Visibility and business intelligence: the key to competitive supply chains in the digital age

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While all parties in the supply chain agree that supply chain visibility is tremendously important, many businesses only have a very limited level of transparency currently established.

And if you asked for the definition of supply chain visibility, you very likely would get quite a whole range of answers and views in response.

For some people, it means track and trace, i.e. knowing the status of their deliveries. For others, it means inventory visibility, i.e. status of goods in stock and in transit. And for others again it means supply chain partner integration, i.e. extending visibility beyond the borders of their own organisation. To name just a few.

Of course, supply chain visibility means all of the above. And more. But it is up to each company to define its own key performance indicators (KPI) and identify which information is most relevant to their individual processes, business operation, and customer base.

Modern visibility tools must be capable of capturing and integrating any data along the supply chain. And given today’s dynamic markets, a visibility system must also be flexible enough to handle and integrate data from different sources and in various formats.

Apart from collecting data and sending alerts, a visibility system also needs to link the different views on any given item: some will look for an order, others for a shipment or invoice number. All these references must come together to provide one consolidated set of information on any item and its status – at any time.

But there is more to it: Visibility tools also need to deliver authoritative reports. It’s not enough to just collect the data and send some alerts. In the logistics world, speed is key – both for information logistics and for physical processes.

Many urgent operational decisions are still based on historical data. Current information is often readily available in operational systems – but without a visibility solution, it is neither consolidated nor arranged in the right way to enable operational or strategic decisions.

Good business intelligence (BI) tools as part of visibility solutions deliver important reports in a standardised format for all relevant business units. They organise and display data in intelligent, easy to understand visualisation.

This creates prompt transparency and answers many questions, such as:

  • Is the capacity at my loading docks sufficiently utilised?
  • Is the warehouse staffing sufficient or are shifts required?
  • How many urgent shipments currently wait for processing?
  • Are the transport volumes properly distributed among the various shipping points?
  • What are the shipment volumes for each business area or branch office?
  • What are the internal lead times to ready a shipment for dispatch?
  • What’s the performance of my carriers for transport times, erroneous deliveries, and delays?

BI reports enable their users to take action. Like allocating warehouse staff levels according to daily delivery volumes, shifting goods from distribution centres to enable shorter, last-mile deliveries, or negotiating new rates with service providers. And importantly, visibility tools and BI reports also enable businesses to monitor their own, internal processes, such as the different steps in their production process or the processing times of their shipping, customs, or warehouse teams.

In our digital age and with continuously increasing customer expectations, the pressure on supply chain management is high. According to a 2017 trend analysis by Capgemini Consulting, “supply chain management needs to stay innovative, flexible, proactive, and transparent to be able to keep up with the technological progress.” The report also emphasises that the willingness to adopt new trends and the required technological capabilities forms a basic requirement for competitive supply chains. Needless to say, increased visibility is an integral part of this.

Darren Travers

Darren Travers is a Strategic Accounts Director at AEB, responsible for key accounts in the domestic and international markets.

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