Can You Have Too Much Supply Chain Visibility?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Too much of a good thing,” which the Grammarist defines as “an excessive amount that becomes overwhelming or harmful, rather than helpful or pleasurable.”

The phrase popped into my head the other night as I helped myself to another serving of ice cream. In case you’re wondering, you can’t have too much ice cream, especially if it’s soft serve. 

But what about supply chain visibility? Can you have too much of it?

For the record, this question is purely academic. Most companies don’t have enough supply chain visibility, which is why they experienced so many challenges during the Covid pandemic — and why there are countless blog posts, white papers, webcasts, and conference presentations touting its value and benefits. We’ve certainly published our fair share of blog posts and videos about supply chain visibility.

But is it possible to reach a point of diminishing returns, where too much supply chain visibility stops being helpful?

I believe so.

As Scott Thomson writes in a July 2023 Built In article titled, “The Danger of Too Much Data”:

In any data set, there is a signal (important information that you must heed) and noise (meaningless, distracting information). As a rule, more data means more noise, not more signal. If there is too much of the stuff, the quality and utility of it can become questionable.   

Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice, adds to this perspective in a March 2018 Forbes article titled, “Why Too Much Data Is A Problem And How To Prevent It”:

Part of the problem is that historically, companies had limited data, so they would look at their information and start mining it. This created a bad practice, as the amount of data proliferated at a rapid scale. Now, [companies are] sitting on top of a mound of data and trying to sift through it to mine for “ahas”, which becomes untenable. The better approach is to start with the business objectives and the key questions you want to answer — and then go seek out the right data. Unfortunately, the process at many companies is the reverse of what it should be.

And I share similar thoughts in a July 2021 blog post titled, “Data: Don’t Drown In It, Deliver With It!”:

More data is not necessarily better or desirable. The goal, of course, is not about how much data we can collect, but about what we can do with it. What insights can we extract from data that will inform our actions — to improve our operations, fix a problem, innovate a new product or service. In other words, the goal is to convert data into actionable insights that deliver business benefits.

How do you know if you have too much supply chain visibility? 

When you find yourself drowning in data — that is, when you have so much data in front of you, you have a hard time making sense of it all, which often leads to “analysis paralysis” or you end up spending time, energy, and resources focusing on the wrong things.

The key word here is focus. When you have too much supply chain visibility, you run the risk of trying to focus on everything, but not everything is important or actionable. Focusing on the unimportant could distract you from seeing the truly important trends that are worth taking action on.

But like I said at the beginning, this is not a problem most companies have to worry about yet because they have the opposite problem — they don’t have enough supply chain visibility.

Just some food for thought as I serve myself another scoop of ice cream.

What do you think? Can you have too much supply chain visibility? Post a comment and share your perspective.