Why Expand the Definition of Supply Chain Visibility?

During the pandemic, shortages of components for high-tech devices and automotive products have proliferated. Why? One reason is that it’s not easy for most manufacturers to have visibility into the process before finished goods are shipped.

For years, supply chain technology companies have touted real-time shipment visibility, or even promised complete supply chain visibility, while ignoring a crucial area of the supply chain. Current providers offer visibility that begins only when the shipment is ready for its cargo journey. That leaves a huge gap in supply chain transparency. Complete visibility across both manufacturing and logistics is important for many reasons: Customers are most often blind to the manufacturing process before the shipment gets on a truck, and this increased visibility can help prevent disruption. Instead of just responding to supply chain issues, customers actively benefit from a more resilient, agile supply chain process that allows them to predict and react to constant manufacturing and logistics changes. 

Looking Beyond Freight Visibility to Upstream Manufacturing Visibility

The concept of end-to-end supply chain visibility should not be limited to freight shipment transparency. Companies that truly need supply chain visibility solutions need to look beyond visibility to freight in motion and look for technology solutions that can provide upstream transparency to materials being manufactured. These solutions should provide a neutral, single source of truth that enables real-time tracking of orders and items throughout the entire manufacturing and shipment process, as well as truly orchestrate supply chain processes.

It is possible, today, to find solutions that offer true supply chain orchestration that emboldens companies instead of leaving them at the mercy of data. These solutions allow them to plan, using variable lead times, cost implications, sustainability implications and intelligent historical data; track, using end-to-end visibility and continuously updated ETAs to ensure orders are traveling on time; and adjust, viewing recommended alternate modes, carriers,  service levels and routes to bring shipments back on track. Adding sourcing, quality and supplier management enables supply chain technology providers to create an agile supply chain for their customers through the entire lifecycle of a product. 

Traditional shipment visibility, which is solely focused on freight transportation and logistics, does not go far back enough in the supply chain to answer questions critical to today’s logistics stakeholders. These crucial questions include: What is my order lead time? Will my supplier deliver on time given the impacts of COVID, and should I find an alternate supplier that requires different logistics? How many component parts were shipped, and will they arrive in time? What’s the impact on my finished goods if parts are delayed? 

Expanding the scope of traditional technologies allows customers to complement transportation visibility with manufacturing lead time, yields, quality, ready-to-ship, advanced shipment notice and even the manufacturing CO2 footprint. This enables complete supply chain resiliency. Users can now act earlier in the process to prevent disruption in the supply chain. Because it’s simply not enough to know that a component is not going to be available or it’s running late. It’s also about the alternatives. This is where visibility to suppliers and new sourcing options becomes critical. Companies need visibility not only to the suppliers they source from today, but also to all backup suppliers and all places they can possibly source components from in order to keep the flow of goods predictable and efficient.  

This new scope of supply chain orchestration isn’t the simple creation of technology that can be used in the future. There is current demand for this expanded view of logistics solutions. Companies want a single point of entry where they can orchestrate their logistics execution processes. A single, integrated system also allows these major manufacturers to sunset disparate systems that had been cobbled together over the years, avoiding the issue of systems not working together well and ensuring they can best derive value from the data they’ve collected.

Uniting manufacturing and logistics processes bridges the visibility gap and optimizes what has, up until now, been viewed as separate processes. End-to-end supply chain orchestration like this is what companies want, and anyone not doing this is falling behind. True supply chain orchestration only comes when a company has real-time visibility from the start of the manufacturing process to the final delivery in combination with control tower-level logistics execution.   

We all know that adopting new supply chain technologies isn’t as simple as ordering a new solution and waiting for it to arrive, just as expanding the narrative of supply chain orchestration to make visibility to manufacturing a table-stakes requirement won’t happen overnight. But to ensure the continued health of the supply chain, expanding the functionality of supply chain orchestration solutions is absolutely necessary. 

Glenn Jones is Senior Vice President of Product Management at Blume Global. He has a proven track record of growing businesses by building and leading R&D and product marketing organizations to define, develop, position and sell highly innovative and high value enterprise solutions delivered in the cloud. He was formerly the COO of Sweetbridge, the CTO of Steelwedge Software and also held leadership positions at other supply chain software companies including Elementum, E2Open and i2 Technologies.