Time Compression

Reducing cycle time is a key goal in many processes, but is especially relevant to supply chain management. Waiting for upstream processes is an example of waste, while reducing time to market can contribute to competitive advantage. Many stakeholders perceive that the procurement process takes too long, so the procurement process itself should be accelerated, for example by maintaining up-to-date market reviews so that, when an acquisition is initiated, information on the supply market is already available.

Omnichannel has elevated an important issue for successful supply chain management—time compression. It is important to achieve inventory velocity and to meet and exceed customer expectations. As the global supply chain revolution spreads across industries and markets, its importance increases.

Whether you are a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer, importer, exporter, supplier, customer, you are dealing with time compression. Inventory issues are a pain point for many supply chains. Factor in that inventory increases with longer cycle times. Inventory buffers are related to uncertainty, such as extended times. The longer the time, the more inventory that is carried.

The required supply chain transformation understands that time compression and inventory velocity are based on recognizing supply chain management as a process. This contrast with traditional supply chains management built around a node-link activity with emphasis on logistics functions.

All this also plays into having stock on hand to meet demand. It is important to achieving the perfect customer order of delivered complete, accurate, and on time—a critical supply chain performance metric.

Increasing velocity, rapid response to changing market conditions, minimizing time-and sustaining that velocity. It is important for reducing the waste in lean of time. This is especially true with international/global supply chain with the complexity, scope, and number of stakeholders and participants.

There are numerous financial and non-financial cycle time metrics, for example-on-time customer order delivery, manufacture to order complete, cash conversion cycle and days sales outstanding. A good one should be a measure of the length of time for a process, especially one that crosses an organization. The cycle time compression metric is important. It recognizes pain points of delay.

Value Stream Mapping is an excellent tool to visualize the times of current activities. It is a starting point to identify excess time.

A key is days in inventory that measures the number of days that inventory is held. For manufacturers, this would include raw materials and work-in-process. Days-in-inventory is an important part of the cash conversion cycle. Reducing inventory levels and days of inventory improves profits and frees up needed capital; and this pleases CEO, CFOs and shareholders.

This measure is often calculated as Inventory/(Cost of Goods Sold/365 Days). This method of calculation can be misleading and understate the total inventory in the supply chain. It excludes inventory that is on order and is being manufactured at suppliers and inventory that is in-transit. This is an omission that results in an understatement of the real days of inventory and the cash conversion cycle.

For purposes of this article, we will include the time from placement of purchase orders on suppliers until delivery. With Section 404 of Sarbanes Oxley, adding this inbound portion to the calculation is valid for internal controls and risk assessment. Regardless of the technical issue of when title transfers, there is the company commitment and need for the material being ordered and shipped. Including the purchased order at supplier time and the in-transit time gives a better picture and understanding of what drives inventory levels, days and turns is useful for product lifecycle management (PLM).

This new cycle time is total inventory days in the supply chain; and it is consistent with the length and definition of a supply chain. The supply chain cycle time runs from the purchase order placed on suppliers through to delivery to customers or final placement on the store shelf.

Studies have shown that manufacturers and wholesalers have over 60 days of inventory and that retailers have over 90 days of inventory capital tied up. These times do not include the entire inbound inventory in the supply chain. Real supply chain inventory is likely 25% higher. This is a very significant amount of capital tied up in inventory.

Reducing supply chain cycle time takes analysis and effort. Points to consider are:


The first step to reducing supply chain cycle time is to measure the present process. You must know where you are before you can begin to improve. Identifying factors that add time to the cycle and implementing changes also requires seeing that there is an interconnection and interdependence of events and actions throughout the supply chain. Few events and actions have a singular cause and effect; there are often domino effects.


There are basics to address: A supply chain is complex, made of many suppliers located worldwide, each of who has his own supply chain. There are chains within chains. The purpose of all this activity is to place product timely and correctly in stores or at customer facilities. It must be designed, directed and managed as a process, not as a series of order and shipping transactions. Pushing bad logistics processes and practices up or down the supply chain impedes time.

  • Product and information should flow. Operational effectiveness depends on process, technology and people that cross internally within the company and externally with suppliers and customers.
  • The process should be assessed for gaps and redundancies. Measure the time required in each action and the reason for the action. Watch for organizational dysfunction that can creep in and add unnecessary time.
  • Work with a cross-functional team. That will improve the quality of the assessment and prevent invalid assumptions that can flaw the effort.
  • Inventory is created as a buffer for uncertainty. Uncertainty increases, almost exponentially, as the time required to position it correctly increases. So, inventory increases as time increases.
  • Time is not on any financial statement; but its effect is. Inventory is not on the monthly P&L; it is on the balance sheet. The point being that gaining needed commitment to reduce cycle time may be difficult because it is not readily identified and measured. It also contributes to a customer service paradox. Accounting systems have their origins going back to the Ford Model A; that can add to the challenge in a globally competitive business world.
  • External factors exist that impact time and may be beyond control to be reduced. Homeland security for importers is one such factor. It adds to how promptly suppliers located outside the U.S. can ship orders. Logistics infrastructure in sourcing countries is another factor that can add time and impede the flow of product from suppliers’ facilities to ports and airports.
  • Supply chains work on a pull approach. This applies whether the product is made to stock or made to order.


With the extended supply chain, there are numerous places to extend, not reduce, supply chain cycle time and inventory. Likewise, there are key points to concentrate on for reducing time.

  • Managing vendor performance is a critical requirement for reducing supply chain cycle time. Suppliers, at the supply chain source, have incredible impact on the supply chain as to time, inventory and costs, impact that goes far beyond pricing and placing purchase orders. Visibility of purchase orders, at suppliers, in-transit and at each step in the chain, from vendor’s plant to delivery at the warehouse, store or customer is vital.
  • Integration up and down the supply chain, both external and internal, is mandatory. Non-integration adds to supply chain time and the lack of responsiveness and dead spots in the cycle time. Integrate demand forecasting or other inventory planning with suppliers for their build plans. Integrate purchase orders into transport load planning. Everyone should be working from the same data, information and system or platform. Manufacturers integrate through the production process.
  • Transferring data up and down the chain is not enough. Data is not information. To collect, analyze, and forward data takes time. Suppliers and service providers then reenter the data into their systems. In turn they do this to their suppliers. All this quietly adds to cycle time. Conversely, integration reduces time and increases accuracy.
  • Integration may not be readily and easily doable with all parties in the supply chain. Do it with key suppliers and service providers, key as to volume or critical products, parts or needs. Have key suppliers integrate with their key suppliers so the benefit ripples through the supply pipeline.
  • Collaborate with key suppliers and service providers. Work together as partners and be open to the mutual exchange. Sending procedures and demanding compliance with requirements is not collaboration. Work to align the process between both parties so that if flows smoothly and with minimal time.
  • Analyze how inventory moves and where inventory sits or is transferred for opportunities to move it more quickly and with fewer handlings. Lean requires improving the value, based on the customer’s definition of value, when it is touched.
  • Multi-tier inbound logistics approach. What modes, carriers, service and ports are used can reduce transit time and increase inventory and cash conversion velocities. Inventory in transit is not inventory available for sell. Having a different approach for A inventory items (and some B items)–as compared to many B items and C items–puts time emphasis where needed.
  • Bypass the distribution network where possible. Shipping inbound containers direct to store or customer; using a transfer facility at a port(s) to quickly unload containers and transfer directly to needed destinations, allocating inventory in transit and cross docking containers at a distribution center provide time reduction opportunities.

Use Technology

Technology is a necessity; it is a process enabler. However, technology by itself will not result in needed improvements; it is not a silver bullet that solves a flawed process. Technology should be used across the supply chain enterprise, both internal and external. It is a key to gaining much needed supply chain visibility. Such visibility is needed for multi-tier inbound and bypass the distribution network programs.

  • Global suppliers and transport providers cannot be readily managed with emails. Technology is needed.
  • Supply chain complexity and scope may require more than one software be used for effective control.
  • Portals provide tracking useful tracking information and provide shipment visibility. But they are an after-the-fact tool and do not manage inventory or time. Tracking and managing purchase orders and contents of an inbound container has great value as compared to just tracking a container number. The real issue is the PO and its movement. Supply chain execution technology may be the most valuable of the technology applications. It is a vital to integration and collaboration.
  • Ease of connectivity-web enabled, interfaces and mobile access-is important.
  • Maximum supply chain process coverage-order management, transportation, distribution, warehousing, vendor, finance and more-is important to directing and managing the process and reducing time and inventory.
  • Event management and exception management capabilities should be part of the technology used; they empower control of the process.

Reevaluate Outsourcing

Providers should be supply chain service providers, not logistics providers. How they contribute to time compression is important. With the focus on the process and not the start-and-stop of logistics, what they do and how they perform is changed. In turn, how they are evaluated and how governance works are different.

Supply Chain Optimization

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