Why Supply Chain Visibility is Not Enough

So, You Want Supply Chain Visibility…Why?

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Be careful what you wish for…

“Supply chain visibility is part of my strategy!”

Stop.  

“Visibility” has been a big buzzword in supply chain for many years now. It’s almost become part of the typical strategy for any global company, especially those with a complex ecosystem. 

So first let’s look at the word “visibility”. Why the hype?

Well, “visibility” is a hugely positive word, like “agility,” “flexibility,” “resiliency.” Like visibility, these are all good things, so why wouldn’t you want them?

Add the words “supply chain” and you have people excited, especially those that have a limited ability to see across the supply chain.  

Whilst “supply chain visibility” is nice, it’s not very valuable.

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Why Supply Chain Visibility is Not Enough

Imagine a lighthouse with no light. Okay great I can see to the horizon, but I cannot alert ships or communicate with them if they get too close to danger. If anything, all supply chain visibility will give me is visibility to the issues I or my trading partners have.

It would be like taking my car to a mechanic, and he tells me that I have a broken exhaust.

And I say, “Oh, no. Can you fix it?” 

And he says, “No sorry, we can only tell you what’s wrong, you need to hire someone else to fix it.” 

Wouldn’t that be frustrating? It would have been better to go straight to the person who can find the issue and fix it.

And that is the point.

Visibility is not a solution, it’s a by-product, nothing more.

If you find yourself talking to a company that is presenting “supply chain visibility” as a solution, question it.  

Okay so let’s take a step back, how do we get “supply chain visibility”, and what is it a by-product of?

The answer is data. And lots of it.

Every company involved in a supply chain is generating data, in various systems, including forecasts, plans, orders, shipments, schedules, and more, while working in various systems such as demand planning, inventory management, transportation management (TMS), etc., etc.   

This data is generated and stored all over the place, each system both internally and externally, that in some way helps manage the supply chain. Each has its own view as to what is happening. Each company and in many cases each system has visibility of its own data, and nothing more.  

I want you to imagine if your laptop or mobile phone, whatever it is your reading this on, lost internet connection. As soon as it happens and it does from time to time, you stop work. You are immediately stopped in your tracks, feel a little lost, not sure what to do, “well I better stop working, not sure what else I can do”.

Have you ever seen an old TV program of someone in an office and all they have on their desk is a phone and some stationary. Today, we wonder, “how did they get anything done, what did they do all day?”

"Visibility is not a solution, it is a byproduct, and nothing more." Click To Tweet

You cannot function without the ability to communicate, share data, work with others, how do you expect your supply chain to run efficiently or effectively if it is hampered by these barriers?  

More Than Supply Chain Visibility You Need a “Mechanic”

Okay so back to the data, imagine you fused all this data together, connected it into a single data model, whereby any changes across the connected systems is represented in the single data model backwards and forwards.

You now have one single view of the connected supply chain, the by-product of which is visibility.  

“So what, Chris?” I hear you ask, “I am back to just visibility!”  

Yes, you are. However, you are now connected with your trading partners. You have created a single version of truth across your network, and you have put in the foundation to move to the next step. This next step is the real reason visibility has value.  

I will call this step “The Mechanic”, and this needs to contain a number of elements:

  1. Execution this being the ability to respond to issues within the system (or via the relevant internal or partner systems) you have in place with your connected partners. 
  2. Advanced Analytics give you the ability to see tangible data metrics that are running off real time data and provide you with a clear understanding as to what the data really means to your operation. 
  3. Prescriptive resolutions, this is a really exciting step, put simply, I want my supply chain to detect an issue in the supply chain and show me intelligent ways to resolve it before it impacts the customer.  
  4. Semi-Autonomous and Autonomous, every company faces a continuous stream of small, medium and large challenges. Here you want your “digital supply chain mechanic” to fix these issues based on rules you define. No longer will you have to prioritize which problem your planners or SC executives fix, but rather which ones are fixed by my “digital SC mechanic” and which will go to the team. Rather than only fix a small percentage of the issues, why not fix them all?  

So, in review, “visibility” is not really a solution, it’s a by-product of data consolidation, Master Data Management, and a network approach to supply chain management. And “visibility” is not half as valuable unless you intend to use it to make intelligent decisions that get executed, and for that you need a “digital supply chain mechanic”.  

The question you need to ask is, “Do I buy visibility and then pay a ‘mechanic’ to fix the issues I can now see? Or do I invest in data fusion, get visibility from this, and then collaboratively fix the issues intelligently in the same environment?


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Chris Bennett