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Elevate Your Undestanding

Compliance Chain Analysis

Harvard Business School's Michael E. Porter introduced the concept of a value chain in his book, "Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance," in 1985. In his book he writes:

"Competitive advantage cannot be understood by looking at a firm as a whole," Porter wrote. "It stems from the many discrete activities a firm performs in designing, producing, marketing, delivering and supporting its product. Each of these activities can contribute to a firm's relative cost position and create a basis for differentiation."

Porter believed that competitive advantage comes from: (1) cost leadership, and (2) differentiation. Value chain analysis (VCA) helps to understand how both affect margin.

Value chain analysis considers the contribution of an organization's activities towards the optimization of margin, where margin is an organization's ability to deliver a product or service for which the customer is willing to pay more than the sum of the costs of all activities in the value chain.

Porter argues that a company can improve its margin by the way "primary activities" are chained together and how they are linked to supporting activities. He defines "primary activities" as those that are essential to adding value and creating competitive advantage. Furthermore, secondary activities assist the primary activities to maintain or enhance the product's value by means of cost reduction or value improvement. This the domain of LEAN and operational excellence.

An example value chain along with general processes are shown in the following diagram:

Value Chain Analysis
Value Chain Analysis

A Compliance Perspective

In recent years, compliance has increased in both complexity as well as demand by regulation and industry standards. It is, therefore, worth taking another look at the value chain in terms of how compliance should now be considered.

Porter includes the quality assurance (QA) function as part of the "Firm Infrastructure." At a basic level, this places QA outside of the core processes and considered as means to improve value and reduce cost. The latter, is the more common emphasis as many organizations view quality and other compliance functions as an overhead that needs to be reduced.

For the purpose of this discussion, we will use the same primary activities from the typical value chain. However, infrastructure activities are expanded to include other compliance activities such as: quality, safety, environmental and ethics & compliance.

Compliance activities can in principle contribute to value improvement as well as cost reduction. Although, the effects may not be direct or immediate. A key role of compliance is to drive down risk which as we know has effects that may be delayed or mitigated. Therefore, instead of margin, it might be more useful to consider the level of risk as the measure to be optimized.

It is common for compliance to be organized into isolated functions that are separate from the primary activities. However, we know that these programs are not effective when implemented in this way. Instead, they are more effective when seen as horizontal capabilities that cross the entire value chain.

The following diagram illustrates how a compliance chain can be constructed using Porter's value chain as a model:

Compliance Chain Analysis
Compliance Chain Analysis

By analyzing the relationship between compliance and primary activities (including secondary), it is possible to gain a better understanding of the following:

  • Cost of compliance and non-compliance

  • How and to what degree compliance affects risk

  • Value of compliance (cost avoidance, increased trust, and reduction in: defects, incidents, fatalities, financial losses, etc)

Strategies aligned with competitive advantages can then be applied to improve both margin as well drive down overall risk:

Cost Advantage

Porter argued that there are 10 drivers that improve cost advantage:

  1. Create greater economies of scale

  2. Increase the rate of organizational learning

  3. Improve capacity utilization

  4. Create stronger linkages between activities

  5. Develop synergies between business units

  6. Look to increase vertical integration

  7. Improve the timing of market entry

  8. Alter the firm’s strategy regarding cost or differentiation leadership

  9. Change the geographic location of the activities

  10. Look to address institutional factors such as regulation and tax efficiency

Differentiation Advantage

Porter further identifies 9 factors to promote unique value:

  1. Changing policies and strategic decisions

  2. Improving linkages among activities

  3. Altering market timing

  4. Altering production locations

  5. Increase the rate of organizational learning

  6. Create stronger linkages between activities

  7. Develop relationships between business units

  8. Change the scale of operations

  9. Look to address institutional factors such as regulation and product requirements

Compliance Advantage

We suggest 10 principles to drive compliance advantage:

  1. Keep all your promises ​

  2. Take ownership for all your compliance obligations (required and voluntary)

  3. Develop programs and systems that always keep you in compliance

  4. Incrementally and continuously improve your compliance

  5. Make compliance an integral part of your performance and productivity processes

  6. Use proactive strategies to always stay in compliance

  7. Monitor in real-time the status and your ability to stay in compliance

  8. Audit outcomes of your compliance programs not activity

  9. Develop a learning culture around compliance

  10. Always strengthen your ability to easily meet and maintain compliance


Total Value Chain
Total Value Chain

Value chain analysis (VCA) has been used successfully to help companies create both cost and differentiation advantage to improve their margins. In today's highly regulated marketplace, tools like VCA can also be used to create a compliance advantage to decrease overall risk. While, this may not result in immediate cost reduction, it can avoid future costs and differentiate a company from its competitors by achieving: higher quality, safer operations, and improved trust from their stakeholders.

  • Feb 22, 2024, 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EST
    Free Online Webinar
    This presentation addresses the urgency of ethical considerations in artificial intelligence. It explores the meaning of ethics, including integrity, morality, and trust. Emphasizing the shift from "can" to "should."
  • Mar 28, 2024, 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. EDT
    Free Online Webinar
    Join us as we spotlight the pivotal role of Compliance Programs in bridging the gap between governance and management systems. Discover how leadership intentions materialize into actionable management realities, steering your operational objectives towards better organizational outcomes.
Operational Compliance - Primer

"For Compliance to be Effective,

It First Must be Operational."

Download our Free

Operational Compliance - Primer


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