Visibility trends

Cloudy issue: Supply chain visibility

Customer centricity and increasing complexity are defining today’s supply chains. Cloud or hybrid solutions for visibility can deliver tremendous benefits.

Last month, we visited “PLAN” – the biggest annual logistics conference in Sweden. Topics centered on developments to better meet customer demands now and in the future – based on digitized supply chains, integration of supply chain partners, reduced transit times, and visibility of goods from order to delivery. It’s the last point – visibility – that I would like to talk a bit more about today.

Not as easy as it sounds

In practice, the move towards total visibility within the supply chain can prove to be a very challenging task because of the diversity of data requirements at each stage of the process. Installing trackers and devices that enable connectivity of physical objects in line with developments of the Internet of Things (IoT) only forms one part of the equation. Often, the supply chain can be made up of as many as a hundred business partners or more, spanning several countries and regulatory boundaries.

Across each business, the data standards, the scope of data collected, and the semantics of the in-house IT systems used by the various parties may all differ. Each will have their own system of handling data, and usually information and data shared amongst partners has to be duplicated and sometimes adjusted to fit each stage and process. This often results in a reliance on less than optimal tools and the subsequent lack of integration for real-time visibility to cope with today’s logistical demands.

Better options in the cloud?

Cloud-based or hybrid systems make it possible for multiple sources to update and refer to the same set of data, without compromising the security of other systems. This supports key trends such as remote working, mobile access, and even bring-your-own-device (BYOD) capabilities. It enables companies to access data and update it in real-time, ensuring that the information is consistent, and constantly updated on-demand.

Additionally, hybrid cloud platforms allow even greater flexibility and security, where parts of a system can be in the cloud while others are running in on-premise solutions. This makes it possible for businesses in a supply chain to share and access the right data and improve the level of integration across all supply chain partners.

RightScale – a cloud computing management solutions company – issued a “State of the Cloud Report 2016” this year with survey results from over 1,000 IT professionals. It reveals that hybrid adoption has increased from 58% to 71%. And in 2015, IBM worked with the US Army to move their Logistics Support Activity system to a hybrid cloud. Since the move to the hybrid cloud model, IBM claims that the US Army has benefitted from cost savings of about 50% – as reported on ComputerWeekly.com.

What should move to the cloud?

The chart below from AEB’s white paper on visibility illustrates several functionalities and components of visibility software, where a hybrid cloud system could be used. It’s a good overview for executives and managers to better understand which possible applications in a business could be deployed in the cloud, or on premise.

Key functionalities
Key functionalities

How can your business benefit?

Better visibility throughout the supply chain is key to successfully managing increasing supply chain complexities and customer demands. Without visibility, it’s tough – or impossible 😉 – to anticipate and rectify supply chain disruptions or even to optimize different processes within the supply chain. With this in mind – and also as part of the general “digitization trend” – more and more businesses strive to tackle the topic and are attempting to improve data connectivity within their logistics operations in the bid for greater transparency.

To get started, supply chain managers need to define the right processes and data, and identify the partners and systems involved. Cross-functional knowledge transfer and information sharing, both within a company and between its partners, will give the entire supply chain the ability to access the right information, at the right time.

Where does your company stand on this? I’m looking forward to your feedback on LinkedIn.