Clockspeed: Winning Industry Control in the Age of Temporary Advantage

Romko van Hoek (Cranfield University)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




van Hoek, R. (2000), "Clockspeed: Winning Industry Control in the Age of Temporary Advantage", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 162-162.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Clockspeed by Charles Fine is a book that was published some time ago; I recently noticed, however, that managers are still bringing the book to each others’ attention as worthwhile for reading. Why is that?

For starters, Fine does great service to the supply chain community by stating that supply chain design using a configuration of capabilities, from inside and outside the company, is the ultimate competence of a company. The notion of clockspeed centers around the increasing turbulence in business, the consequence of which is shortening technology, product and process life cycles, leading to the need for continuous rapid reconfigurability of supply chains, which fits in with the increasing need for agility in the supply chain as I see it.

Fine adds nuance by pointing out that across sectors there are differences in speed of change. Having claimed that the book has a strategic supply chain focus and does not develop any quantitative or detailed operationalizations, he does not stop to develop an in‐depth scale of clockspeed other than an indication of the length of life cycles in sectors. This is somewhat inconsistent with the argument that the need for clockspeed starts in the market and is driven by the ultimate goal of supply chain management: customer delight. Technology, processes and products are an outcome of the need for clockspeed rather than the primary measure, I would reason. A second inconsistency is that, despite the book’s focus on strategic supply chain design. Fine claims that implementation is often critical and difficult. This notion fits the need for developing specific agile capabilities in the supply chain in putting the strategic desire into action, as identified in Harrison et al. (1999).

A central element of the book is the introduction of a “double helix”, as Fine calls it. This represents the constantly evolving fundaments of supply chain design as moving back and forth between vertical integration around a single company and horizontal integration around multiple companies (based upon modularization of technology, processes, products and companies). Even though this principle appears to be based largely on the developments in the PC industry (from vertically integrated IBM to horizontal players like Intel and Dell). Fine indicates the relevance of the helix to some other industries (automotive and telecom for example). The book then introduces and studies various principles for managing clockspeed along the helix. In specific, tiering of suppliers, outsourcing, concurrent engineering, switching positions and hedging against the thread of other supply chain layers taking control over the supply chain are the key principles used.

Despite its shortcomings in detailing clockspeed and positioning the basic concept across industries, which in reality requires further research in this area, the book presents interesting lessons and perspectives, making the book worthwhile reading material. Of particular importance is the identification of constant evolution requiring rapid reconfigurability of the supply chain as being of critical importance, although I would reason that it is not merely an issue of moving back and forth a helix but also a challenge to move from des‐integration to re‐integration at a higher level of supply chain management, thereby achieving an upward spiral based upon the “ultimate competence of a company”.


Harrison, A., Christopher, M. and van Hoek, R.I. (1999), Creating the Agile Supply Chain, The British Institute of Logistics, London.

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