Today’s global supply chain network is a labyrinth. Whether handled internally, outsourced, or a mix of the two, unanticipated roadblocks to the delivery of goods pop up left and right. These disruptions and inefficiencies hinder quality of service for customers and add costs to suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers.
The map to avoid these obstacles is supply chain visibility (SCV).
Visibility: The Game Changer Defined
Visibility is the ease with which stakeholders, ranging from the suppliers and shippers to business partners and even the customer, can track and trace the order process and the actual physical movement of products from production source to final destination. It assures professionals have the data to know which actions to take and when at each step of the supply chain. This includes:
- The order process, spanning placements, adjustments, and acceptance
- Inventory management – at rest or in motion
- The flow of capital and information
- Insights on risks that could spring up along the way.
Illuminating the Supply Chain Walkway with Digitization
Visibility requires a vast set of management tools. Digital transformation is enhancing and leading the development of these. This includes tools that tap the potential of big data and analytics, such as advanced tracking devices, sensors, and management systems. Professionals are armed with an array of real-time actionable information from a variety of sources pivotal to giving a clear view of the supply chain.
The Passageway to the Omni-Channel Consumer
The birth of the omni-channel consumer, and a growing tendency to outsource operations, added more twists and turns to the maze that is today’s supply chain landscape. Flexibility and accuracy are musts. Consumers expect to place and pick up orders when and how it is most convenient to them. And they expect it to be on time and accurate on the first go.
This requires a massive and diverse range of modes of transportation. The case for full visibility is made even stronger, with this increasing chance for disruptions. Whether at rest or in-motion, orders must be tracked in real-time to assure service level agreements and customer expectations are met.
Forging Your Own Path: Matching Demand and Supply
Interruptions are inevitable. The key is a fast response-time. If caught quickly enough, damages can be mitigated and associated costs reduced. This can’t be achieved without visibility. Professionals need to know where and what caused the hiccup in the delivery. This arms them and their partners with the insights to address the problem. Putting mitigation plans in place also becomes much easier, be it finding an alternative supply source, re-routing or tapping into the safety stock.
Along with customer happiness, visibility from real-time updates from transportation and distribution channels enables better allocation of resources. Companies can quickly react to meet surges in demand or cut out unnecessary middlemen and redundancies, resulting in higher efficiency and revenues. This data can also be cross-referenced with information from the past to determine the best process for future orders.
Crystal Clear Partnerships
Collaboration amongst partners is pivotal in navigating today’s evolving supply chain landscape. Partners need a clear view of what it takes to get from point A to point B, and the steps each are taking to get there. Visibility tools make this possible. Cloud-based data management systems can optimize record-keeping, reducing onerous duplications or SKU documentation error, and streamline communication. This is of the utmost importance for global supply chains that must adhere to trade regulations and transportation rules.
Making Visibility 20/20
How do companies improve visibility without breaking the bank? For some, the best route is to invest in a platform to handle the data for SCV. However, each company has its own unique needs. For smaller companies, outsourcing IT to a 3PL may fit the bill. Others may have the capacity to build their own platform.
Regardless of what a company choose, the ability to monitor and evaluate data is a must. Knowing which path to follow at a fork in a road with such a wide array of data prongs can seem impossible. This includes but isn’t limited to tracking devices and sensors, truck drivers’ phones, and even social media. Look to the cloud. Advancing technologies such as cloud-based solutions facilitate rapid data analysis that provide the visibility needed.
Before deciding on a management system, companies must clearly define what visibility means to them and their partners. Be it boosting international tracking or shortening lead times, establish KPIs and the roles the company and partners play to reach goals. This makes it possible to know which steps to take, and in turn, which system is best to make this a reality. Set expectations and keep an open line of communication with partners throughout the process to understand the limits of your and their capabilities. Save time and costs by narrowing the focus on only the most consequential visibility events to track.
Reaching the end of the SCV Maze
Establishing an effective IT infrastructure to improve visibility is a costly investment, but the ROI from enhanced performance and reduced costs is worth it. We can only expect the labyrinth that is today’s supply chain network to expand. SCV can steer companies down the right path today and in the future.
Bill Ashburn is the Chief Marketing Officer of HighJump, Inc. where he has led company-wide messaging, branding and strategic marketing architecture, to establish and refine HighJump’s market-facing profile following their merger with Accellos, Inc. in 2014. He has defined HighJump’s image as an emerging industry leader as the company has continued to grow globally.
Bill spent 30 years in the Transportation & Logistics Industries as the co-founder of Prophesy Transportation Solutions, (now a HighJump product). He joined HighJump in 2008 as Senior Vice President of the Transportation Management product line. Under his guidance the Prophesy product line has provided industry leading transportation software solutions to the Supply Chain Industry since 1986. Today, more than 10,000 SMB and mid-market transportation companies have implemented a HighJump solution to successfully manage and grow their businesses.