Wouldn’t managing your supply chain be easier if you could just use a magnifying glass to view everything you needed? As we’re sure you’re aware, however, that’s not exactly the case. Achieving full supply chain visibility into each process is difficult, if not impossible, without the proper systems in place. These systems could involve manually recording everything, but frankly, that’s way more work than it’s worth. Using software makes supply chain visibility a whole lot simpler.
What is Supply Chain Visibility?
First off, let’s define what exactly supply chain visibility is. As the name suggests, supply chain visibility is the state in which you thoroughly track your various supply chain processes. Specifically, this includes the ability to track production, product orders and shipments. True supply chain visibility provides the ability to gain incredibly detailed information about each process, down to daily lead times, the inventory levels of a particular warehouse and what time a specific shipment arrives.
The whole point of supply chain visibility is to gain insight into your processes, so you can find areas for improvement. Without full visibility of your end-to-end supply chain, you may find issues, but you probably won’t know the cause of them. This is especially true for large companies with global supply chains. At this point, it’s simply a guess-and-check game to find the cause and fix it. But with visibility, you can make the right changes as soon as you notice an issue.
How Supply Chain Visibility Affects Customer Service
Believe it or not, supply chain visibility does more than help you optimize your supply chain performance; it can also help you improve your customer service. For example, if a customer received an order late and they ask you why, it’s always better to be able to give them the actual reason (along with an apology) than to simply say “I don’t know.”
Additionally, today’s consumers value companies that are transparent. They want to know the logistics of how your products got to the shelf, or how your service is made possible. Any business, from a software vendor to a local grocery store, has a sizable competitive advantage when they’re transparent about their business practices.
Harvard Business Review explains: “For many products, origin is an essential feature of what the customer buys, even if it is an intangible or a difficult-to-verify quality. Broadly, halal, kosher, and organic foods are indistinguishable from the alternatives — the distinctions are important to certain consumers, but in a blind test most would have no way of identifying them… The fact that consumers nevertheless care about ethics and authenticity is indisputable: provenance is already a big deal — and getting bigger.”
Improving Supply Chain Visibility
So how exactly are you supposed to achieve supply chain visibility? It’s certainly not a quick fix, but by implementing the following five-step process, you can improve the visibility into your entire supply chain.
1. Define Goals
Most processes start by defining what you actually want to improve, and supply chain visibility is no different. Although true visibility provides insights into the entire supply chain, you need to focus in on a few points of emphasis. For example, do you struggle with on-time delivery? Or do you find that your excess inventory levels are consistently too high?
Focusing on a few areas of improvement help keep the process on track. This specificity ensures that changes are actually made. East West Manufacturing says that “Clarity is everything. Clearly defined objectives, strategies and tactics (all with deadlines attached)… leave no room for miscommunication.”
After all, the goal of “fixing our supply chain” is very ambiguous. The goal of reducing your excess inventory in 6 months, however, is more specific. This not only provides a more actionable solution — for example, producing fewer products while still meeting demand — but also allows you to actually realize when you’ve met that goal.
2. Connect Systems
Now we get to the software aspect of the process. Chances are, there are multiple systems used throughout your supply chain. And if you’ve added sites and businesses through mergers and acquisitions, it’s even more likely. Supply chain visibility relies upon the fact that you have access to all of your data together, so if you have separate systems, you have some work to do. You need to connect those various pieces of software so that you can bring all of your supply chain data into a single location.
In addition, integrating your supply chain software with other systems helps visibility as well. Two of the most powerful integrations are CRM and BI. CRM provides extra insight into your customers, while BI gives you additional data analysis capabilities.
3. Gather the Data
The most important aspect of supply chain visibility is the actual gathering of the data. This includes any and every kind of data related to your supply chain, from shipment times to inventory levels to warehouse worker hours. As we mentioned earlier, you technically could record all of this manually, but it’s impossible to collect it all in real time when done so. This is where software takes over.
Your supply chain visibility software should be able to collect real-time data, so you always have the most up-to-date information. This provides real-time supply chain insights that you can use to make changes on the fly, if necessary.
4. Analyze the Data
Despite the fact that supply chain visibility solutions can collect all kinds of data, the data you want to pay the most attention to are those related to your goals. Many systems allow you to set up dashboards, so you can keep an eye on particular data sets.
Additionally, the best systems have reporting functionality. With this feature, you can create visual reports that help you find the insights that lead to improved business processes. And if you need more detailed analysis, you can run the data through a business intelligence system (remember what we said about connecting systems?)
5. Make Changes
Pretty self explanatory. Once you know what the underlying issues are to your supply chain, you can make the appropriate adjustments.
Top Supply Chain Visibility Software Vendors
As you’re working on improving your supply chain, it’s important to do so with the right supply chain management software. The following are four of the best supply chain visibility solutions out there, so you can improve supply chain planning and optimize all of your processes.
SAP is one of the biggest and most well-known software companies in the world, and their supply chain management system doesn’t disappoint. The system is capable of gathering and managing all of your data, from inventory to shipping to order fulfillment. It’s also a great collaboration tool, allowing employees from every step in the process to communicate.
Another software giant, Oracle’s SCM software is one of the most powerful on the market. One of Oracle’s biggest points of emphasis is optimized planning. The system helps you improve not only supply chain planning, but demand planning as well. Plus, the Oracle E-Business Suite provides features for asset utilization, so you can schedule and plan the use of your assets more effectively.
GT Nexus may not have the name recognition of SAP or Oracle, but its SCM software is nonetheless one of the best on the market. This software is built for easy integration with other SCM tools, such as ERP, warehouse management and transportation management systems. GT Nexus also has several features that focus on reducing costs, so you can maximize your profits.
Sage’s ERP, X3, isn’t a supply chain-exclusive software. However, it has a supply chain management module and SCM-related modules in addition to other types of systems as well. The most useful modules available for supply chain visibility are (of course) the supply chain management module, the warehouse management module and the inventory management module. But other modules, including financial management, document management, project management, CRM and BI also assist you in the supply chain visibility process. As an ERP, all of these modules are interconnected, making it one of the simplest for integrating your supply chain visibility solution to other systems.