The trade industry certainly loves buzzwords, and ‘control tower’ gets serious air time in our industry. But, what really is a control tower and how does it relate to your supply chain operations?
When we think of control tower capabilities, we envision an airport control tower or a scenario like NASA mission control. Folks buzzing around with big screens showing various views of activity, blips moving across space and lots of communication going on. The idea behind the control tower for supply chain management presents a similar concept – a single platform that provides both total visibility and full management capabilities of the entire ecosystem. But the reality is much more complicated. Supply chains are incredibly complex, growing more so as companies grow globally, regulations shift with new political eras, enforcement ramps up, and consumer demand ebbs and flows.
Supply chains consist of both physical and informational elements, from the design, sourcing, and manufacturing, to the classification, shipping, and the cross-border transaction. How does a company take each step in the supply chain—which are frequently siloed and separately managed—and put them together into a cohesive whole with a single picture? How can you model your global trade operation like that NASA mission control scene for your company? The answer is full supply chain digitization.
Control Tower Acquisition Requires Digitization
That ultimate goal of complete control and visibility can’t be accomplished without 21st century technology. The day of the paper records, status-update phone calls, and faxes is long gone. A digital supply chain enables companies to reduce risk, improve agility, and reduce costs in many areas of operation. Manual labor becomes automated, repetitive tasks are reduced or removed entirely, and focus can shift from playing catch-up to overseeing and analyzing processes.
This shift to a fully digital supply chain brings with it the data behind every step, allowing for high-level analysis and decision-making to increase efficiency and improve the bottom line. This improved efficiency comes with serious cost-savings. Analyst groups predict that digitally-mature companies will achieve $430 billion in productivity gains over their less-connected peers.
Digitization begins with selecting a technology partner with a proven track record, best-in-class implementation strategies, and a complete understanding of the current global trade arena. These providers offer the best way to embrace digitization, allowing companies to bring their unique supply chains and processes into a single platform, and facilitating the next level of collaboration between companies and their vendors all around the globe.
Digitization Brings Full Visibility
Only when the supply chain has been fully digitized can a company realize the 100% visibility required to achieve the desired control tower apex. Digitization creates a glass pipeline, allowing supply chain managers to track, analyze, and adjust within the supply chain as needed to respond to unexpected events.
Disruption has become a constant, with supply chains requiring more flexibility than ever to respond to social compliance concerns, regulatory changes, regime shifts, and natural disasters. In addition to mitigating risk, full visibility allows for split-second adjustments that keep companies out of the headlines (for negative reasons), too. In practice, full visibility includes:
- A fully digital, cross-functional platform with both micro and macro events and trends.
- Support for innovation during both the design and product development stages.
- Direct management of raw materials supply and demand.
- Factory production monitoring with management-by-exception reporting, allowing early warning of missed events that impact downstream.
- Flexibility to easily switch trading partners if required to respond to sudden impactful events.
- Regulatory-focused alerts for restricted party screening, certificates of origin, and complex entry requirements.
With the full visibility provided by digitization, the control tower takes shape, powering the collaboration, automation, and analytics that a company needs to stay ahead of the crowd.
Visibility + Automated Actions = Control Tower
Technology should work FOR companies by working smarter, not harder. Fully digitized supply chains can cast aside the rule-of-thumb controls in favor of machine-learning algorithms. Risk reduction becomes a tangible benefit for companies that reach this height. Constant data streams and to-the-second analysis help pinpoint potential areas of error, highlighting opportunities for cost-savings up and down the supply chain.
A true control tower solution allows companies to see the full supply chain picture, equipping them with tools to act immediately upon these data points:
- Raw material sourcing traceability – with alternatives selected for quick shifts due to scarcity, conflict, or natural disaster.
- Ethical sourcing and production monitoring – with automated audits and screenings.
- Product quality and testing results – with documentation analysis.
- Production status – with time-sensitive checks and alerts.
- Preferential trade program qualification – with HTS code look-ups and understanding of current regulations.
- Total landed cost including logistics, commissions, duties, taxes, etc.
- Where the product is currently and when it is predicted to arrive.
Put together, the knowledge that flows through a digital supply chain and the automation of specific tasks can take a company to the next level.
This is where collaboration tools step in and provide the communication conduit to connect to your trading partners. By identifying exceptions, enabling decision capture, and executing workflow automation, control tower visibility turns into control tower action.
Enjoy the View
What’s a control tower without the control? Just a nice view. And while having a nice view – full visibility – is important, equally important is the capability to control the supply chain from that vantage point. A robust control tower technology solution utilizes the extensive digital data in multiple ways, such as collaboration, automation, and analytics.
Control tower visibility mitigates risk by providing quick and easy access to information for all of these areas, which is essential for day-to-day supply chain management. By identifying exceptions, enabling decision capture, and executing workflow automation, control tower visibility turns in to control tower action. This is the level where supply chains today need to function; visibility with the ability to make actionable changes resulting in a positive outcome.
In order to create optimal value, a control tower solution must have a robust set of capabilities. The global supply chain is complex and dynamic, and not all GTM solutions are created equal. Companies that want to remain competitive in 2018 and beyond will require a truly comprehensive solution that provides a broad and deep functional footprint, extensive global regulatory content, an expansive supply chain collaboration network, and flexible software architecture.
Creating a digital supply chain that functions as a true control tower—where every step along the way is both visible and managed—is the next frontier for global companies that want to succeed.
Gary Barraco, Director of Global Product Marketing, is responsible for developing strategic product marketing direction and presenting the Amber Road brand and solutions worldwide. As the platform evangelist, Gary develops and launches customer insights, go-to-market plans, product messaging and content, and field marketing tactics which establish Amber Road’s solutions as a standard in the Global Trade Management space. Previously, Gary was VP, Industry Development for ecVision for 9 years prior to its acquisition by Amber Road. He has 20 years of active military service where his primary specialty was providing marketing support to Army National Guard recruiting and retention operations in New Jersey. Gary received a BS from the State University of New York and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Moravian College.
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