A variety of tools can be used by MEC/TRPs to assist SMEs in assessing their competitiveness and identifying gaps in their capabilities. Business opportunities within a supply chain can be evaluated by using the same analytical tools used to evaluate other business opportunities. However, these opportunities should also be analyzed within the context of optimizing the supply chain as a whole.
Few SME managers have identified or understand process requirements and capabilities one supplier tier away, much less two or three. Thus, MEC/TRPs should help SMEs map critical segments of the supply chain in terms of organizations, capabilities, and functions, paying special attention to critical and sole-source capabilities. Ideally, these maps should extend to every key capability and function required to design, manufacture, distribute, sell, and support the product line. Specialized maps of evolving technologies, manufacturing capacities, and other strategic functions can be helpful for planning, integration, and problem identification.
Mapping should begin with the identification of key members, functions, and processes of the "neighboring" tiers of the supply chain. Attempts to map, integrate, or manage all processes and functions will generally cause the mapping process to become extremely complex. Thus, at this stage the functions and processes that are most deserving of management attention and corporate resources should be identified and prioritized. SMEs may, for instance, wish to focus only on operational and/or managerial activities that produce specific outputs or add value to the product and disregard support activities. Alternatively, SMEs may wish to focus on non-value-added activities with a goal of ultimately reducing or eliminating them. It is generally worthwhile to include the basic capabilities required of all participants (e.g., quality, cost, service, delivery, basic communications capabilities, fundamental technologies, and financial viability), as well as requirements unique to the specific supply chain (e.g., rapid prototyping, design and development capabilities, enhanced communications capabilities, and unique process requirements). Participants should be evaluated for each required capability and recommendations should be developed to provide specific guidance and priorities to assist participants in improving or acquiring the necessary capabilities.
Over time, the knowledge obtained while assisting SMEs with the mapping process could enable MEC/TRPs and their representatives to become increasingly effective in helping a wide range of SMEs.