This commentary represents the first of an ongoing Supply Chain Matters thought leadership and market education series directed at clarifying needs and requirements addressing supply chain wide visibility, which is being sponsored by LLamasoft.

More and more, one of the most critical challenges cited by multi-industry supply chain teams is extended supply chain visibility.  This challenge is becoming universal since industry supply and value-chains 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.

This industry analyst often hears teams describe their visibility challenge from differing business process perspectives that often include needs for end-to-end supply chain planning, customer fulfillment, supplier based process or overall decision-making synchronization.

Often, this visibility term is lumped into other challenges including supply chain wide traceability, transparency, capacity or inventory management. Thus it is rather important for teams to clarify specific short and long-term visibility capability needs and decision-support requirements from the ongoing distraction of day-to-day symptoms stemming from lack of needed information.

At a recent MIT sponsored supply chain event, Joel LaFrance of General Mills provided simple and powerful definitions.

He described supply chain visibility as a framework of digital informational connections with a long-term goal for the ability to leverage the convergence of digital and physical supply chain processes:

Supply chain traceability was described as a tracking need required to respond to business needs related to regulatory process requirements, product recalls, quality conformance and earning consumer trust.

Supply chain transparency was described in the context of building trust among internal and external organizations and stakeholders that make up the firm’s supply chain.

I’m sure, many of our readers have either similar of slightly different definitions, but what is important is the clarification of business process need and capability, both short and long-term.

A further insight is what organizations have learned in their journey or frustrations related to achieving overall visibility. In the case of General Mills, the learning was described as:

  • Connected data is critical- with the implication that data is channeled into an information utility that can be leveraged by multiple functions or organizations.
  • That such capability is architected and designed to support insights, needed actions, and to drive faster and more-informed decisions.
  • That broader visibility and decision-making changes the way organization’s work in terms of mindset, skills and process requirements leading to data-driven actions vs. bias or gut driven actions, and that supply chain wide visibility implies broader end-to-end ownership and goal-setting vs. any singular functional goal-setting.

The above learning was insightful. We can share other considerations as well.

Enabling end-to-end visibility is not about ripping out existing IT and software application investments.  That is often too disruptive, especially to mission critical supply chain processes. The reality is that supply chain data is indeed spread out among various internal and external systems in varied formats, syntax, and degrees of quality. Instead, it is about building-out enhanced information management, integration and decision-support capabilities from more streamlined sources of planning, execution, supplier based and customer fulfillment information.

From an informational architectural perspective, consolidating required or essential end-to-end supply chain data into a central access utility is rather important. That includes data integration capability supported by universal connectivity, data validation, cleansing and data visualization supported by dashboards and augmented by various forms of essential analytics.

From an organizational change management perspective, establishing a common vision and roadmap of required capabilities that differentiates the various components of required visibility is likewise essential. Like any other change effort, that roadmap should address the implications from people, process and augmented technology dimensions.

It requires a prioritization for which components of supply chain visibility have the initial priority. As an example, overall planning and execution synchronization may be the priority for one supply chain while traceability may be the priority for supply chains in consumer-facing or regulated environments. The ultimate end goal of end-to-end supply chain visibility remains the same, the roadmap and emphasis of approach may vary.

Finally, teams should not presume that universal visibility can be garnered under a single program or initiative.  Instead, it is a building block approach requiring a solid foundation, design principles and modular construction of capabilities that can be changed or modified as-needed without disruption.

In our next Supply Chain Matters market education commentary addressing supply chain visibility, we will address the various considerations related to business process foundational needs.

Bob Ferrari

© 2016 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

Disclosure: LLamasoft is one of other sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog.