Too often in supply chain we are focused on the immediate; on the execution of our orders today without as much thought on how our process and strategy should and will evolve in order to serve our operational needs as we expand our product lines, our markets and our geographic customer footprint.
However, the fact is that supply chain complexity is increasing with each passing day as we add suppliers and partners, source inventory from multiple parties, expand our product offerings and enter new markets and locations. Add in the digital impact of e-commerce and rising customer expectations in terms of transparency and delivery and we need to be thinking about our future operations and how we build systems and processes that help us address and optimize immediate needs and concerns quickly and cost effectively.
Today, I want to talk about the source of truth for our supply chain visibility and control. And how we often mistake system coverage with end-to-end visibility.
Multiple Systems, Multiple Answers
As supply chains become larger and more complex, the limitations we see in end-to-end supply chain visibility becomes more apparent. Typically most organizations, already have a technology foundation in place for their main supply chain functions. ERP and MRP for Order entry and manufacturing, WMS for picking and packing in their warehouses and a TMS to manage transportation. All of these systems help to provide optimization for their given four walls of focus and in turn provide realized value in improving overall efficiency. However, as we begin to try and put the pieces together to evaluate and optimize what is happening in our supply chain holistically we run into problems.
I spoke to a clothing retail supply chain executive the other day and he mentioned that while they have visibility through their different systems, what they really needed was a single source of truth on what is happening with a customer order. After asking for further detail here, he talked about his current team and systems and that when he would ask "when will x customer order get to the customer?", that he would get several different answers based on the systems or area of focus since the systems are all working on different sets of information.
This leaves them working off of hypothetical guesses in most cases to help them drive their on-time in-full (OTIF) orders. And what happens in the cases where something doesn't go as planned and there are exceptions? That means a lot of effort and time from multiple parties with in their team to figure out what happened and to remedy it, if they catch it in time.
This scenario is way too common for organizations. They already have invested in foundational systems and "don't need more systems." What they need, however, is a way to orchestrate across their existing systems and provide a single source of truth or end-to-end visibility. Solutions such as supply chain control towers help serve this function to ensure customer orders are flowing correctly and on-time through the supply chain.
What is your single Source of Truth for the customer order?
Think about your systems and how you manage your orders throughout your end-to-end supply chain. Ask yourself the following questions about your technology stack:
- What are the gaps in visibility that I have today? What questions can I not answer in real-time?
- Do I have full visibility into my existing inventory internally and with partners? Can I dynamically source this inventory for any given order?
- Can I accurately with confidence(!) predict when an order will get to a customer from when they click purchase online or submit a purchase order?
- When something goes wrong, how do I find out about it? Is it in real-time?
- Can my team take action on it no matter where in the supply chain process (i.e. manufacturing, warehouse, transportation, etc.)?
- How much time does it take to deal with an exception; can this be automated?
- What percentage of my exceptions are rectified to become an on-time in-full order?
Visibility and control isn't a "yes" or "no" checkbox on your strategy but a highly complex and strategic piece to supply chain success. When expanding your visibility you need to focus not only on getting deeper and more granular in the data you capture across the entire end-to-end supply chain (not just transportation) but also focus on the operational technology you use as the go-to source of truth where you'll control and orchestrate all of your customer orders. Without that, you'll struggle to optimize and drive efficiency in your supply chain flows and within your teams.