Sometimes the biggest problem isn't getting access to information. It's knowing what not to look at.
Companies will spend years cobbling together a collection of supply chain execution software, for warehousing, transportation, routing, scheduling and a host of other functions, "only to find out they're not talking to each other very effectively," says Hensley. At the same time, supply chain managers are faced with a wealth of data, some of it irrelevant to their day-to-day needs.
What they need is something akin to the dashboard of a car - a summary of key functions with the ability to highlight any problems immediately. Such a tool for the supply chain is difficult to make work if individual pieces of software aren't integrated for end-to-end visibility, Hensley says.
In a typical company, those systems would have been acquired in a piecemeal fashion, with little thought given to how they might work together. That lack of unity becomes glaringly evident in tough economic times. Companies begin looking for every possible source of efficiency. In effect, says Hensley, they conduct an all-out search for "quarters in the sofa."
Fortunately, he says, unifying disparate systems is an effort that can yield big benefits with a relatively small investment. The idea is to devise a system whereby data flows smoothly through the supply chain, but only the most important bits of information are conveyed to the managers who need them.
That's where the dashboard comes in handy - as a means of "getting data without having to install an enterprise system." Companies need to identify those key performance indicators that are essential to the execution of each function. Managers desiring more data can click on the item in question and drill down for more detail.
The trick lies in selecting the right KPIs, and no more. If the manager "has got more than about five metrics he's trying to track on a regular basis, he's getting to information overload," says Hensley.
The tool should be available to all levels of the organization. But it's vital that a single executive take charge of the operation at the highest possible level. "With too many people," says Hensley, "you get into too many versions of the truth."
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