Supply chain visibility – the holy grail for customer-focused businesses

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Over the years,logistics trends have come and gone, and logistics has transformed from being a supply chain’s motor to generating value and differentiating companies in today’s dynamic, competitive, and global marketplaces.

Having arrived in the age of digitisation, how should supply chains be set up to stay ahead, deliver as promised, and be prepared for future changes?

There are several ways in which companies can leverage digitisation developments:

  • Keep an eye on the market and meet customer demands
  • Respond to digital customer engagement and develop new products and services
  • Align production sites with customer demand and reduce inventory levels
  • Deploying local resources, such as workers and transportation, helps to reduce costs and waste.

Many B2B trends derive from B2C developments. This has a direct impact on traditional logistics and requirements for end-to-end planning. One requirement in particular represents a major success factor for staying in the game and meeting customer demand: visibility – including collaboration with supply chain partners and integration of processes and systems from supplier to end-customer.

Visibility today goes far beyond monitoring and reacting to goods movements in real-time. It’s also about much more than just data integration. Companies’ mindsets need to shift to understand the impact of comprehensive visibility on customer satisfaction, service delivery and, importantly, business development going forward.

In the digital age, visibility is the key to serving the customer – and keeping a competitive edge. Today’s demand-driven supply chains are defined by complexity and customer centricity. But how can companies achieve the holy grail of supply chain visibility? Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Everything depends on a company’s individual requirements. But many aspects can be transferred and many ideas can provide impulses.

An inspiring presentation at a key European logistics conference last year was given by a visionary supply chain executive working for a leading global manufacturer of roller bearings, with a focus on distribution logistics. His key point was that companies need to change to meet their customers’ real needs. In particular, he highlighted the ability to differentiate services (e.g. delivery windows, speed and precision), to customise (e.g. packaging, labelling, documentation), and to integrate (e.g. systems and data).

And while this may sound contradictory to some, more standardisation and automation is required to enable companies to be more flexible and agile – and to react to fast-changing market demand.

Logistics can create value through collaboration and synergies across functions, both within and across organisations. This in turn will help to reduce costs, provide a better service, and increase sales.

Businesses can’t afford to remain static or act conservatively today – they have to listen closely to their customers’ demands. In order to succeed, they need to explore and trial strategies and business models in line with market shifts.

Higher service levels, lower inventory cost, and improved distribution efficiency can only be achieved with a more connected and adaptable supply chain network. The aim is to get the right assortment of goods to the customer, with the right service level and in the most efficient way.

Visibility is the key to a customer-centric business. And the customer, after all, runs your business in today’s digital world.

Iqubal Singh Pannu

Iqubal Singh Pannu is Senior Solutions Consultant at AEB in the UK and has been with the company since 2006. With considerable consultancy and project management experience, spanning several areas of the supply chain, Iqubal is advising companies on solutions for optimising supply chain performance and generating value through automated global trade and logistics processes.

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