Supply Chain Visibility: A Product of Process and Technology

Meagan Douglas
Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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Having supply chain visibility means you know exactly what's on your warehouse shelves and when.

One of the most important tasks of supply chain management is maintaining visibility. This means that products and services are easily tracked, thus data collection and management is made easier. Track and trace methods are incredibly useful in the supply chain because they allow managers to ensure products are successfully making their way to customers, but around 40 percent of manufacturers have no real-time visibility of company processes, according to a 2014 survey by Smart Manufacturing Technologies.

This means lack of visibility remains an issue, and companies need to figure out how to fix it. In speaking with Logistics Management, supply chain technology experts expressed the importance of different parts of the supply chain process coming together to work in harmony and create a better distribution environment. Processes, people and technology need to combine in order to create and maintain visibility, because in the long run, visibility creates and fosters accuracy within the supply chain.

Technology: A Vital Tool
Creating more visibility in the supply chain begins with the technology used to collect and store data about products. Warehouse management practices that incorporate technology are more successful at maintaining visibility and accuracy within the supply chain than those that don't. The Internet of Things has made this concept more easily implemented, because when barcode labels are placed on products and equipment in the warehouse, it's easier to pinpoint the locations of these items so that they can be picked and distributed.

More companies are beginning to take advantage of the benefits the IoT has to offer. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, around 35 percent of U.S. manufacturers use IoT strategies to strengthen their daily operations. Connected devices streamline the flow of information through the supply chain without confusion. In addition, Inbound Logistics stated one of the most effective ways a company can amplify visibility is to keep communication open. This means involving all stakeholders in the supply chain, from distributors to executive management. Collected data can be shared with every level to make sure operations go smoothly.

Processes and People to Make it Work
Technology likelike barcode scanners and mobile devices can automate operations and contribute to an easier way of inventory management, but the advantages won't mean anything if the people and processes at a company don't adapt around the new tech as well. In order for retailers to remain competitive and take full advantage of the technology being used in their warehouses, they have to rethink store processes and systems to improve efficiency, Britt Dayton, director at Deloitte and supply chain expert, told Logistics Management.

So it's not enough to install the best technology available and hope for the best; the structure of a business or of certain jobs may need to shift in order to accommodate for the new technology. But when managers work together with the technology to improve processes like data collection, it can improve visibility and accuracy.

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