Is True Supply Chain Visibility Possible?


At its core, the supply chain is an enormous process that starts with raw materials and ideally ends with a satisfied customer receiving a good. Yet, the vast majority of supply chain stakeholders struggle to see that whole process with enough clarity to optimize it. Only 6 percent of firms have achieved full supply chain visibility, according to a survey by GEODIS.  

There are simply too many sub-processes – and micro-processes within those sub-processes – to clearly map the the biggest workflow of all from end to the other. Those individual processes while interdependent, are often isolated from one another by data silos, manual workflows, piecemeal integrations, and other barriers that occlude true visibility.

And without visibility, there can be no control.

Visibility is a mindset

To achieve true supply chain and logistics visibility, global trade partners first need to foster greater cooperation and collaboration. According to Dawson Consulting, this requires more open lines of communication between supply chain partners (3PLs, intermodal shippers, retailers, manufacturers, raw materials suppliers, etc.).

This is easier said than done, considering:

  1. The enormity of trade partner networks.

  2. The vast quantity of IT systems used among this network and the varying levels of digital maturity from stakeholder to stakeholder.

  3. The fact that supply chain visibility is a collective accomplishment, meaning no single stakeholder is the steward.

With these considerations in mind, supply chain visibility cannot be implemented or prescribed. Rather, it’s a practice that needs to be worked up to.

More concretely, this means that individual supply chain stakeholders need to start by identifying a specific problem they want to solve, or opportunity that they want to make a reality. They then need to identify the processes, IT systems, trade partners, and predictive analytics tools that will need to cooperate in order to fix that problem or realize that untapped potential.

We’ll start with a simple example: Delayed or unpredictable shipments of raw materials continue to be a significant source of missed opportunity for a retailer because they’re causing production backlogs of a hot-selling item. The problem is already broadly mapped to an upstream process, specifically cargo shipping. To solve it, that retailer will need to coordinate with the manufacturer of that product, as well as the raw material suppliers.

Only once those discussions have begun does the second part of supply chain visibility come into the picture: clean data.

Clean data yields clear processes

The retailer in this hypothetical scenario will need to create a new process for understanding the real-time status of raw materials shipments to the manufacturer. This visibility can only be achieved if the retailer has a supply chain platform that integrates with the other stakeholders’ IT systems. After all, the most effective way to facilitate the up-to-date flow of information is to digitize that pipeline.

Once the integrations and data-mapping infrastructure are in place, the retailer will also need to refine that data since it will be flowing in from multiple systems and in a variety of formats. It will be deduplicated and validated, but also standardized and enriched for context.

Finally, that data undergoes continuous analysis so that the retailer can understand: 

  • What happened (were shipments on time or were they behind schedule?)
  • Why it happened (where were the bottlenecks?)

This data-enabled visibility architecture provides clarity into an existing process, which means actions can then be taken to optimize that process’s effectiveness. Gaps in existing data sources will become more apparent, as will workflow kinks. Respectively, closing those gaps and ironing out those kinks will yield better supply chain intelligence. Over time, the retailer can even move toward a predictive workflow, whereby historical and current data can anticipate future delays or hold-ups based on previous trends.

At ClearMetal, we know that this approach to true logistics visibility works, because we’re already implementing it for our clients. Supply chain visibility starts with a clear vision for what processes need to become more transparent, and is then enabled through access to high-quality data. Finally, it’s executed with supply chain management applications that can use your clean data to generate true insights.

So, yes, true supply chain visibility is indeed possible.

Nandini Nallasivan