Supply Chain Control Towers: Visibility, Collaboration, and Optimization

One of my predictions for 2018 is that Supply Chain Visibility Will Get Clearer, More Real-time, and More Predictive with Machine Learning and Enhanced Data this year. A big part of this trend is the continued evolution of Supply Chain Control Towers.

Where is this technology today compared to the past? What factors are driving demand for it? How are companies deriving value and benefits from digital supply chain control towers?

Those were some of the questions I explored with Tom Nightingale, President and CEO at International Package Shipping, and Martin Verwijmeren, CEO at MP Objects, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.

Supply Chain Control Towers: What’s Changed Today?

“The term Supply Chain Control Tower has been around forever, but I think it’s one of the most abused terms in our industry,” said Nightingale. “It means something different to so many people.”

“The concept has always been right,” he added, “but in those early days what we saw were supply chain control towers that were just a bunch of people thrown into a room in some low-cost operating environment where they could provide some updates, make the occasional change in routing or some other slight response to something that went bump in the night.”

So, what has changed today?

“What’s really changing now is that consumer expectations have come up so high versus where they used to be — call it the “Amazon Effect” or whatever you’d like — but the consumer today, or even the average procurement person, has so much information at their fingertips and such high expectations now that those intuitive yet largely unfulfilled promises of control towers have now really become absolutely necessary,” said Nightingale. “Everybody now wants and needs and expects companies to be responsive and able to orchestrate supply chains in a way that not only gives them visibility, but gives them the ability to respond in real time [to changes and exceptions] and be able to knit together systems so that the consumer experience is seamless and flawless.”

Key Capabilities of Supply Chain Control Towers

Of course, another thing that has changed and improved significantly over the years is the technology behind Supply Chain Control Towers.

What are some of the key capabilities companies should look for in a Digital Supply Chain Control Tower?

“A Supply Chain Control Tower platform, first of all, needs to enable end-to-end visibility over all of your operations, all of your logistics service providers, suppliers, customers, and so on,” said Verwijmeren. “Visibility at that level is focused on getting the data together and on creating transparency — but that’s not enough.”

Verwijmeren highlighted two other high-level capabilities that define a modern Digital Supply Chain Control Tower platform:

Collaboration: “A control tower platform has to enable collaboration across all parties, both across internal functional groups and across external trading partners, with everyone working off the same information.”

Optimization: “It also has to support optimization, which facilitates decision making. The supply chain challenges are so complex today, it’s beyond human comprehension. You need to have algorithms and decision rules to help you automate or at least support your decision-making processes.”

“If you add end-to-end visibility, collaboration, and optimization, in our view, you have a true supply chain control tower platform that enables supply chain orchestration,” added Verwijmeren. “It’s having planning and execution integrated into one system, working hand-in-hand together in a continuous manner — that’s the ultimate level of a control tower platform to deliver that ultimate customer experience.”

I encourage you to watch the rest of my conversation with Tom and Martin for additional insights and advice on this topic, including how digital supply chain control towers are impacting and transforming the logistics service provider industry and how digital supply chain control towers are delivering business value to the companies using them today. Then post a question or comment and keep the conversation going!