Supply Chain Visibility systems are tough to describe and even tougher to implement.
Companies with complex and multi-channel supply chains often struggle because they failed to harness the true complexity of the supply chain. Our experience shows that there are “natural laws” for a visibility system implementation success. Breaking down the solution to the core components and data sources are the keys to success.
Here are seven strategies to help make your visibility project a success:
Quick as opposed to grand wins.Visibility is such a nebulous concept that many senior managers need to see results quickly to become true believers. Time is the enemy of visibility projects. The more time spent without demonstrable results, the higher the chance the CEO pulls the plug on the project.
Data is like water. There is no life without water and no visibility without data. Do not underestimate the time and effort associated with getting data from your own and 3rd party systems. If you have not done this before, get someone in who has.
Simplify the milestones. The natural reaction is to try to capture as many milestones/events as possible. That approach leads to a lot of “analysis paralysis” in the design phase and quickly becomes a huge problem during implementation when everyone realizes how hard it is to get the required data AND they are not sure what they are going to do with all of it. Instead, you need to find the 5-7 milestones that matter. You can always add more milestones later; just don’t get bogged down creating the ultimate visibility system in the first pass.
Consolidate the data sources. In the heterogeneous technology world that most of us exist in, there are lots of (too many) places to get the data and getting the data may require changes to some of the systems which may be expensive, time consuming or, like many companies, you just don’t have the IT resources to do it. For example, leverage the EDI you have in place or ask your suppliers or carriers to send data BACK to you that they are getting from your internal systems. The fewer integration points and interfaces you have to build, the faster you will get the data you need to make visibility work. Cloud-based logistics networks can help make this data consolidation effort much easier through reuse of existing of 3rd party connections.
Take no excuses from trading partners. It’s amazing how this remains a battle in this day and age. What you find out is that suppliers and carriers still don’t want to do it and their systems aren’t any better than yours despite what many of them say. Have a tool kit of integration options that address everything from high-tech XML to simple portals that only require a browser. Also, scorecard data quality (timeliness and completeness) on a regular basis to keep maintain user confidence. Nothing kills a visibility project faster than when users do not believe what they see or that there are too many gaps in the data.
Design in the right data clock speed. For a visibility system to be actionable, it has to have the data refreshed faster than the end-to-end processes it is monitoring. Simply put, if the customer to delivery cycle is just a few days, you cannot wait for end-of-day batch updates to be able to understand if any potential supply chain problems exist.
Share the data. A significant opportunity for improved supply chain performance is lost if the information is kept within your supply chain organization as opposed to the information from the solution being shared with the sales & marketing organizations that can leverage it and the suppliers and carriers that help feed it data. One version of the truth (also called 3600 scorecarding) shared with the greater ecosystem allows everyone to understand the impact of their decisions and performance on overall supply chain performance.
Visibility is one of the most powerful solutions any company with a complex supply chain can implement. However, pragmatism is just as important as vision to ensure success and for them to deliver their potential value.
Chris Jones is the Executive Vice President for Marketing and Services at Descartes. He has over 20 years of experience in the supply chain market, holding variety of senior management positions including: Senior Vice President at The Aberdeen Group’s Value Chain Research division, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Development for SynQuest and Vice President and Research Director for Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions at The Gartner Group.