The dream of supply chain management is something that runs like clockwork, but the real world usually presents a different reality. If supply chains were always predictable, Excel would be the perfect tool. However, more often than not something will go wrong. You can prepare for one scenario, but another one can always take you by surprise.
Excel is a powerful tool, but it’s not suited to the real-time challenges of supply chain management. Excel is static. It’s manual. By the time data is in Excel, it’s out of date. Real-time analytics tools help, but most of them are complicated, and require someone technical at the helm. Furthermore, the insights they reveal rarely trickle down to the people actively working in the supply chain.
To improve your supply chain holistically, you’ll need to give everyone the benefits of analytics, not just data analysts and Excel users. In order to do that, you need tools that make data easy to digest. Accessible, real-time data has the power to increase productivity, decrease waste, and even increase employee satisfaction.
Here are five ways data visualization tools can improve your supply chain operations:
- Give everyone the tools to be great: When you limit information to a few people, they’re the only ones who benefit. When everyone is on the same page, and aware of the same information, everything works better. For example, if every factory worker knows an important shipment has been delayed, they can all plan around it and work on something else. That said, until recently, it wasn’t feasible to share real-time information with everyone. You couldn’t exactly email all your factory workers. Automated visual reporting changes that. It’s easy to set up a passive information delivery system. Workers can get the information they need at a glance, all without extensive training or computer expertise.
- Monitor production: Your production lines move in real-time, so your reporting tools should too. Setbacks and delays to your supply chain can happen in an instant. To minimize their impact, you want everyone to know about them the moment they happen. Get a closer look at what’s going on, and give your employees the power to respond to problems before they occur. When everyone has a better idea of how production is flowing (or not flowing) they can respond to setbacks as a team.
- Free up IT for other tasks: When exporting data, getting it into Excel, analyzing it, and sharing it take hours of your week, you don’t have time to uncover higher level insights. Your understanding of the organization stays constant. With automated reporting, you only have to create those reports once. After that, they update on their own, and you’re free to devote your resources towards more advanced insights. As you build more and more reports, each one uncovers another level of information.
- Reduce weekend & overtime hours: For the most part, no one likes overtime. Workers have to work longer, and businesses have to pay for it. Employees get grumpy, and budgets get strained. With automated reporting, it’s easier to anticipate workloads and plan accordingly. One company we work with used to have problems creating schedules for their warehouse workers. Some days they’d have too much work and not enough people. Everyone was forced to work overtime. On other days, it was just the opposite. Workers would stand around waiting for work to come in. Automated reporting gave the company a better idea of coming workloads. Now they know almost exactly how many people to staff on a given day. Efficiency and morale improved right away.
- Improve supply & demand: Automated data visualization enables faster decisions. When important information is at arm’s reach, it’s much easier to make calls on the fly. This means you can adjust to new demand faster. Everyone from your executives to your factory workers can make changes to meet new goals.
- Keep sales teams on the right path: An important part of supply chain management is keeping products moving out the door and into customer’s hands. When your sales force can see real-time updates on quotas, sales results, and individual performance, they’ll be more effective. As in any position, more information leads to better decisions.
When looking for an effective data visualization tool, there are some choices to make, but it’s important that the tool you choose works for everyone, not just executives. If you already use tools like NetSuite or Google Big Query, you may consider a visualization tool that works natively, within your existing software.