This 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 consistently expressed as wider and deeper 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. The notions of increased direct involvement in B2B-to-C and direct B2C customer fulfillment adds even more impetus for broader multi-tier supply chain visibility, particularly when it concerns a view of total inventory. Likewise, with future Internet-of Things (IoT) enabled business models now attracting more attention from senior business management for growing top-line revenue growth, such models will likewise need a foundation in much broader levels of supply chain visibility.

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, supply chain intelligence as well as other more informed and more-timely decision-making needs. 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. Equally important is to build a phased approach in tackling visibility with a broader vision in mind, one that can support multiple process and decision-making support needs over time.

In our second commentary in this series, we stated that 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. Supply chain wide visibility, by our continued view, is not about a rip and replace technology strategy since that would be far too disruptive. We advocate that visibility should be viewed in the context of building-out enhanced decision-making support capabilities from more streamlined and better accessible sources of existing planning, execution, and customer fulfillment information.

In our third series commentary, we addressed the information technology considerations for supply chain wide visibility. We observed that too many supply chain focused organizations are drowning in too much data, pulling such data from multiple sources without proper context, organizational knowledge, or user-friendly data management tools. We put forth the analogy of an information utility platform where key data is automatically ‘streaming’ (vs. statically housed) from various existing supply chain focused software applications, be that planning, logistics or customer fulfillment The data utility  should make it easier to collect, validate, cleanse, normalize and model data to form information insights that support decision-making needs that can either be what-if scenario based, simulation based, or actual operationally based. Other analysts are utilizing terms related to historian, data lake or store to refer to such a capability to feed various needs in supply chain wide decision-making.

Supply Chain Wide Visibility and Knowledge Management

In this our fourth commentary, we address the concepts of knowledge management in the context of the need for greater levels of supply chain wide visibility, and in the important notions of process-people and technology dimensions.

In today’s industry supply chains, knowledge is often distributed across multi-function, multi-geography and multi-level dimensions.  That is why creating supply chain focused centers-of-excellence (COE) is so important as a means for better managing constant business changes and more timely decision-making because a COE should include a basis of virtual centralized knowledge in its core mission.

If you have followed along with our 2017 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains, you likely know that COE’s are going to be very busy and very important to analyzing, simulating or managing even more expected changes, particularly in areas of global outsourcing, near shoring or Omni-channel customer fulfillment needs.

From the people lens, we predicted a supply chain talent perfect storm occurring, further implying the need for virtual knowledge related to planning, execution and customer fulfillment process and decision-making needs. The ongoing pressures for added people and process productivity along more with data-driven decision making capabilities will add to needs for supply chain digital transformation, which has a strong dependency on talent and organizational readiness. Organizations that are driven more by digital transformation capabilities imply self-directed teams, consequent avoidance of barriers among supply chain functional and line-of-business teams with tighter decision feedback loops. Multiple user-centric spreadsheets or information work-arounds are not the answer to more timely and more informed decision-making needs. Having more automated and far more user-friendly tools for assimilating the most appropriate data and needed insights, and the ability of COE teams to test the outcomes of certain decisions via either what-if or simulation models is a better and more rewarding leverage of talent and knowledge.

Regarding technology, the challenge is to leverage the information and insights generated by existing software applications into more meaningful and detailed analytics that can predict various outcomes of decisions and help teams to determine the most risk-balanced decision. Supply Chain network design and planning technology provider LLamasoft references this need as “Planning by Design”.  Other technology providers refer to capabilities toward more adaptable supply chain systems or optimizing planning and operational performance. From our lens, the need being addressed is leveraging existing data, information, and insights into more prescriptive and predictive supply chain decision-making capabilities without the need to disrupt or replace existing core supply chain systems and by empowering existing teams with more user-centric, user-friendly decision support capabilities.

The good news here is that today’s advances in data management, business and data intelligence focused technology makes such approaches far more doable from a cost-effective deployment perspective.

Implementing broader and deeper levels of supply chain wide visibility starts with a broad vision, firm foundation, concise and unified view of data and information needs directed at building broader levels of insight. They can be enabled by supply chain centers of excellence empowered by virtual knowledge management concepts and by a focus toward more user-centric, prescriptive, and predictive decision-making capabilities anchored in the timeliest supply chain wide data and information.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

This educational series has been sponsored by LLamasoft, Inc.