How High Is Your Control Tower?

The recent disruptions worldwide have exposed how important end-to-end visibility and control are to building the resiliency required to survive and thrive in changing conditions. Being equipped when disruptions occur means knowing what’s going on at every tier in your supply chain, understanding cross-functional impacts, quickly executing decisions and continuously monitoring and optimizing the results — all in real-time.

The agility level required to capture growth opportunities — plus the resiliency to manage today’s risks — demands a new way of thinking: Companies need to break down the functional silos and control tower overlays and bring in a holistic, platform-wide control tower. This re-designed control tower concept unifies and harmonizes all the data you need to see what’s happening. When combined with all the functional applications, artificial intelligence and analytics become necessary to understand what disruptions mean to the business, recommend the best course of action and put decisions into effect for next time.

Can I see what’s happening?

Visibility across all partners in the network and ecosystems is essential for profitable demand fulfillment in today’s highly volatile, complex and outsourced marketplace. With retail partners, suppliers, contract manufacturing service providers, carriers, third-party logistics providers (3PLs) and customers spanning the globe, the lack of timely and accurate information can cause several difficulties. These range from high levels of supply chain risk and strained supplier relations to poor planning, excess and obsolete inventory and missed revenue opportunities. Therefore, it’s critical to enable near real-time visibility and collaboration across major operations and transactions, including forecasts, orders, shipments, receipts, inventory information, and stock-in-channel and point-of-sale (POS) data. Without this visibility, it is almost impossible to make intelligent, timely decisions to correct supply chain disruptions or meet volatile customer demand.

Furthermore, obstacles to collaboration hinder the establishment of truly strategic partnerships, which require working across both financial and operational boundaries. All too often, brand owners decide to advance their own financial advantage at their partners’ expense. To develop trusting, symbiotic relationships, it is imperative to enable near real-time information exchange and collaboration across all tiers and share value among all parties involved in the extended supply network.

In addition to real-time communication, another critical enabler of multi-tier supplier collaboration is reliable business-to-business (B2B) connectivity and seamless supply chain process management, both of which help create a solid foundation for sophisticated data sharing. This foundation makes event recognition possible during supply chain disruptions and facilitates more effective risk mitigation. Supply chain data is also utilized to feed artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to provide actionable and unique insights for improved decision-making, often leading to greater operational efficiencies and higher revenue gains.

Keystones of the Re-Defined Control Tower

A supply chain’s control tower capabilities can provide the extended supply chain with a more flexible and agile control structure, one that offers a centralized view of planning and execution systems with a consolidated platform for enabling rapid recognition and faster responses to change. However, there are many definitions of a control tower out there right now; some encompass overlays and some only serve one part of the equation (e.g., planning). The re-imagined control tower necessary for today’s complex environment focuses on capabilities that span any use case – from upstream planning to downstream execution. Companies should look to a vendor that can provide four crucial building blocks:

  1. A network is at the core
  2. The ability to pull data from any ecosystem
  3. End-to-end applications inherent with embedded AI and collaboration
  4. Connections and communication with external partners across multiple tiers and ecosystems

How do you get your data? It’s necessary to understand what is happening across every tier of your supply chain, both internal and external, which requires a multi-enterprise network and decision-grade data to be used across all applications for complete visibility and control.

How do you make sense of the data? This requires obtaining data from all relevant sources and a full suite of planning and execution applications to power cross-functional business decisions all on one operating platform.

And how important is proven AI? Field-proven AI is a core requirement for enabling complex, cross-functional business decisions and managing masses of data from ecosystem partners with speed, accuracy and precision.

How do you collaborate across your supply chain? What’s critical in control tower use cases is connecting and communicating with not only internal constituents within the four walls of your business but also with external partners across multiple tiers and ecosystems in identifying impacts and providing optimal resolution.

Buyer beware – not all control towers are the same

It is important to understand that control towers are not a single application but rather a solution that combines multiple functional capabilities to address a business use case such as logistics visibility, inventory management or production milestones. Enterprises gain visibility but can also use control tower capabilities to evaluate business impacts and further orchestrate remedial activities within or outside the organization. Advanced capabilities include predictive or prescriptive analytics and can automate the optimal response in some use cases.

Control tower functionality streamlines the assessment of future demand and the inventory levels required based on the latest macro and micro customer demands, planned production, in-transit and hub inventory, and real-time customer consumption. However, information without action has little value, so beyond its critical role as an aggregator of supply chain execution data, the control tower should also drive frontline decision-making in response to exceptions.

Companies still using antiquated control tower technology will find it increasingly challenging to weather the disruptions yet to come. The conversation doesn’t end here. In our on-demand recording of our live webinar, Control Tower Capabilities: How to Separate the Truth from the Hype, industry expert Adrian Gonzalez joined us for a lively discussion on how to ensure your control tower is enabling closed-loop execution so decisions are immediately put into action.

Gary M. Barraco and Lori Harner, Senior Directors of Product Marketing, E2open.