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Viewpoint: Defining supply chain visibility

By Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
May 01, 2013

In research conducted by Peerless Research Group (PRG) over the past few years, we’ve found that end-to-end, global supply chain visibility and event management capabilities are considered “must haves.” However, those same respondents struggle to tell you exactly what they need to do in order to achieve this.

We’ve set out this month to corral the elements of supply chain “visibility,” a utopian idea that has been highly conceptualized by analysts and consultants as we’ve become awash in data. Once realized and put to work, many contend that it will help logistics and supply chain operations create true competitive differentiation in a time when the cost of logistics errors and the subsequent impact on your brand could be devastating.

The idea seems simple enough from a pure transportation management perspective: It’s the ability to track and trace a shipment from pick up to delivery. But when you add in the critical data points from the other nodes of the supply chain, the concept remains elusive.

“Visibility is no longer restricted to track and trace on the transportation leg,” says CapGemini’s Tom Wrobleski in this year’s Technology Roundtable. “It means following a shipment from order through final delivery, with all the itinerant compliance and finance milestones in between, and then being able to act on that information when roadblocks occur.”

Our panelists on this year’s Technology Roundtable understand if you’re still scratching your head. Who wouldn’t want that capability?

But when you step back and examine the uniqueness and complexity of your operations, you may see thousands of data points, all being tracked—or not—by disparate systems, ill-trained warehouse/DC personnel, dozens of carriers, and well-meaning 3PL partners ready to serve up a tidal wave of information on your shipments.

To help tighten up operations and pull this data together, our four panelists each explore an important piece of the visibility puzzle that are probably already hard at work in your operation—mobile computing and ADC technology, TMS, WMS, and GTM. Each believes that the technology solutions currently available have put real-time visibility—as defined by Wrobleski—into reach for those who are determined to make the case for investment—or ready to fully optimize what they already have.

And while our panel does a terrific of exploring the role these technology elements play in operations improvement and visibility, our consulting team from Accenture takes us a step deeper by defining the cloud-enabled, transportation “control tower” concept that’s been inexorability linked to the visibility discussion.

The team contends that through a version of cloud-enabled “social networking,” logistics professionals can create, manage, and monitor a fully optimized transportation service network, putting real-time event management at your fingertips.

“Companies that only gave a passing nod to managing supply chain performance in the past have had epiphanies,” says Accenture’s Brooks Bentz. “Now they realize that it’s a critical strategic weapon in top-line growth, cost containment, and customer satisfaction—and the transportation control tower concept is now a critical link in measuring supply chain success.”

About the Author

Michael Levans
Group Editorial Director

Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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