The right answer to this challenge is to have great visibility into all of your supply chain nodes. Information provides the answer! For this reason, numerous companies are structuring Supply Chain Control Towers.
There are lots of great and accurate definitions of visibility. IBM has chimed in with “What is Supply Chain Visibility and Why Should We Care”. Let's see how they define it:
“Visibility means more than just awareness of where materials are at a given point in time or the amount of goods in a warehouse. Instead, visibility means a window into a wider range of data, supply chain processes, events, and patterns that enable automation, dynamic responses, and predictability. Great visibility into a complex, 21st century supply chain not only answers the basic questions of what is the current state, but it also helps answer questions like: how are we in this state; why are we in this state; and what will the state look like in the future?”
Let's do a “roadblock check” and find why we don't always have the visibility we think we have:
- Sole source data. You cannot depend on one source of data if more than your company and the source of your data is involved.Something as simple as moving a shipment of Widgets from point A to point B. You need somebody at the shipping point, somebody at the receiving point and the logistics provider ALL to confirm their contribution to the shipment. Sort of like a little conversation in EDI: “I shipped it”; “I picked it up & dropped it off; I received it.
- Requesting another organization to share and collaborate has pitfalls: With the government and military, the hangup is SECURITY. With auto makers, baked beans suppliers and Widget suppliers, it is all about product confidentiality. (After all, everybody knows what a Widget is, but nobody knows what a Widget is).
- Lack of the right tools makes it difficult. Good example from the blog we quoted above: an aircraft landing component may consistently fail at a certain temperature. Using real time data, an organization could monitor when a temperature threshold has been exceeded, and send out notifications to relevant partners within the supply chain. Hey! Now we are talking about IoT (Internet of Things)! Now, that is what I mean about having the “right tools”.
There are many new visibility approaches coming along too such as lean thinking.