Attaining the benefits of a more agile supply chain hinges on the ability to see what’s up with all of its moving parts.
By Sara Pearson Specter
The degree to which a supply chain can achieve agility—that is, the ability to quickly react and respond to unforeseen events within its network—increasingly gives organizations an edge in an increasingly uncertain and continuously changing business environment. No company, however, can become agile without achieving greater visibility into its multitude of moving parts.
And there are a lot of moving parts. Procurement, inventory management, transportation—all are areas in which having greater visibility can increase a company’s ability to make ongoing adjustments that yield a variety of operational benefits.
The movement toward increased supply chain visibility has its roots in transportation, said Tommy Barnes, president of project44, a visibility platform that allows supply chain operations managers to monitor and manage freight in real time.
“The initial focus was on ‘where’s my stuff?’” he explained. “Companies need to know about exceptions in order to better manage their estimated time of arrival (ETA) calculations. Today, however, the global supply chain space has really pivoted to a more holistic discussion. That is, determining the impact of the global supply chain on inventory management, demand planning and forecasting. Visibility has been pushed farther upstream for a more comprehensive, end-to-end focus.”
Barnes attributes the growing interest in supply chain visibility to the increasing C-suite emphasis on supply chains as a strategic, competitive differentiator—particularly among e-commerce retailers fighting for customer loyalty—and to the mounting pressures of consumers who expect a faster, more flexible and transparent shopping and shipping experience.
“Today’s visibility solutions are being integrated into applicable workflows within organizations to enhance current processes and make users more productive and customers’ experiences better,” he said. “If you can give operators the same tools that an executive has to access the greater global supply chain view, you can more proactively manage things and be more productive internally. And, if your visibility into inventory becomes so robust that you know where everything moving in transit is at all times, then you can shift your inventory to ensure you have the right amounts in the right places—but are holding less overall. That’s a pretty powerful place to be.”