By putting data into the hands of the companies, business partners, and customers that want it, supply chain visibility helps all stakeholders track products from the point of manufacture to the final destination—and all points in between.
This “Holy Grail” of global supply chain management has been talked about for decades, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world’s supply chains on end that “supply chain visibility” turned into a household word overnight.
Suddenly, everyone from the manufacturing plant manager to the distribution center supervisor to the retail store operator wanted to know “where’s my stuff?”—a question best answered using advanced technology platforms focused on providing high levels of supply chain visibility.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it disrupted global supply chains which forced organizations around the world to scramble to react,” EPS News points out. A lack of supply chain visibility quickly rose to the top of companies’ “must haves” for fighting off the negative impacts of the global pandemic.
“The inability to clearly see issues affecting suppliers is being multiplied by the speed with which market forces operate today. Having the ability to respond to rapid marketplace changes is essential, especially something along the lines of a global pandemic,” EPS News continues. “Being blindsided by a supplier’s troubles or limitations can be devastating; maintaining visibility is a powerful and necessary business survival tactic.”
5 Good Supply Chain Visibility Strategies
To avoid potential blindsides, improve visibility, and keep their supply chains running smoothly, more companies are investing in technology, forming strong partnerships with logistics partners, and taking steps to shore up their product supply networks. Here are five steps you can take now to improve your own company’s supply chain visibility:
- Identify key pain points first. What visibility-related “mountains” are your firm attempting to climb right now? Answering this question will pinpoint the issues that would most benefit from increased supply chain visibility. Once you’ve come up with a few ideas, meet with internal departments, Tier I vendors, logistics providers, and other stakeholders to discuss these problem areas. “Figure out the most pressing issue, then go even deeper, rooting out the specific process, technology, or other solutions that promises the best return on investment (ROI) for your company,” advises global manufacturing firm East West. For many manufacturing and distribution organizations, for example, inventory management may be the pain point most worthy of attention. “This may not be the case for your company,” states East West, “[so] do your research, review the data, and figure out which area to tackle first.”
- Add a transportation visibility platform to your tech stack. By 2023, Gartner says 50% of all product-centric enterprises will have invested in real-time transportation visibility platforms. These platforms give customers real-time insights into their orders and shipments once they have left the company’s or service provider’s warehouse—an area of the supply chain that can be somewhat of a “black hole” for information. “Once shipments leave a warehouse, customers and consumers have little visibility into the status of their orders and shipments,” Gartner states. “Real-time transportation visibility platforms address that problem, and the market is projected to grow rapidly in the next couple of years.”
- Leverage the power of a logistics provider. A reliable, tech-savvy logistics provider will serve as your “eyes and ears” as your products make their way through the supply chain, providing support along the way and ensuring that customers know where their shipments are at any given point in time. DB Schenker’s 360 Visibility Tool, for example, helps you operate your supply chain by visualizing and managing shipments, inventory, suppliers, operational tasks, and key performance indicators (KPIs) through real-time reporting and custom dashboards. “Our flexible solution suite includes a long list of component, assembly/finished goods, and data center services,” said Richard Ebach, DB Schenker’s Head of Technology in Region Americas, “coupled with value-added services not available from most logistics providers.”
- Break down your data silos. Companies that have been operating with disparate software systems and spreadsheets for years have likely built up a number of data silos throughout their organizations. This is a definite prohibitor of good supply chain visibility, and it’s something that many organizations are trying to rectify as they move out of the pandemic and into recovery mode. Eliminating these silos not only puts vital data into the hands of the people who need it, but it also greatly reduces reliance on manual labor and the potential for errors.
- Move into the cloud. As any organization that shifted to remote work during the pandemic can attest, on-premises software systems can be a major stumbling inhibitor of good collaboration across employees, business partners, and customers. Many companies are finding relief in the cloud, which allows companies and their business partners to do business without the need for virtual private networks (VPNs) or intranets. According to Accenture, the global cloud services industry has been growing year-over-year since 2010 and is now worth $370 billion (as of 2020), with worldwide spending on public cloud services expected to grow by 18.4% this year. Calling 2020 a “pivotal year” for the cloud, Accenture says it played a lead role in facilitating remote work solutions. “The cloud has become an essential part of continuing business and is the key to unlocking organizational growth.”
As you experiment with these visibility strategies, be sure to measure your successes and tweak your approach based on those results. And remember that supply chain visibility is an ongoing project, and not just a “one and done” effort. “Getting a handle on supply chain visibility is more than just a buzzword or total quality exercise,” East West concludes. “It’s a goal with real value—the kind that can differentiate your company from other suppliers.”