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Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility: Challenges, Opportunities and Benefits Modern-day supply chains are complex and expansive, thanks to diverse supplier networks, customers peppered across the globe, varying compliance requirements, and logistical challenges

By John Stanly

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Jason Goh from Pixabay

According to a survey conducted in 2020 when the current crisis was at its peak, 75 per cent of organizations reported disruption in their supply chains. Around 44 per cent of them lacked a clear strategy to deal with it.

Modern-day supply chains are complex and expansive, thanks to diverse supplier networks, customers peppered across the globe, varying compliance requirements, and logistical challenges. Running operations smoothly and averting risks was hard already.

Knowing what's happening in your supply chain is vital, especially during and after market disruptions like these. 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.

According to a Gartner report, over 50 per cent of businesses have not yet actively started building a roadmap for supply chain digital transformation. Having a 360-degree view of the entire supply chain network is of paramount importance. The lack thereof can result in supply chains being disorganized, expensive and inefficient.

For example, consider tracking materials, components, assemblies, and end products from the supplier to the manufacturer and to the customer. The entire process typically involves multiple parties, technologies, logistical service providers and extensive paperwork.

Even if one cog in the wheel doesn't work—say, an unforeseen delay in delivering a component to the production facility (and no one in the chain has real-time visibility)—it causes a domino effect and results in snags or delays in subsequent operations.

Key challenges in supply chain visibility

Businesses have struggled due to a lack of comprehensive visibility in their supply chain networks. Common challenges arising as a result include lack of supply chain planning, integration, and execution; inefficiency in organizing, processing, and managing data; limited availability of useful insights due to technological constraints; lack of synergy between automated systems and manual operations; inability to predict and prepare for risks; inconsistencies in the flow of data between stakeholders; and lack of a single data model to connect vital information from disparate planning and execution systems.

How does real-time supply chain visibility benefit stakeholders?

The year 2020 revealed the vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Transparency and visibility in all aspects of the supply chain are key to preparedness and responsiveness during crises.

Related: Impact Of COVID-19 On Global Supply Chains and Opportunities in the Post-COVID World

For manufacturers, supply chain visibility can help in planning production operations and ramping up capabilities. Real-time visibility can give manufacturing companies excellent insights about production volumes, manufacturing inefficiencies, and raw material sourcing or procurement.

For suppliers, key information and real-time updates about order backlogs can help them strategize or tweak their inventory management processes.

For logistics vendors, visibility means real-time information about cargo batches, consignments, and delivery status. This can let them manage day-to-day operations and track the movement of goods more efficiently.

For the end consumer, it keeps them in the loop about the entire cycle, helping them stay updated about the dispatch and delivery status. Real-time visibility keeps them in the know and enhances customer experience.

From source to destination, having complete visibility of your supply chain is critical in order to ensure that the system works like clockwork. Real-time supply chain visibility can deliver benefits in areas ranging from production planning to order tracking and data integration.

Why real-time supply chain visibility has become indispensable

Here are a few reasons why supply chain visibility has become necessary for today's businesses.

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.

Informed decisions: Supply chain visibility can help business owners make decisions that are backed by data and insights, thus ensuring smart planning, agile operations, and future-proof strategies.

Improved savings: The availability of real-time data and insights at different stages can help save costs and increase revenues or profits. EY consultants have seen 20-25 per cent reductions in inventory costs, thanks to improved visibility through the supply chain.

5 surefire ways to increase real-time supply chain visibility

Better visibility means assimilating all the data, processing it quickly, and delivering relevant information, in real time. Doing so allows stakeholders make smarter decisions and exercise more control over their respective processes in the supply chain.

Create a unified data model: The foundational element in increasing real-time visibility is a consistent, unified data model to extract, cleanse and load both internal and external data from across your supply chain. The data model enables automation, predictive analytics and new business models, and is the base for building the control tower over your supply network.

Establish a single AI-enabled supply chain control tower: If getting an end-to-end view of the supply chain is the challenge, consider an immersive supply chain management software. Complex demand-and-supply networks and volatile market dynamics beg for real-time visibility and unification.

Your best bet is implementing a single platform that consolidates and converts data into actionable insights. Leveraging AI-powered technology can help predict future outcomes and suggest appropriate plans of action, augmenting the planning, collaboration, and execution aspects of your supply chain.

Focus on customer experience: Customers today expect more from businesses on all fronts. Ironing out aspects such as payment, tracking, delivery and fulfillment can help you deliver a remarkable customer experience, thus improving customer loyalty, and gaining a competitive edge in the market.

This is only possible when you have a high degree of supply chain visibility.

Encourage your employees to adapt to new systems: It is also essential that you train business associates and employees to embrace new SCV technology, data visualization tools, and analytical dashboards and stay updated on the latest trends in this space.

Teams that are willing to adopt innovative solutions, use cloud-based systems, and establish strong workflow processes are more likely to stay on top of their supply chain visibility game.

Related: Industry 4.0: The Evolution of the Digital Supply Chain

Invest in automation, predictive analytics and virtual technologies: 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.

Identify your major supply chain needs and implement the right mix of technologies to drive maximum benefits within your budget. Transform unstructured data into intelligent insights and automate the supply chain to help create tangible value. Aim for reduced manual effort, shorter turnarounds, improved decision-making, and better revenues.

To sum up, real-time supply chain visibility is absolutely priceless because it helps you not only stay on top of things today, but be ready for the future with a preemptive outlook. Trends such as automation, data-backed planning and forecasting, and real-time crisis management will prove to be key disruptors in the supply chain space.

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.

Related: Top Trends That Will Reshape Supply Chain and Logistics in 2020
John Stanly

Start-up mentor

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