Supply Chain Visibility: Know Sooner, Act Now

Posted by Joseph Gabro

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Supply Chain Visibility - Know Sooner, Act Now.jpgExperiencing supply chain disruptions these days is like watching the butterfly effect at Mach speed. One delicate wing flap in any part of the process and the whole supply chain erupts into chaos across the globe. This year alone, supply chains are riddled with unexpected disruptions. In January 2016, analysts predicted big trade upticks but the forecasts fell short all year because global trade has been hit with multiple, unforeseen interruptions, sending importers and exporters scrambling to stay on course. 

Disruptions are a given in the global trade industry and they come in many forms. According to Aberdeen Group’s October 2016 report, damages, late shipments, and quality issues are the three most prevalent. Yet these are just the tip of the iceberg. Cross-border shipments add another level of complexity with potential failure points being customs entry requirement screenings, port congestion, and labor strikes.

While there are typical disruptions, supply chain leaders must have a backup plan in place for completely unplanned or unforeseen events. Even though they don’t know when or where a disruption might happen, supply chain leaders must always be thinking one step ahead. Here are two disruptions that we experienced this year.

Hanjin Meltdown

The recent crisis surrounding Hanjin best exemplifies an unforeseen event. When the bankruptcy hit the mega-shipper, a combined $14 billion in goods were held on Hanjin vessels at various locations around the world. With shipments held “at bay” and no certainty of potential release dates, the only hope a company had was damage control. 

Visibility into which customer orders and products were floating in the legal limbo allowed importers of the opportunity to advise waiting customers of the status of their orders. Furthermore, without detailed, granular data which includes manufacturer and product level information, corrective action is all but impossible.

In the case of Hanjin, online visibility into in-transit shipment status is enough information to get companies moving in the right direction for recovery. This is where retailers might want to get controls in place for their incoming supply chain at the global trade level.

The Retail Squeeze

It is commonly understood in retail that little investment is made in supply chain execution capabilities and more largely in PLM solutions. Not for a lack of need or want, but in order to keep the overall cost to serve lower through less technology investment. Consequently, many global apparel companies operate with a limited view of their inbound supply chains.

As a result of disruptions and the subsequent financial losses, the time has come for retailers to take ownership and control of their supply chains. The key to preventing issues from turning into crises is visibility of the upstream supply chain. This visibility allows supply chain leaders to alter the outcome of a rare event. With on-going monitoring, adjusting, course correction, and random heroics, they can keep a plan on track.

Lack of visibility into supplier quality and manufacturing processes is a serious point of weakness for any company. As cited in the Aberdeen report, best-in-Class companies are more that 2x as likely to have this in place.

For retail, solving quality and manufacturing issues before a product is made and shipped is a lot cheaper than trying to fix it after the fact. Either way, it must be fixed. Best-in-Class companies recognize the value in working with suppliers and solving issues at the source before they become problems that are prohibitively expensive to resolve.

Visibility: Best Time is Now

Aberdeen reports that Best-in-Class companies leverage all the tools to establish a complete visibility profile for their inbound supply chain. It provides them the time and speed to react to an unforeseen disruption, and becomes a competitive advantage.

Disruptions happen at all levels in a supply chain, yet Best-in-Class companies are more likely to have the inbound supply chain visibility to combat them. Compared to their competition, they excel at every level of engagement with suppliers, partners, and logistics providers including international suppliers and shipments.

Visibility pays off in the form of on-time shipments and lower costs for the Best-in-Class companies, as reflected in their performance metrics. The Hanjin situation and retail squeeze on supply chain execution improvements are examples of how visibility can be the difference between an issue and a disaster. Visibility doesn’t solve every problem, but it does enable your organization to know sooner and act now.

To learn more, download the full Aberdeen report “Supply Chain Visibility: Know Sooner, Act Now”. You can also check out the Amber Road sponsored infographic below to get all the facts on how supply chain visibility prevents issues from turning into crises. You can download a PDF of this infographic by clicking here.

Aberdeen Group Know Sooner Act Now Infographic.jpg

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This post was published on December 6, 2016 and updated on December 6, 2016.

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Topics: Supply Chain Visibility, Order and Shipment Visibility, Data Quality Management