The fog of war— uncertainty in situational awareness experienced during military operations—is an apt analogy for what happened to the supply chain during COVID-19. Across nearly all industries, supply chain experts cast about for real time visibility to help them move goods and services to the right place at the right time.
Supply chain operations experts tried to adjust to a rapidly shifting operational field and create solutions. They turned to the tools they already had to see through the murk.
“In an attempt to keep pace, supply chain leaders either looked to IT to help customize their existing core systems, bought expensive point software solutions, or scrambled to manage workflows in DIY tools like spreadsheets and e-mail,” said Kayla Mackay, Solutions Marketing Manager at Quickbase, on the Age of Agility podcast. “Despite all these efforts, supply chain experts are still constrained by unresponsive, inflexible systems and a lack of visibility into supplier data.”
As the global pandemic atmosphere clears, many companies acknowledge that having visibility throughout the entire supply chain is an urgent requirement.
Like the military, which tries to reduce the fog of war through real-time insights on intelligence and tracking systems, so, too, must the forward-thinkers in the logistics business. This post will show you what good supply chain visibility means, why high supply chain visibility is important to a business, and why companies need unified technology tools to achieve lasting business success.
What Is Supply Chain Visibility?
Supply chain visibility (SCV) is the ability to view the entire supply chain processes in real-time and to be able to track individual components, sub-assemblies, and finished products as they travel from supplier to manufacturer to consumer. Supply chain visibility experts typically use software that features advanced mathematical algorithms to achieve a clear view of inventory and activity and to improve the overall efficiency of the supply chain and reduce costs.
An important part of full supply chain visibility is making sure the business data that is being tracked is available to all stakeholders in the chain, including the customer.
Why Is Supply Chain Visibility Important?
To understand the importance of supply chain visibility, just consider COVID-19’s impact on the supply chain. It has caused enormous pressure that impacts both small and large companies. Currently, store shelves stay stubbornly empty in the run-up to the holidays, customers endure prolonged waits for orders, and the cost of just about everything from a bag of Doritos to gasoline to new homes is rising.
Some things are just unavailable due to high demand and erratic replacement supply, such as fitness equipment and sofas. U.S. consumer prices rose 5.4% in the 12 months through September changing buying habits, which further disrupts the chain.
Most companies are forced to react to this disruptive environment without key information. McKinsey & Co. says that 93 percent of procurement and supply leaders are examining their supply chains and looking for ways to increase the resilience of those critical networks. As they build their supply chain visibility attributes for the long-term, they face the following six challenges:
- Adjusting quickly to unanticipated change – According to Quickbase’s recent Supply Chain Resiliency Survey, companies are reacting to unexpected changes or disruption in the supply chain on a weekly (43%) and daily (36%) basis. Lacking an efficient, flexible approach for managing these constant changes, sourcing and procurement professionals are looking for help reacting faster to unanticipated disruptions and changes.
- Suppliers delivering a product or material on time – Bottlenecks cause major manufacturing slowdowns and shutdowns. For example, the global microchip shortage, made worse by the Texas winter storms that impacted U.S. production, slowed the production of cars and electronics. Without complete visibility into supplier inventory levels, procurement teams can’t plan for these disruptions or flex to solve them.
- Suppliers delivering low-quality materials or goods – With manufacturing plants working with skeleton crews, unanticipated demand, and sometimes breakneck speed, mistakes happen, which impacts the quality of final products. This affects the financial bottom lines of all players throughout the chain.
- Inability to take fast, corrective action – Consider, for example, the issue of low-quality raw materials. In the retail industry, products made from inferior materials will be returned by consumers. “Tracking the quality of the procured materials and/or goods is critical,” says Mackay. “It not only helps quickly identify potential defects but also allows retailers to take corrective action.”
- Outside forces that threaten the supply chain – There is no end to the list of surprise disruptions that are outside the control of supply chain experts. From import tariffs to worker strikes to container shortages, upheaval causes headaches in the chain. “It’s all about gaining visibility into all the costs associated with an order,” Mackay explains. “And being able to pivot quickly to lower costs and reduce risk.”
- Siloed systems that don’t share data with one another – Poor understanding of ERP data or workflows managed outside of core systems is a key concern for anyone who seeks visibility. Because legacy systems can’t be easily integrated with other applications, sourcing experts perform manual updates. Not only is this inefficient, error-prone, and time-consuming, but it also obscures data, thus reducing supply chain visibility.
How Do You Achieve Supply Chain Visibility?
Supply chain managers must make sure the right goods and materials are in the right place at the right time, budgeted for appropriately, and replenished as needed. To do this, they need access to a real time picture to manage every aspect of the chain.
“One of the biggest challenges to maintaining and improving supply chain visibility is disparate siloed technology systems,” Mackay explains. “When your data is stuck in core enterprise resource planning (ERP) or legacy software systems, effectively managing supplier relationships is a major challenge.”
Quickbase can help a supply chain manager increase supply chain visibility into supplier information and performance with its no-code solution. As one of the most accurate supply chain visibility tools available, it offers the best way to manage an organization’s supply chain, including:
Using Quickbase, business users can perfect supply chain planning in their own operations with dashboards that offer transparency into supplier performance, capacity, compliance, contact information, risk management, and more. This helps sourcing teams reduce risk by gaining quick insights into supplier activities and helps companies identify which suppliers they can switch to during disruption.
Easy Access to Supplier Data
Quickbase helps minimize supplier risk by tracking multi-tiered supplier information, costs, and disruptions. It offers teams greater visibility into the data and the materials of supply chain partners that are being sourced to increase flexibility, reduce risk, and help organizations react quickly and accurately.
A Single Source of Truth
The software provides a single source of trusted information by eliminating disparate systems, silos, and legacy systems in favor of real-time data. It allows users to aggregate the data into a single, highly customizable application that teams can use to assess supplier performance, make informed decisions, collaborate more effectively, and streamline communication with vendors.
The no-code aspect of Quickbase allows companies to build out workflows as they need them and then rapidly adjust as change or disruption occurs. For example, businesses in an industry that has ever-evolving compliance data can implement new requirements quickly.
Short Implementation Times to Serve Customer Needs
Quickbase offers implementation times that are as short as a few days. During COVID-19, a medical device maker struggled to gain visibility over all of its supplier information.
“It didn’t really ‘know what it didn’t know’ because the company was tracking everything in spreadsheets,” Mackay says. “When COVID hit, the manufacturer really wasn’t sure which suppliers would or wouldn’t be able to deliver.”
The company leveraged Quickbase to build a customized application for full visibility into the information of members of its supply chains, contract data, and contact information. With that type of visibility, leadership was able to quickly reach out to its suppliers to track current updates and avoid late deliveries.
The company also used Quickbase to understand its spending trends and to compare the performance of suppliers to extract maximum value from the relationship.
Organizations must have crystal clear visibility up and down the supply network to maintain control. They must track the same information at all times. This clarity is important in typical times as well as during times of extreme disruption to ensure that the organization is able to function efficiently and be profitable while providing excellent customer satisfaction.
The only sure way to get this type of visibility and control is by investing in supply chain visibility technology.
“Not being able to deliver to your customers translates into lost revenues, but even a few inefficient processes within the supply chain can add up to significant costs,” says Mackay. “Organizations that focus now on adapting technology information and workflows—versus just piling on more individual solutions and manual processes—will gain the operational agility they need to react faster and adapt more quickly to the ever-changing needs of customers.”
The digital transformation of the logistics industry (such as machine learning and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology) makes things easier, but Quickbase is the technology solution that supply chain management must have in place to improve visibility and have a well-oiled supply chain up until final delivery. With such a system in place, companies can focus on growth and new markets.
Why is visibility important in the supply chain?
Visibility gives an organization the ability to ensure logistics specialists and can track what is happening up and down the supply pathway and make quick decisions to help move inventory, goods, and materials efficiently.
What is supply chain visibility and why is it important?
Supply chain visibility (SCV) gives an organization the ability to view entire supply chains in real-time and to be able to track individual components, sub-assemblies, and finished products as they travel from supplier to producer and, ultimately, to meet customer demands.
How do you achieve supply chain visibility?
You can achieve end-to-end visibility of a supply network by investing in technology such as RFID technology, artificial intelligence, and no-code applications. By measuring results, building a network, and eliminating pain points, businesses can quickly create a customized solution. Streamlined monitoring processes help businesses and manufacturers improve performance and ensure efficiency by providing an integrated view across an entire enterprise.