Turn the Supply Chain Into an Information Highway

An intricate network of global supply chains has emerged to accommodate the rising complexity that defines many of today's products. Comprehensive material, component, and product information must be easily accessible to every node in the supply chain if companies are to produce the high quality and sustainable products consumers increasingly demand.

Even the simplest of products may contain parts from dozens of suppliers, themselves often only the visible tree in a larger forest of suppliers. As a result, information about what went into any given product is often scattered across non-connected sources spread around the world. We need end-to-end data flow if we are to make sense of today's complex and far-flung supply chains. Silos of data about individual components must be knit together to deliver comprehensive intelligence to support better decisions.

Information must flow both upstream (e.g., requirements from buyers of materials and components) and downstream (e.g., specifications and product data from sellers). The business value of such end-to-end information sharing is enormous: All parties along the chain can avoid surprises that result in unmarketable products.

UL's Information & Insights division was formed to improve data connectivity and provide intelligence across global supply chains. Our goal is to facilitate shared information that will translate into more sustainable products and better business results. How does this work?

Stakeholders throughout today's global supply chains—suppliers, manufacturers, distributors/retailers, large OEMs, and even consumers—will benefit considerably from a unified platform. The ability to access and centrally manage material information under an independent platform protects intellectual property while ensuring trade partners can document compliance with various regulations, and also mitigates data quality issues.

Multiple siloed entries or instances of material data across the supply chain increase the probability of typos or the use of mismatched information in a particular location, compromising data quality. A centralized, cloud-based solution eliminates a lot of these problems, enabling better data stewardship while benefitting all the key players.

Experts say leading companies are tackling the data sharing challenge head on. Gartner reports a wide range of initiatives, “including end-to-end supply chain segmentation, simplification, cost-to-serve analytics, multitier visibility and supply network optimization.”

Numbers from Aberdeen also underscore the need for unified supply chain visibility (SCV). In a recent survey, 63% of respondents indicated that improving SCV was a high priority, while an additional 28% made it a medium priority. Enterprises that want to reduce costs and improve operational performance across increasingly complex global supply chains need to make better SCV a critical strategy, advises Aberdeen.

Clearly, whether dealing with materials, components or whole products, an end-to-end platform that connects the dots among otherwise disparate data is invaluable. Such a tool will remove a lot of the friction—such as wasted time or potential errors stemming from manual data entry and re-entry—from your system. More importantly, it can turn raw data into actionable insights that benefit your entire supply chain.

3 comments on “Turn the Supply Chain Into an Information Highway

  1. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 11, 2014

    Research I've seen indicates that technology use in the electronics supply chain is lower than you might imagine. I'd be interested in knowing what you think the biggest stumbling blocks, Mathieu. What's holding up adoption among distributors, OEMs and the rest?

  2. Mathieu Guerville
    September 22, 2014

    Excellent question, Hailey.  The stumbling blocks in adoption of technology in the supply chain among OEMs and distributors in electronics is a complicated issue that we can simplify by division into two buckets. 

    First, there is the rapid development time for new electronics products that has been brought on by intense competition. This incredibly fast time-to-market coupled with fierce competition creates more complexity and secrecy than ever in R&D and production.  Because of this, developers and manufacturers of electronics have been cautious in their supply chain information sharing practices and won't clear the hurdle without utter confidence around the protection of their IP. 

    Next, in our growing, global economy, the electronics industry also must tackle the very difficult issue of ensuring data compatibility across existing worflow tools that each supply chain participant uses, therefore standards in communication technology and document formats will go a long way towards truly connecting the supply chain and solving compliance and sustainability issue via information.

      The challenge to adoption of technology in the electronics supply chain is a very real need for a globally consolidated source of trusted information.

  3. RoHSReady
    October 2, 2014

    I work in the materials and substances part of your article. A more open attitude on sharing data would be a start. If everyone could access this data through a shared portal would be a welcome second step. What would be the initiative to get this launched?

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