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成层现象与供应链层级 Epidermal Stratification and Supply Chain

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在生物和植物学中有个说法叫“成层”现象。讲群落的垂直结构 指群落在垂直方面的配置状态的 最显著的特征是成层现象,即在垂直方向分成许多层次的现象。

There is a terminology in both biology and botany: epidermal stratification . When it comes to the vertical structure of a community, the most significant characteristic of the configuration state of a community in the vertical aspect lies in stratification, a phenomenon that the community is divided into many layers vertically.


Stratification in communities includes supraterraneous stratification and subterraneous stratification. Differentiation of the layer is mainly determined by the plant life form. Different life forms of plants will result in different heights occupied in the air and different depth reached in the soil by plants. As for aquatic communities, they arrange themselves layer by layer underwater at different depth. Thus, stratification of plants based on height (or depth) among the communities turns up.


Stratification in forest communicates appears as four basic layers usually divided from top to bottom: tree layer, shrub layer, herb layer and ground layer. Within each layer, sublayers are divided according to the height of the plants. For instance, tree layer in tropical rain forests is often divided into three sublayers. Stratification in communities enables plants to utilize natural environment more fully in unit space. For example, in a mature forest, trees at the upper layer can utilize sunshine sufficiently, while their counterparts at the lower layer occupy the place under the canopy, and can utilize the weak light effectively. Meanwhile, shrub layer and herb layer under the tree are able to utilize even weaker rays of light, and ground level that is beneath the herb level is more resistant to shade. Stratification under the ground seems to be more complicated than that above the surface, even some aquatic animals appear to be stratified on the basis of sunshine, temperature, food and oxygen content. Among the biotic community, animals also present prevalent tendency of stratification, as the higher it is, the fewer the varieties of organisms are, and the stronger these organisms’viability is—the quantity of eagles is far less than that of the birds, but eagles enjoy lifespan of 70 years compared to that of birds, which is merely 10 years.


Imagine that a large number of birds of different species lives together in a forest. Birds with different species are used to living at different heights. At this time, you may find that birds at the top layer appears to be very clean, yet the birds below them are with droppings on them. More droppings can be found on the birds at even lower layer, then the birds at the lowest level will be covered by droppings without doubt.


In terms of quality improvement, one of the tools used is called Analogy, which refers to transferring some problems in management into real-life problems by comparison. Resorting to this method, we can make an analogy between stratification and management of suppliers and enterprises.

处在森林顶层的鸟就类似如处在价值链上游的组织,他们最接近于消费者,所以面对最直接,最完整的市场要求。这是为什么大家会感觉越处在价值链上游的公司,他们的要求越多的原因,就像飞机行业,他们会要求其一级供应商通过AS9100的认证;汽车行业OEM制造商,他们会要求其一级供应商通过TS16949的认证;医疗器械行业,他们会要求其一级供应商通过ISO13485的认证;电信行业,他们会要求其一级供应商通过TL9000认证,食品加工行业主推供应商落实ISO22000. 但是这些要求落实到其二级供应商,要求就会有打折,再由其二级供应商落实到第三级供应商,体系的要求就变成了期望,再往下就没有什么体系的要求了。

Birds at the top of the forest just like organizations which locate at the top of the value chain. As they are closest to the consumers, they confront the most direct and comprehensive market demand. This is why people perceive that companies at the upper stream of value chain possess more requirements—in aircraft industry, they will require that tier one suppliers pass AS9100; in automobile industry OEM manufacturers, they will ask their tier one suppliers to get TS16949; in the medical instrument field, they will ask tier one suppliers to get ISO131485; in telecom industry, they will ask tier one suppliers to get TL9000; in food processing industry, main suppliers should get ISO22000. But when it comes to tier two suppliers, these requirements will be discounted. As for the tier three suppliers, however, requirements of the system turn into expectations, and there will be no requirements from systems any more for the suppliers next.


The requirement system of the whole value chain forms a tree structure. Within the whole tree structure, every layer has the opportunity to climb upstream along the value chain, since organizations at the higher level will be likely to gain the greater benefits, whereas those at the lower level can only gain fewer benefits. Organizations at the upper level seems to be qualified, yet those at lower level are unlikely to comply with regulations or requirements. We always complain that our suppliers fail to accomplish this or that, regardless of their positions at the bottom of the value chain. Their calculation formula for business is that benefits equals price minus cost. As the price is determined by customers, the only way to ensure the profit is to decrease the cost. Short of methods and conditions, many enterprises fail to reduce the cost efficiently. Thus, they will probably take risks and reduce the cost by violation of regulations and deception. This is why I once read the news reporting behaviors that against stipulation, say, foreigners under reformation process product components in jails, and enterprises violate the labor law, evade the tax, discharge pollutants illegally. More often than not, these enterprises are at the bottom the value chain, while those at the top, however, are increasingly focusing on human rights, environmental protection, social responsibilities and sustainable development besides quality standards, despite that these requirements finally transform into those met by the downstream companies.

在这个价值链中企业如果不能直接往上游走,经常就会有一些折中的办法。其中在制造行业一个典型的“曲线救国”就是通过贸易中或者中间商将产品售往目的客户,这在起初的贸易公司十分普及,香港俗称“洋行”。贸易公司自有其生存之道,靠提供自身特殊的价值给客户。早期国内的贸易公司靠提供自身所拥有的资源,比如语言上的翻译沟通来轻轻松松谋取佣金,同时也会借双方无法正常直接交流抬高货价赚取差额。在1906年利丰开始涉足贸易行业时,冯氏兄弟的祖父仅仅靠翻译已经能获取至少15%的佣金。而如今,在全球日益网络化平面化的背景下,竞争越来越激烈,价格也越来越透明,因此许多的贸易公司转靠整合自身所掌握的资源来谋取一席之地。无论是当下流行的所谓供应链管理公司(提供资金上的周转服务及供应链咨询),还是人力资源整体托管(客户只需提供技术,生产作业由人力资源公司招募员工及管理人员完成)。比如利丰在“供应链管理 – 香港利丰集团的实践”中提到整体而言贸易行业的利润率约为1%,但通过有效的管理,利丰贸易的利润率曾经达到销售额的3.5%,而这些并不是通过挤压生产商的利润获得,而是从结合生产与运输活动所获得的额外利润里赚得的,即所谓“软收入”。

In this value chain, if enterprises are not managed to go upstream directly, they can make some compromise, and a typical one in manufacturing industry to solve the problem indirectly is to sell their products to targeted consumers via trade or the middleman. This is quite prevailing among trade companies at the early stages. These middleman was once called “foreign firm”in HongKong. Trade companies enjoy their unique ways of living, as they rely on providing their own special value to customers. In the early days, trade companies in China were dependent on their own resources, say, translation and communication in the linguistic aspects, to gain commissions easily. Meanwhile, they were adept at raising the price of the goods in order to earn from the price differences, benefited from unsuccessful direct communication. In 1906, when Li & Fung entered trade industry, Feng’s grandfather could acquire at least 15% of commissions by merely translation. Nowadays, in this increasingly networked and flattened era, competition becomes more and more fierce, and the price becomes more and more transparent. Therefore, many trade companies change to integrate resources they owned to strive for taking a place, whether by prevalent so-called supply chain management companies (they provide capital turnover and supply chain consultant service), or by holistic trusteeship of human resources(customers only need to provide technology, as the production will be accomplished by human resources companies who recruit staffs and administrative personnel). Take Li & Fung as an example. In the book of“Supply Chain Management— Practices of Li & Fung”, Li & Fung mentioned that the rate of profit of the trade industry as a whole is about 1%. Nevertheless, Li & Fung’s profit margin once reached 3.5% of the turnover by virtue of effective management. These profits, by no means, were generated from squeezing the profits of producers, but they were obtained from additional profits that derived from combining production and transportation, which is also known as “soft income”.


Risk brought by adding the intermediate layer between different layers or the trade layer lies in insufficient direct control. In 2014, Aston Martin recalled 17,590 problematic automobiles worldwide because it was unable to control the genuine origin and quality of its raw material—the pedal arms were in fact produced at a small manufacturer of the tier three level supply chain in China, as Aston Martin passed through the Britain and Hong Kong merchants who were at the intermediate layer.


Adding levels in supply chain will simultaneously weaken the manufacturers’ understanding towards the terminal market, aiming at improving products and services. Similarly, levels within organizations tends to increase with expansion of organizations. When the organization has developed to a specific extent, and the levels have been added to such an extreme that nearly 30% of staffs become administrative staffs or managers, the organization is always expected to adopt flatter management with the purpose of developing its staffs’ independent working skills, or adopt cellular model, an autonomous management model which is recommended by some corporations. Take the steel market as an example. I have once got in touch with some steel manufactures and merchants. For steel manufacturers, they are more willing to have dealing with enterprises of manufacturing type, not only because manufacturing enterprises own more stable demand expectations and prices, but also because they are able to collect the market information timely and then give the feedback to steel manufacturers so that manufacturers can improve their manufacturing quality, which is hard to be achieved by merchants due to existing technology and management. As for steel manufacturers, their defective products may still be produced continuously, or their competitors embark on providing modified products at the same time because of overdue feedback of their products. Cost, together with time, will be an enormous obstacle for the growth of one enterprise.


If the enterprise wants to get business by competitive bidding, it has to try as many means as possible. It is nothing to blame, since everywhere in the world appears to be the same. Strategy is given by the decision maker in the enterprise, while tactic is made by middle managers after they understand the strategy, and the implementation belongs to staffs of low level. The upper level should be committed so that they will generally not indicate their subordinates to violate the laws, but some executive staffs of low level who are motivated by benefits may resort to improper measures to contribute to transactions. This is also similar to stratification within the organization of the enterprises. People at the low level have to undertake more basic tasks to balance benefits, despite that these tasks are always further beyond their abilities. To be more specific, you need operators to balance quality and quantity; you need merchandisers to balance delivery time and service; you need purchasers to balance quality and price. As they always fail to accomplish their jobs, they tend to choose what seems to be more beneficial to them. This depends on how the organization will manage their performances. If they are managed well, their value will be consistent with that of the organization; otherwise, they will be divergent. This is why cultural development is considerably important, and why it should be advanced together with performance management.


With the gradual improvement of various domestic laws and regulations day by day, the increasing transparency of the internet, the aggravation of the competition globally, the rising production labor cost, and the rapidly explosive development of science and technology, enterprises of every type are placed in a more competitive environment. If the company aims to establish itself in the competitive environment, it should keep an aggressive attitude every day without doubt. Only doing so can it go upstream in this stratified ecosphere so that it can get better survival.

Great Acknowledge Given to Ms. Akiko, ZiZhu Wang from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies for Translation.


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