Today’s customer is more connected, mobile and empowered than ever. And it’s no longer good enough to simply meet their needs. Companies that want to get and stay ahead of the competition have to predict and deliver on them before they arise. This is exactly what MSC Industrial Supply Co., leading distributor of Metalworking and Maintenance, Repair and Operations (“MRO”) solutions, services and supplies to North American manufacturers, is doing with the help of Ariba, an SAP Company. More than a decade ago, MSC joined the Ariba® Network to provide its customers with a fast and efficient way to find and get the products they needed. Today, the company is mining the intelligence of the community to fuel innovation that gives them an advantage. In a newly released podcast, CEO Erik Gershwind discusses the results. “The key to achieving more efficiency and quicker time to market is flexibility and speed on the part of suppliers, and business networks are at the heart of this,” Gershwind said during “Modern Supply Chains — How Leading Companies are Engaging Customers in Entirely New Ways,” a newly released podcast on BriefingsDirect, an IT news and trends discussion forum. An early adopter of networks, MSC recognized that it could gain new insights by being connected to a community of its partners and peers. Through the Ariba Network, MSC has access to more than 15 years of detailed transaction and relationship data. And the company is making the most of it. “We always did a fairly decent job of mining our own data for supply chain improvements, forecasting, and understanding what to purchase,” Gershwind said. “Now we’re using it to help our customers, and even our suppliers run their businesses better.” For instance, when MSC learned that employees at one of its customers’ locations had to walk a mile to get to a centralized storeroom where supply replacements were housed, it suggested they install vending machines to put inventory closer to where the work was being done. “In doing so, they are saving time and translating that into real dollar savings,” Gershwind said.