If it's not one tool a supply chain manager needs, it's another. Or maybe it's not really more tools that are needed, but rather the patience and wherewithal to understand the tools you already have and how to make them work together to do more for you.
Supply chain visibility may fall into this category.
It's debatable whether visibility should be a stand-alone system or something more comprehensive than a single software platform. And it's usually safe to say that existing ERP and warehouse management systems may not go far enough in extrapolating all the “right” data needed to increase visibility within complex, global supply chains.
But, as Patty Stafford, a senior business consultant at Worldwide Chain Stores, noted during a recent World Trade Group webinar (the archived file will be posted here), there are several components vital to this aspect of supply chain management. The key ones, she said, include:
- Connectivity. Having a “universal adaptor” technology that can access information from various tools and systems, convert data into a common format, and integrate with the existing supply chain execution tools will help deliver a more immediate response or action.
- Data repository. Information needs to be stored in a safe place, where it can be accessed, shared, and analyzed internally and by trading partners.
- Alerts and notifications. Companies have to reduce “alert overkill,” this practice of notifying too many people about too many “problems.” By developing better pre-defined notification conditions, more thoroughly assessing who needs to be notified and when, and refining how matters are more appropriately escalated will reduce “alert fatigue” and increase visibility.
- Visibility and analysis. Configurable analytics and user-defined rules-based screen displays could improve and gives users the flexibility they need to manage inventory and respond to supply chain disruptions.
- Sourcing and execution. Integrating visibility with execution tools is important to fully leverage across-the-board capabilities to avoid and solve problems.
While this may look like a hard to manage and even harder to do kind of list, some of the tools and data may already be in your system. They just may not be used in the right combination. Stafford said:
Trying to manage your complex, supply chain network without supply chain visibility is like trying to steer a ship in the fog. You don't see the rocks until you're on top of them, and when you do see them, it may be too late to save the ship or your bottom line. Today's advanced visibility systems clear that fog from the network so that you can navigate around the rocks and avoid disruptions, delays and other problems that plague supply chains on a daily basis…
I find the biggest challenge companies face
[on the journey to supply chain visibility] is one you'd think is easiest to fix: The ability to display and use information in a meaningful and timely manner. Many times, our clients have a WMS [warehouse management system] or an ERP system, and they don't have an understanding of what is in that system currently. They also tend to look at that data in isolation. Where supply chain visibility really becomes a true benefit is to take data from many systems and create feeds in a meaningful and timely manner.
How is your organization making data available in a meaningful and timely manner? How has that given you more visibility into what's happening in the supply chain? And has it made you more responsive, flexible, and loved by supply chain partners?