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Supplier Communities: The New Frontier in Secure External Collaboration

Supplier collaboration is inherent to modern-day manufacturing, yet many product companies still aren’t using the most effective and safe tools for data-sharing. Here’s how to tighten up your supplier processes.

Product companies and manufacturers use a vast network of suppliers to produce their products. Sharing data with this supplier network is therefore crucial to product development. 

However, sharing data can also pose significant risks to a company's intellectual property. In this article, we will discuss tips for manufacturing companies to safely and effectively share data with their suppliers.

Supplier Touchpoints

There are a multitude of ways that companies need to engage with their suppliers. These include, for example:

  • Onboarding: Ramping up approved suppliers on the ins/outs of working with the OEM. 
  • Product Development and Collaboration: Working on requirements, designs, bills of material (BOMs), and changes. 
  • Sourcing: This may entail managing an RFP process and contract negotiations.
  • Execution: Shipping, logistics, and the like.
  • Settlement: Processing and resolving any issues related to invoices.
  • Quality: Quality planning, audits, corrective and preventive actions (and much more)
  • Performance Monitoring: Ongoing monitoring of supplier performance versus KPIs.

Tips for Stronger Supplier Collaboration

Let’s zoom in on the second point above: product development and collaboration. These processes can vary widely from company to company and are therefore the most exposed to risky outcomes. 

Here are some tips to tighten up your supplier interactions:

Step 1: Identify 

The first step in sharing data with suppliers is to identify what data needs to be shared. This may include product specifications, drawings, production schedules, and existing or past designs/BoMs of parts and products which perform a similar function. It’s also essential to determine which activities will be performed by which suppliers.

Step 2: Protect

Once the data to be shared has been identified, it is important to establish security protocols to protect data from unauthorized access or use. This includes using encryption and access control mechanisms to limit data access to authorized personnel only. Companies should also establish clear policies and procedures for handling sensitive data and ensure that suppliers are aware of these policies.

Step 3: Establish Agreements

To protect intellectual property and sensitive data, it is essential to establish data-sharing agreements with suppliers. These agreements should include considerations for confidentiality and IP ownership. The agreements should also outline the scope and purpose of the data sharing and the responsibilities of both parties. When sharing data with suppliers, it is important to use secure data transfer methods to prevent unauthorized access or interception. It is also essential to ensure that data is transmitted and stored securely on the supplier's end.

How Propel Helps

Propel software is a cloud-based platform that provides a comprehensive solution for managing product lifecycle processes. It offers a range of features to help manufacturing companies collaborate with their suppliers and streamline their operations. Here are some ways in which Propel software can help collaboration via a supplier portal, or, what we call a supplier community

1. Security.

Propel Supplier Communities enable granular sharing rules to govern who can see what information. Most importantly though, it provides this data wrapped in the world-class security protocols of the Salesforce platform.

2. Purpose-built and fully configurable.

The supplier community is built using the Salesforce Experience Cloud and is fully configurable with no code methods. This means it’s an exceedingly simple process to:

a) Brand the community with the OEM’s look and feel, color scheme, and logos

b) Use the community—even as a newly onboard supplier—with its purpose-built user experience

c) Configure the same, singular community in more than one way, given the need to engage numerous suppliers differently, each potentially with a unique use case.

All of these configurations are done using simple drag and drop, no code methods that don’t require IT intervention.

3. Data integrity.

Importantly, there’s no cloning or copying of data that happens when using Propel Supplier Communities. Therefore, there’s no separate data store that needs to be established and subsequently administered. There’s only a single, trusted source of the data, auditable, appropriately partitioned, and precisely shared. 

4. Flexible licenses to enable user-based or usage-based access.

Propel allows a cost-effect way to enable a wide swath of partners—aligned to how we see typical OEM-partner ecosystems. Usually, there is a smaller number of strategic suppliers, perhaps JDMs, accessing product data more frequently. For these, assigned user licenses are in order. Then, there’s a higher number of more tactical suppliers who access the system less frequently. For them, dipping into a “pool of logins” is adequate. In this way, Propel lets OEMs set up access to their own community via a mix of dedicated users as well as daily users. Think of a ski resort that provides both season passes and day passes.

Collaboration is table stakes for modern distributed supply networks. However, poor usability and limited access to the right data at the right time prevent even the most strategic suppliers from meeting product deadlines and quality goals. Propel Supplier Communities benefit manufacturing companies and their suppliers because it ensures that everyone is on the same page and can make decisions based on up-to-date information.

In conclusion, sharing data with suppliers is essential for effective collaboration in today's globalized economy. However, it also poses significant risks to a company's intellectual property. By following the above tips, manufacturing companies can safely and effectively share data with their suppliers with full confidence. This allows supply chains to streamline communication and improve decision-making, leading to higher-quality products, faster time-to-market, and improved profitability.

Get more tips on shoring up your supplier collaboration process in our blog post Risky Business: How to Fortify Your Supplier Management.

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Post by
Tom Shoemaker
VP of Product Marketing, Propel

Tom Shoemaker is the VP of Product Marketing at Propel. In this role, he’s responsible for product messaging and positioning, sales enablement, and voice of customer programs. Prior to Propel, Shoemaker was Chief Marketing Officer of itslearning, a Scandinavian-based edtech provider, where he led the company’s marketing and business development efforts. Prior to itslearning, he held numerous leadership positions at PTC, including pre-sales, R&D, and marketing. Most recently, he was VP Enterprise Marketing. Over his 20-year+ tenure, Shoemaker was responsible for the go-to-market strategy and product launch of PTC’s primary solutions, including Windchill and Creo.

Fun Fact: In high school, Tom appeared on Brainstormers, a local station TV quiz show.

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Tom Shoemaker