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. Without the proper systems in place, achieving full supply chain visibility into each process is difficult, if not impossible. Luckily, supply chain management software can free you from tedious manual data entry and reporting while giving you actionable insights to give you the visibility to guide your business better.
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What is Supply Chain Visibility?
First off, let’s define what exactly supply chain visibility is. As the name suggests, supply chain visibility lets you thoroughly track your various supply chain processes through robust analytics and reporting features. Specifically, this includes the ability to track production, product orders and shipments. True supply chain visibility gives you incredibly detailed information about each process, down to daily lead times, the inventory levels of a particular warehouse and the time a specific shipment arrives.
The whole point of supply chain visibility is to gain insight into your processes and find areas for improvement. You may find issues without full visibility into your end-to-end supply chain, but you probably won’t know what’s causing them. This is especially true for large companies with global supply chains. Without the proper tools in place, finding what needs to be fixed becomes an aggravating guessing game. Luckily, with the right system, you can identify and resolve issues as soon as they are found.
How Does Supply Chain Visibility Affect 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 asked why, it’s always better to give them the actual reason (along with an apology) than saying, “I don’t know.”
Additionally, today’s consumers value transparent companies. They want the logistics of how 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.”
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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 your overall supply chain visibility.
1. Define Goals
Most processes start by defining what you want to improve, and supply chain visibility is no different. Although true visibility provides insights into the entire supply chain, you need to focus 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 high?
Focusing on a few areas of improvement helps 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 idea of “fixing our supply chain” is very ambiguous. However, reducing your excess inventory in 6 months is a specific goal you can work toward. This not only provides a more actionable solution – for example, producing fewer products while still meeting demand — but it also allows you to realize when you’ve met your targets.
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. However, this might be difficult to do manually and usually requires supply chain visibility software.
In addition, integrating your supply chain software with other systems can boost visibility. 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 process includes all relevant 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. 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. These real-time supply chain insights can help you make changes on the fly, if necessary.
4. Analyze the Data
Even though software solutions can collect all kinds of data, the data you want to pay the most attention to is related to your goals. Many systems also allow you to set up dashboards so that you can keep an eye on particular data sets.
Additionally, the best supply chain visibility solutions have reporting functionality. With this feature, you can create visual reports that help you find 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.
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