Value chain is a concept proposed by Michael Porter in his book "Competitive Advantage" in 1985. In this book, Porter explains that "Competitive Advantage" is the ability for a firm to put "generic strategy" into practice, generic strategy includes,
- Cost Leadership: aiming to offer the lowest price to customers.
- Differentiation: selecting important attributes that buyers want so company can get premium price.
- Focus: doing each strategy according to each market segment.
Value chain is mentioned extensively in the first half of the book and by definition, it's a strategic framework about activities that foster generic strategy.
This is classic value chain model. As you can see, it represents various function under one company.
Another related concept is "Value System", it's simply how each value chain (company) is connected with each other.
So there are some points need to be highlighted,
- Value Chain is a strategic planning tool and it is centered around focal company. Using this term interchangeably with the word "supply chain" is theoretically incorrect.
- "Value System" is more appropriate if you would like to discuss about "Supply Chain" because from graphical representation, both value system and supply chain has network-like structure and span across multiple companies.
- Buyer value chain, in this case, refers to buyer as the organization not in the sense of consumers.
Convenient sampling has been carried out to determine the current practice of value chain analysis, 20 scholarly articles available via Google Scholar are examined and the results are as below,
The results, to me, are surprisingly shocking! Only 9 of out 20 articles cite Porter as the source of the concept (only 3 of them explain the concept appropriately, the rest of them do value system analysis using unknown methodology). 5 articles (mainly from economic perspective) mistakenly use the term to present unrelated concept called "Global Commodity Chain" by Gereffi, G. and Korzeniewicz, G. (Ed) (1994) Commodity Chains and Global Capitalism.
The surprise doesn't end there, 5 articles present the concept without citing any source, it seems they invent their own methodology and name it "value chain analysis". One paper cites many lean articles instead of Porter's so conclusion can be drawn that it's Value Stream Mapping.
Actual Value Chain Analysis
According to literature review, articles related to this concept is extremely unreliable. Then, Original Porter's Competitive Advantage is use as source. The concept is simplified without losing its essence in the infographic below,
According to Porter, cost analysis part doesn't need to be very precise, just estimate is OK. But, company needs compare its cost profile against its competitors to reveal competitor's strategy. For people who manage only operations side of supply chain, this type of analysis brings broader perspective so you can see company as a big picture. For people working in 3rd party logistics company, differentiation strategy makes lot of sense. Lastly, when you need to change the way each activity is performed, the use of standardized business process such as SCOR Model by Supply Chain Council, Value Chain Model by Value Chain Council or Process Classification Framework by APQC will definitely help you to bring best practices into your value chain.