There is more to supply chain visibility (also known as end-to-end visibility) than meets the eye. Done properly, it is the key to getting your supply chain working at full power, delivering myriad operational and strategic benefits ranging from cost savings to improved collaboration and customer satisfaction.
Often misunderstood as a term that applies only to freight tracking (that’s actually just one slice of it), supply chain visibility means understanding the real-time movement of goods around the world, being able to share this information with those who need it, and then using the data gathered to gain insight into the performance of the whole supply chain.
Basically, it’s knowing what’s happening in your supply chain now, and learning from what’s happened in the past, so you can avoid the same problems in the future.
Which sounds useful, right?
Supply chain visibility split three ways
To better understand the benefits of supply chain visibility, we can split it into three areas of focus - tracking, collaboration and analytics.
Automation is also important to mention here too, as it relates to analytics, but will come once you have optimized the three foundational layers of supply chain visibility.
But tracking shipments manually using carrier portals can be complex and time-consuming. You’ll no doubt be interacting with multiple portals, each with different logins and setups, using a plethora of tracking numbers, and working to inconsistent tracking milestones - then pasting the results back into a master spreadsheet, your ERP or an email summary.
To have true visibility, you need to have all your data in one source of truth, and it needs to be updated in real time. Which is where automated, live ETA tracking comes in.
Having all your tracking data in one place not only saves precious time, it also standardizes the data from multiple sources, allowing you to compare them easily, plan ahead, and spot small issues before they become big problems.
Once you’ve created a source of truth for tracking all of your ocean, air and road freight, you’re in a good position to improve collaboration and data-driven decision making.
The trouble is that often partners and team members are siloed, relying on information supplied to them via email that is at risk of being out of date, and vulnerable to human error - as team members are required to manually update, forward and stay on top of hundreds of communications.
To achieve true supply chain visibility, actors across your supply chain must be able to access all the information they need from one true, up-to-date, source. This alone will improve efficiency, limit the cost of delays and disruptions, and allow you to work seamlessly with your wider team and partners. Collaboration will not work with a lag.
Supply Chain Analytics
The ability to accurately analyze data from multiple sources across your supply chain - including carriers and partners - is a huge step towards gaining full supply chain visibility.
You need to understand everything about how your supply chain is functioning, to spot areas of systemic risk, accurately predict how well it will perform in the future and make decisions that improve reliability.
When it comes to data, the more the merrier. You literally can’t get enough of it. Accurate, comprehensive data has short and long term benefits.
In the long term, this free flow of data, both historic and real-time, means you can better understand the overall health and functioning of your supply chain. Equipped with historical insights, you can make informed supply chain planning decisions that improve performance and reduce costs.
This might involve shifting manufacturing to a new location to take advantage of more reliable shipping lanes, leveraging historical lead time data to inform order timelines or replacing a road haul partner that is consistently late in picking up goods from port.
So, how’s your supply chain visibility?
There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to supply chain management. But there are always ways - supported by new technologies and best practices - that we can improve performance and efficiency.
Splitting the problem of visibility (or the solution, depending on how you look at it), into three distinct areas for improvement - tracking, collaboration and analytics - can help you look at your own operations and see where you’re already winning, and where you can still improve.
You can achieve true supply chain visibility (and all the benefits it brings), you just need the right tools to help you get there.