This commentary represents the second of an ongoing Supply Chain Matters market education series directed at clarifying needs and requirements addressing supply chain wide visibility.

One of the most critical challenges cited by multi-industry supply chain teams is extended supply chain visibility. This challenge is becoming universal as industry supply and value-chain processes continue to become more complex with constant changes in needs for business support. It is consistently cited by many supply chain leaders as a continued perplexing challenge.

As noted in the first commentary of this educational series, supply chain wide visibility often stems from differing business process perspectives or different business priorities that can involve planning, customer fulfillment execution, analytics and business intelligence as well as other more informed and more-timely decision-making needs.

Creating a unified view of important data related to supply chain business processes is not a simple task without first considering foundational strategies. Supply chain data and information is typically spread among multiple systems in both structured transactional or unstructured data and information formats, supporting each of these different processes. Supply chain wide visibility, by our continued view, is not about a rip and replace technology strategy since that would be far too disruptive. That is especially pertinent to disruption of backbone transactional systems.

We believe it should be viewed in the context of building-out enhanced decision-making support capabilities from more streamlined and better accessible sources of existing and future planning, execution and customer fulfillment information.

A supply chain wide visibility initiative needs prioritization and context as to what are the most important near-term vs. longer-term decision making needs. Typically, not all of the vast amounts of enterprise data are similarly required for certain supply chain decision support needs. Key process pain points can be initially identified and over time, information can be expanded to cover broader supply chain business process decision support needs.

As an example, a pain point could include the near-term need for integrating end-to-end planning and customer fulfillment information. For many manufacturing firms, such a need is often described in the context of sales and operation planning (S&OP) process and the ability to connect supply chain wide planning with ongoing customer facing fulfillment execution. It is a challenge that is expressed more often because the overall pace of business is far more dynamic and the scope of the overall supply chain is far more complex.  Longer-term, the effort can be directed at incorporating broader descriptive, predictive or prescriptive analytics capabilities to bear on integrated and more timely supply chain planning and execution information to anticipate business changes, assess impacts to business goals and metrics via scenario or simulation capability, and to better manage business risk factors.

Another increasing need relates to a business digital transformation initiative where B2B or B2C operational fulfillment process synchronization needs to occur. Examples in this area relate to business models for online selling and fulfillment directly to customers or consumers, or being an Omni-channel fulfillment partner to another predominant online retailer, distributor or wholesaler. In this dimension, the need for value-chain visibility takes on multi-directional, multi-geographical data and information flows. Decision-making perspectives can be daily, hourly or near real-term dimensions. In this dimension, higher levels of visibility to channel product demand, resource and capacity and supplier responsiveness data and information become the prominent needs. Here again, building a foundation of visibility strategies addressing process, technology and indeed participants is critical in the near-term. Over time, the incorporation of analytics-based decision-making can augment such combined processes.

The literal glue that insures broader levels of visibility is a singular access to the most important supply chain-wide information. Notice that we again do not advocate all information because that often leads to information overload, lack of responsiveness and a derailed effort rather quickly. Today, too many supply chain organizations are trying to collect and monitor massive amounts of key performance data and information without proper mapping to the metrics that actually directly impact a required business outcome.  Here, the Supply Chain Operations Reference model (SCOR) from APICS Supply Chain Council can provide an effective framework.

Connectivity to various business process support systems, validation, cleaning and blending of appropriate data sources should be considered in any foundational effort along with the always important continual focus on master data accuracy.

Finally, today’s more advanced information visualization tools along with intuitive and more user-friendly technology interfaces are very important considerations in augmenting and supporting needs for broader and deeper supply chain wide visibility.  Whereas in the past, IT teams and data administrators were the prime facilitators of integrated business process information and decision-making insights, today’s business demands require that appropriate line-of-business and supply chain wide functional teams serve as the primary process participants.

In our next Supply Chain Matters market education commentary addressing supply chain visibility, we will further address more information technology considerations.

Bob Ferrari

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