Today anyone can make virtually anything, anywhere. So in light of this tremendous competition, which companies come out winners? Those with complementary goods and services that band together with competitors to form ``virtual companies'' to provide products and services they couldn't offer alone, said Kenneth Preiss, one of the three authors of the book ``Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations: Strategies for Enriching the Customer.''
Preiss says that people worldwide are better-educated, computer programs and production machinery are becoming cheaper and the spread of communication technology is empowering people to make products in almost every part of the globe.
``It used to be quite a big deal to set up a company and make something,'' Preiss said in a telephone interview from his office in Bethlehem, Pa. Now ``more and more people around the world are capable of making quality products with very little investment in the means to do so. That's driving the nature of competition.''
In the old days, Preiss pointed out, competition was based strictly on product: Make a good product for a good price and succeed. Now anyone can make a good product, so new criteria are needed to determine a supplier.
``More and more, the reason a supplier is chosen today is for its process capabilities,'' said Preiss. ``The fact that you make a good product is often not enough to be chosen.''
Original equipment manufacturers take all the elements of manufacturing into consideration when selecting a supplier, including such factors as whether the companies can get along, Preiss said.
More companies are working together interactively, Preiss said, collectively figuring out what is needed to win and keep customers.
``Ed Kinsella [of JM Mold] was astute enough to realize that competition is moving away from `Give me the product at the best price' to `I want your guys and mine to work together.'*''
``It changes the entire structure of the working environment,'' Preiss said.
Preiss said adopting this new concept is not an overnight change, but a deep, fundamental change that takes years to fully implement. It can be an enormous challenge.
``It can be very difficult and traumatic for people not used to the individual responsibility it takes to achieve agile manufacturing,'' Preiss said.
Preiss added that the concept of agile manufacturing is not a passing fad. ``We're talking about survival, really.''
``Agile Competitors and Virtual Organization: Strategies for Enriching the Customer'' by Roger N. Nagel, Stephen L. Goldman and Preiss can be purchased for $29.95 from the publisher, Van Nostrand Reinhold of Florence, Ky. Tel. (800) 842-3636, dept. Z-3736; fax (606) 525-7778.
For information on the Agility Forum conference in Boston, call (800) 923-2445.