Earlier this year, I put together a short list of “Big Box” retailers to evaluate for an upgrade to my entertainment system. As I visited each retailer and discussed my criteria and timeframe with them, it became very clear that two of the three retailers did not have a true end-to-end supply chain visibility solution within their company’s technology framework. Gaining access to accurate information was a painful experience for both me and the retailers’ employees. To say the least, this made the process not only cumbersome, but also made my decision of which retailer to buy from easy.
Supply Chain Visibility solutions provide suppliers and buyers with an accurate snapshot of inventory on-hand as well as inventory and orders in motion, which helps them to manage their supply chains with greater ease and efficiency. When evaluating Supply Chain Visibility solutions, here are some key questions to consider and to certainly include in an RFI:
- Does the solution provide complete access and visibility from sourcing vendor to final delivery to the end customer? Many organizations still have manual processes where a customer service rep has to call numerous people in a warehouse to determine product SKU, quantity and availability, thus disrupting the process and potentially jeopardizing a sale. It is important that suppliers, their suppliers, distributors, retailers and the end customer all have visibility via a portal within the supply chain process to maximize collaboration and reap the benefits of these technologies.
- Can the prospect and/or end customer view product availability and delivery options from the vendor’s website? A higher percentage of transactions for big ticket items are taking place online and real time information is imperative for a positive customer experience.
- Is the solution able to integrate into disparate ERP, TMS, WMS or WCS systems? Without full integration, visibility throughout the entire supply chain is not achievable. A seamless and accurate flow of information is critical in supply chain fulfillment.
- Can everyone in the organization share, track and analyze the data in electronic format, such as purchase orders, advanced shipment notifications, proof of delivery and more? Minimizing the traditional paper trail and spreadsheets eliminates a high percentage of repetitive keypunch errors and time associated with the billing process.
- Can the solution provide real-time alerts for delays, exceptions and emergencies for both the vendor and the customer? Accurately aligning inventory with demand or promotions and having advanced knowledge to problems helps to reduce potential out-of-stock or line-down situations for all parties.
- Are key performance metrics obtainable in an easy to generate dashboard format for all levels within the organization? Another critical data element in today’s business environment is to measure and score all activities throughout the supply chain process, making timely improvements when and where needed.
Key benefits from an integrated supply chain visibility tool include:
- An increase in speed to market
- Decreased order-to-ship time
- Better inventory management
- Decreases in transportation times and costs
- Increased accuracy at all levels of the organization
- Better forecasting
- An overall decrease in costs
- A decrease in DSOs
- Just-in-time production and inventory
- Increased customer satisfaction
My new purchasing decision was made easy by identifying the retailer that could help me accurately match up the components I needed, and more importantly, could tell me the availability and delivery time windows that worked within my tight schedule. And the fact that I could view the entire process online from my personal computer was the final clincher. If you aren’t already using a supply chain visibility solution in your business, it is certainly something to consider. Just be sure to take the time to map out your key business criteria when evaluating solutions to maximize your investment.
Robert A. Clesi is Sr. Manager, Alliance Partners for Precision Software, a division of QAD Inc. Robert is responsible for global channels and alliances. He has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Marketing from Georgia State University.