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Can Supply Chain Visibility Make Your Company King?

October 12, 2022


There is an old English idiom that states “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, this idiom was meant to highlight the fact that in a difficult situation, all other things being equal, the person with additional skills “is in a better position to be more successful” than people who don’t possess those skills.[1] When it comes to supply chain operations, this principle certainly holds true. Business consultant John Stanly explains, “Modern-day supply chains are complex and expansive, thanks to diverse supplier networks, customers peppered across the globe, varying compliance requirements, and logistical challenges. … Knowing what’s happening in your supply chain is vital. … Supply chain leadership must be enabled to assess immediate tradeoffs between service levels and demand in order to make precise decisions and adapt to unexpected change. And that’s where supply chain visibility (SCV) plays a significant role.”[2] The company with the best supply chain visibility is likely to reign over the competition.


The Supply Chain Visibility Imperative


Until recently, asserts David Blonski (@DBlonski), Chief Operating Officer at Elementum, end-to-end supply chain visibility was purely an aspirational goal. He explains, “With better technology and a supportive ecosystem, we’ve seen a rapid acceleration in the adoption of supply chain visibility.”[3] By his account, in 2005 end-to-end visibility was impossible. By 2015 end-to-end visibility became an interesting possibility. Five years later, in 2020, end-to-end visibility was finally an exciting and attainable goal. Today, he insists, end-to-end visibility is necessary. He adds, “While other industries have been quick to digitize (e.g., e-commerce, education, telehealth, etc.), supply chains have largely been stuck in the same-old. However, with end-to-end visibility, supply chains can finally identify, assess, and act faster than ever before.” Stanly suggests there are at least four “reasons why supply chain visibility has become necessary for today’s businesses.” They are:


• Transparency: “Gaining visibility into the supply chain means ensuring complete transparency through the process. This is invaluable for all the different stakeholders involved.”


• Efficient execution: “Getting real-time updates about every stage of the supply chain can enable enterprises to plan and execute strategies more efficiently.”


• Customer service: “Real-time supply chain visibility can help organizations deliver and maintain exceptional levels of customer service. And it is all about customer experience, isn’t it?”


• Minimized inefficiency: “Identifying and resolving issues in real time is integral to reducing inefficiencies and navigating potential obstacles.”


Supply chain analyst Adrian Gonzalez (@talkinlogistics) agrees that supply chain visibility is important. He also insists, “Visibility is not enough.”[4] He elaborates, “To derive business value from visibility, you have to do something with the data and insights collected. It’s the doing, the actions taken to improve your transportation and logistics operations, for example, that ultimately delivers value.” He’s right; however, visibility is the foundation upon which actions are taken. And visibility begins with data. Scott Bolduc, Director of Supply Chain Strategy at SPS Commerce, explains, “More businesses now recognize that the combination of visibility and data is critical to future planning, relationship management and crisis response. … Data visibility and transparency underpin all successful supply chains.”[5]


Improving Supply Chain Visibility


If visibility begins with data, it logically follows that supply chains must digitize in order to achieve end-to-end visibility. Bolduc insists the most important data to capture is real-time data. Real-time data, he writes, is especially important for improving supply chain planning. He explains, “Supply chain planning can be split into two main types, proactive and reactive. Modern supply chains that don’t have access to real-time or historical data can only plan reactively. This means they can only act in response to a crisis — often when the reputational damage has already been done. Real-time data can foster proactivity, but even with the proven benefits of sharing data among manufacturers, vendors, and logistics teams, only 49% of businesses capture and use data in real time.”


During the height of the pandemic, it was clear that my company’s clients needed more insights about the changing business landscape in order to plan more effectively. To meet this challenge, Enterra® developed the Enterra Global Insights and Decision Superiority System™, powered by the Enterra Autonomous Decision Science™ platform — a cognitive computing system that can Sense, Think, Act, and Learn®. However, an insight system is only one of the essential tools in the supply chain visibility kit. As Gonzalez points out, “We have made great progress on the technology and data collection front to address some of the black holes across the supply chain. … [Nevertheless,] achieving true end-to-end supply chain visibility is a complicated problem. There is no simple or magical solution. Maybe Theodore Roosevelt was talking about supply chain visibility when he said, ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.’”[6]


Easing that pain requires the help of cutting-edge technologies. Supply chain journalist Bridget McCrea (@BridgetMcCrea) explains, “To work through these roadblocks and also set their operations up for future success, organizations are deploying systems that help enhance visibility both in and out of their four walls and that enable collaboration with suppliers, contract manufacturers and logistics providers. In response, software developers have introduced applications that help companies be more responsive from both a planning and logistics perspective, and that synchronize those two important links in the supply chain.”[7]


Concluding Thoughts


The primary focus of end-to-end supply chain visibility is improving decision-making. Locus Robotics experts observe, “Data-driven decision-making at every level of the organization, in combination with an intelligent universe of operational excellence, widely increases operational flexibility and builds the resilience needed to protect against future disruptions.”[8] As the experts cited above note, the latest technologies have finally made end-to-end visibility a real possibility. McCrea concludes, “Supply chain software is evolving right along with these needs and encompasses everything from point solutions that target a specific activity, such as transportation, warehousing or yard management, to fully-integrated systems that address all aspects of the supply chain.” Stanly adds, “While reconfiguring your supply chain might seem nearly impossible, you can reinvigorate the system strategically. Digital technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), the Internet-of-Things (IoT), machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms have brought about a fresh wave of possibilities regarding what can be achieved with data. … Boosting the value of the supply chain by improving real-time visibility will continue to be a top priority for forward-looking enterprises that want to accelerate their operations, save costs, and emerge victorious from the slump.” Supply chain visibility could also make your company king of the competitive hill.


[1] Staff, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” Cambridge Dictionary.
[2] John Stanly, “Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility: Challenges, Opportunities and Benefits,” Entrepreneur, 30 December 2020.
[3] David Blonski, “The Biggest Opportunity for Supply Chain Visibility, Part 1,” Elementum Blog, 17 November 2021.
[4] Adrian Gonzalez, “Supply Chain Visibility: A Product Or Feature?” Talking Logistics, 25 April 2022.
[5] Scott Bolduc, “Addressing Data Challenges With Supply Chain Visibility,” SupplyChainBrain, 24 August 2022.
[6] Adrian Gonzalez, “There’s No Supply Chain Visibility Silver Bullet,” Talking Logistics, 22 June 2022.
[7] Bridget McCrea, “Closing the supply chain visibility gaps,” Logistics Management, 31 August 2021.
[8] Locus Robotics, “Unlocking the Value of Real-Time Visibility at Every Operational Level,” SupplyChainBrain, 9 February 2022.

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