Mention ‘supply chain Control Tower’ to anyone in the industry and they’ll nod in recognition. Ask anyone to define it and you’re likely to get a slightly different answer from nearly every person you ask. Why is that?
Software providers often latch the term onto different capabilities, depending on what sector or area of the supply chain they’re intending to address. Moreover, most control towers simply provide visibility and leave much to be desired about control, or actionability. They show users what’s going on (often in a limited scope of the supply chain) and if any corrective actions need to be taken, users tend to have to log in elsewhere to execute them. This also means that your corrective actions are only as good, timely, informed, and comprehensive as the system through which you’re mediating.
With all the technology being promoted, it’s incredibly challenging for companies to effectively weed through the noise and find a robust solution that will actually help with its full range of needs. Here’s a quick and practical guide to simplify the process.
Visibility vs. Control
Much like its namesake, the air traffic control tower, the supply chain Control Tower provides a central hub for leveraging data toward improved visibility. But if that’s the case, what makes it different from just ‘visibility' – which is often promoted as its own solution?
Many analytic solutions are touted as control towers. These systems usually focus on consolidating and displaying data. While such a capability is essential for getting an overview of the supply chain by the line of business, product category, or some such metric, if a system doesn’t allow users to execute any decisions from within the Control Tower, then you’re not gaining any “control” by implementing it.
A true control tower should allow users to take action within the system. In addition to integrating data from various systems and centrally displaying this information, you want to be able to address any issues or exceptions that arise in real-time – and ideally without having to log out of the app.
One-to-Many vs. Many-to-Many
Fulfilling orders takes a village. Ensure your ‘village’ is connected via a many-to-many or multi-party network. Visibility only takes you so far; if you want to act fast and get results, you need to effectively collaborate with partners to optimize order flows. Control towers that span networks are also easier to implement and maintain, since you’re not duplicating the effort.
Perhaps the most fundamental value of a supply chain Control Tower is its ability to connect disparate systems and bring about a single version of the truth. However, being able to connect these systems quickly and having the flexibility to integrate new systems efficiently as your business evolves is key. Ensure the platform you use is architected from the ground up with the purpose of helping you and your network scale.
Of the network-centric solutions you consider, take a critical look at how fast and easy it is to add new partners and set them up with real-time visibility and control. Check that your provider offers multi-party support for different customers and business units.
Limited vs. End-to-End
Not all control towers span the full end-to-end supply chain. In fact, very many are offered as part of a TMS solution, focusing on inbound and outbound transportation. Though they may offer valuable insight into details like freight spend and track and trace functionality for on-time delivery, the limited option creates silos between supply chain processes.
Milestones beyond transportation, such as those surrounding manufacturing, distribution centers, 3rd party warehouses, and repair, offer deeper context for better, more informed decision-making. To get more value out of your investment, opt for the end-to-end supply chain Control Towers that support granular visibility into all order flows, including after-market. Regardless of what processes you’re currently involved with, additional flows can be phased in at your convenience, as long as the platform you choose can support this approach. Ultimately, the more opportunities there are for dynamic inventory sourcing across your network, as well as order splitting and consolidation, the greater your ability to optimize each and every order.
If your business spans borders, also check whether the solution you’re considering is multi-mode and multi-leg and therefore works well for international shipments and workflows.
MPO believes that the most valuable insights are those that paint the fullest picture. That’s why we created a word-class, end-to-end supply chain Control Tower that is multi-mode, multi-leg, and global. However, just as important is what you do with those insights. The MPO platform offers a unique opportunity for real-time, granular visibility across all flows and actionability directly within the app, so businesses can optimize and perfect every order as quickly as possible and with minimal risk of error. As a multi-enterprise network solution with multi-party support, it’s also fast and easy to set up new partners with these capabilities.