During last fall's Peer Forum in London, members of Gartner's Executive Supply Chain Leadership group outlined a number of ideas and solutions aimed at improving supply chain visibility.
Fire and foremost, ESCL members noted that it is crucial for supply chain leaders to set a clear strategy for supply chain visibility and analytics before starting the journey. That strategy should support the broader business strategy and also be integral to supply chain design. In addition, ESCL members recommended the following:
• Take time in scoping what is required, investigating and selecting the infrastructure and potential solution providers.
• Create a Center of Excellence (COE) for people, processes and systems to smooth the implementation and make the ongoing operation more effective.
• Use visibility and analytics to plan the run-up to key events and to feed real-time data when executing the plan to enable agility in decision-making.
• A data-driven approach helps to plan, prepare, execute, mitigate risk and maintain a high level of customer experience and business security.
Many companies already have a strong understanding of how to achieve internal enterprise visibility by integrating supply chain processes and using either ERP or integration technologies with limited capabilities to connect to the outside partner world (other than the established point-to-point EDI connectivity). Taking the next step, however, and extending supply chain visibility upstream and/or downstream is less familiar to many companies and requires a far different mindset, mostly in the form of enabling and disruptive technologies and also forming stronger relationships.
Supply chain visibility largely relies on innovative technologies that enable visibility into products like never before. For example, retailers like Macy’s and Zara are using RFID tags to improve inventory accuracy for apparel items. Apparel retailers generally have been able to improve inventory accuracy from below 70 percent to 98 percent or higher because of the increased visibility RFID provides as products move through the supply chain.
Technology innovation will play a large role in the continued quest to gain better supply chain visibility. Drones and other smart machines will have enormous implications within the supply chain. Drones will not only impact last-mile package delivery, but will monitor disruptions upstream in the supply chain. Drones are already keeping track of assets in yards and provide visibility into demurrage charges, freight movement and other important measures across multiple yards. Five years from now, drones will be a standard part of supply chain operations in many industries.
Improved supply chain visibility helps manufacturers to better monitor raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture products. Enhanced visibility can improve quality, order management and reduce costly line shutdowns. Additionally, supply chain visibility can help to save retailers money by ensuring that highly perishable products like fruits and vegetables are shipped in the right conditions and to the right venues.
Many organizations have started implementing visibility capabilities within their own organization, but are a long way from achieving multi-enterprise visibility for their extended value network. To move forward, supply chain leaders need to develop an understanding of new requirements and capabilities, working closely with their business partners and also collaborating with their IT counterparts and solution providers. It is imperative to first achieve visibility across internal sourcing, manufacturing and distribution networks before attempting to tackle complex multi-enterprise supply chain visibility.
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