Supply chain visibility is no longer a "nice to have" feature. It is a foundational and critical capability when serving today’s more informed, connected, and influential consumer.
To be candid, without supply chain visibility companies operate much less efficiently, and in this market reality, inefficient operations are a short step away from shuttered storefronts and bankruptcy.
The problem is that supply chain visibility is still often misunderstood. They key to success is understanding how to invest your resources in a way that will have the greatest impact on achieving true supply chain visibility.
What is end-to-end supply chain visibility?
Gartner defines end-to-end supply chain visibility as, "A capability that provides controlled access and transparency to accurate, timely and complete plans, events and data within and across organizations and services."
In short, supply chain visibility is about capturing usable supply chain data and freight transactions as you exchange information between different systems. Therefore, the most critical element to achieving true visibility is your architectural setup—how your company and systems are connected to your business partners and their networks.
Why have there been technical roadblocks limiting supply chain visibility in the past?
Companies have looked to improve supply chain visibility for decades without much success. Why?
Many processes to share data across your supply and transportation networks are still managed through manual spreadsheets, email/phone calls, file transfer protocol (FTP), website scraping, or point-to-point electronic data interchange (EDI). With these manual or legacy processes, the information exchange along with rules that facilitate the data transfer are simply not sophisticated enough to create end-to-end visibility. Instead of a true network-centric view, those systems deliver incomplete and out-of-date visibility at best.
Supply chain companies invested over $5 billion last year alone in an attempt to solve the uncertainties in today’s supply chain for their customers. Those investments will be wasted unless companies create a backbone that can overcome the current connectivity gaps caused by EDI and legacy systems. Don’t be fooled, many vendors use pretty UIs or superfluous applications to distract potential customers from the underlying reality that they don’t invest in foundational connectivity and modern data transfer systems.
How to create supply chain visibility
Companies should seek solutions that address those most fundamental concepts—the connections and building blocks that enable access and transparency to accurate, timely and complete data. Unlike EDI or legacy systems, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) serve as a modern middleware solution that delivers just that.
Don't assume that a single solution can provide end-to-end visibility across all supply chain transactions or modes of transportation, even if that’s what vendors are claiming. Complete visibility expands beyond your traditional truckload tracking and requires the entire freight transaction set. To remain competitive, you should have a constant pulse on the entire spectrum of your supply networks and freight transactions.
By adopting a single API-based network solution that also offers a suite of freight services, companies can accelerate visibility during transportation and deliver superior value and improved service to their end-customers.