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How Understanding Customers Can Strengthen Your Supply Chain

About the Author

David Boulay, Ph.D.

Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center

  • 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, university and nonprofit settings
  • Leadership positions with several manufacturing companies, primarily in the food industry
  • Led a team at The Ohio State University South Centers, overseeing a mixed-used incubator, Small Business Development Center and Rural Cooperative Development Center
  • Former Deputy Director at North Carolina State University's Industrial Extension Service; managed an 80-member staff providing outreach services to the state's manufacturers and operating a mineral research center and a technology incubator
  • Expertise in economic and workforce development, manufacturing competitiveness, performance management, small business development and organizational growth strategies
  • Ph.D. in Workforce Development and Education (The Ohio State University), Master of Business Administration

How Understanding Customers Can Strengthen Your Supply Chain

by Dr. David Boulay
Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC)

I'm of the belief that supply chain discussions don't always have to be "doom and gloom." Manufacturers are well aware of the negative aspects of the lack of a supply chain strategy. With ramifications of productivity losses, supplier failures or the inability to react to adverse events, manufacturers understand that the lack of a plan has many consequences. But perhaps it leads to opportunities, too; one in particular brings us even closer to the customer.

According to Business Continuity Institute's latest report*, 75% of 500 businesses surveyed said they did not have full visibility of their supply chain. A total of 30% did not know where they fit into any of their suppliers' priorities.

Increasing visibility is a key component of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership's (MEP's) Supply Chain Optimization program. This program, which places a priority on customer-driven factors, defines the value system as an interdependent structure of both value and supply chains that begin with the determination of the customer's needs and extend through all supplier and distribution channels required to provide the good or service.

Facilitated by MEP's nationwide network, the Supply Chain Optimization program increases visibility and demonstrates how understanding the total cost of ownership helps equip manufacturers to identify and mitigate volatility, while increasing their ability to create a multi-layered network of collaboration. The program offers a strategic approach facilitated through a coaching and mentoring partnership that positions manufacturers to more effectively anticipate required future capabilities and better qualify suppliers to meet them.

By optimizing value and supply chain connections, manufacturers can increase the competitiveness and functional capacity of their entire value system -- all thanks to harnessing a customer-driven focus.


* Glendon, L., & Byrd, L. (November 2013). Supply Chain Resilience 2013. Retrieved from

IMEC, the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, serves as a catalyst for transforming the state of manufacturing. A public-private partnership, IMEC is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and works closely with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, as well as the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development and many other organizations, to support manufacturing success in the state. IMEC is a part of four universities and has 40 full-time manufacturing improvement specialists focused on helping manufacturers achieve new standards of excellence.

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