Ingredients of a Successful Supply Chain: Transparency, Visibility, and Traceability

As the world becomes a more digitally-enabled community of people, things, and services, technology will be embedded in almost everything. People will leverage analytics engines, machine learning, internet-connected sensors, and more to fundamentally boost efficiencies everywhere.

Contrasting software tools that are meant to enhance decision-making and execution make it difficult to optimize planning, collaborate with trading partners, and deliver superior customer experiences. In the age of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, businesses are empowered to create a fully-connected network of data about the physical items around them.

Today, most supply chains involve a network of resources scattered across facilities and entities. It’s a journey to ensure a successful supply chain and control operations, not only inside of your own four walls, but across your industry as well. Having visibility into material flows and traceability of material properties ensure quality is baked into the process.

Transparency = Integrity

One of the ways supply chains can be successful is for them to be transparent. Supply chain visibility allows trading partners to see orders and material movements from source to destination, informing stakeholders on things like schedule and quality in real-time along the way. With clear visibility, trading partners can respond more quickly to unexpected situations and manage by exception.

Supply chain transparency improves accountability because each actor can upload and access information and data. When the process of sharing information is streamlined, trading partners are able to see updates in each stage in the life cycle of each product, resulting in shorter lead times, reduced redundancy, and fewer delays.

With accurate and real-time visibility, businesses can proactively manage their projects and gain confidence in schedule, costs, and assurance of outcomes. Since each transaction is recorded in sequence, trading partners have a permanent audit trail that can verify a product’s quality and trace it through its chain of custody.

Alone We Can Do So Little; Together We Can Do So Much

Product traceability is important in handling operational issues quickly and effectively. For example, the materials that people in the Construction sector make, haul, or buy are almost always on the critical path for the end customer. It’s important to be able to react quickly to bottlenecks that might throw a wrench in operations and throw jobs off schedule. That said, many of the companies in that industry are increasingly investing in software that allows them to track and trace these materials from the moment an order is made all the way until the material reaches the jobsite – even after, during the payment process. Seeing more and knowing more as materials and data flow helps to ensure jobs are completed on time and in budget.

Imagine a world where real-time order confirmations, inventories, schedules, material origins, material properties, properties in transit, proof-of-delivery, quality assurance, invoices, and payments all come together to form an end-to-end digital story. Data sharing is highly valuable when there are multiple entities on a supply chain (like in the Construction world). Many companies across many different industries are shifting from a traditional linear value chain to the more open and participative infrastructure of a supply chain platform.

A supply chain platform like this uses technology to connect trading partners more precisely, speedily, and easily than ever before. This model allows disparate systems to talk to one another. Each constituent has access to the exact same information, enabling greater traceability of products across multiple partners, locations, and facilities.

Tracking and Tracing is Easier When Working with One Version of the Truth

Because of predominantly paper-based records and manual processes, tracing products — particularly during a disruption, such as a recall — and reconciling accounts and transactions can be costly and time-consuming.

With a platform business model, key information is stored and available in real-time to the users that need it. Applications that sit on top of the platform automatically move data through to all constituents (for example, through an automatic sensor measuring properties of materials while in-transit to the end-user). When there is information readily available on each stage of the life cycle, it is easier to go back and pinpoint exact times and locations where something went wrong with the product.

Multiple entities can view the information they need in one location instead of having to pick up the phone and make several calls. Because this information is shared across stakeholders, trust develops – unlocking true collaboration across the industry.

Engagement is Key for Successful Supply Chain Traceability

Achieving end-to-end supply chain traceability is a lofty goal that isn’t achieved overnight. Success requires multiple entities, connected technologies, and an active community of people. Each stakeholder must have the desire to “See Together” – to collaborate and share data – allowing real-time visibility and traceability across transactions, materials, and quality to boost productivity and create greater trust among partners. When everyone is working together, operational transparency and efficiencies can drive results to new levels.

Dale Brownbridge is an IT professional with over 20 years of experience in the field. Dale received his Bachelor’s degree from Swimburne University of Technology and his Master’s in Business Administration from The University of Alabama at Birmingham and currently serves as the product owner for COMMANDassurance, Command Alkon’s concrete telematics solution.