alternative to the patch-and-play approach. Like most natural and holistic ecosystems, our product is built to help you swiftly adapt to modern challenges and disruptions and scale with ease alongside the ever-evolving industry.