“Where’s my stuff?” Addressing the Supply Chain Visibility Challenge

CONTRIBUTION BY Patrick Strauss  – life-long technology enthusiast and Vice-President at OmPrompt

“Where’s my stuff?” Customers ask this all the time. But if you’re a supplier, answering it is sometimes harder than customers imagine. Here’s how to fix the supply chain visibility challenge.

Picture this scenario…

Imagine a world-renowned, global household brand who supplies products we use on a daily basis. (Choose an example that’s meaningful for you: toilet paper, ice-cream, or even bacon – the same could apply to any or all of these goods).

[blockquote style=”1″]Now imagine that you are a retailer who sells these goods and you have asked them this simple question: “Where’s my stuff?”.[/blockquote]

You’d expect them to be able to give you an answer. After all, it is a question that’s commonly asked by their customers who are waiting for their goods/consignments to be delivered. And it’s part of the reason that stock-keeping units (SKUs) exist. Unfortunately, they may very well not be able to tell you – or at least, not precisely.

Why don’t they know where your stuff is?

It’s surprising that many multi-billion dollar organisations are unable to get a quick answer to such an easy question (especially given that they spend millions on maintaining their IT infrastructure year on year) as easily as consumers can when they purchase online. “Surely, they must have relevant data and/or systems providing this information?” you would think.

But the reason it’s a difficult question to answer is that pulling the right information together at the right time is more complicated than it sounds. It comes down to a question of visibility, complexity, and systems connectivity.

Is this a single, isolated case or does it sound familiar to you?

The chances are that you’re not alone in struggling to get an answer. 63% of respondents in an Aberdeen Group Research survey indicated that supply chain visibility (SCV) is a high priority for improvement. Why? The Aberdeen Group says that “visibility is a prerequisite to supply chain agility and responsiveness. But before a company can reduce inventory or landed cost, it needs visibility into them.”

Unfortunately, getting real-time visibility of ‘where your stuff is’ isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Even though this company is likely to have a variety of IT systems (Enterprise Resource Planning, WMS, TMS etc.), these systems are designed to provide information on what is going on “within their own four walls”. In other words, the information is available for that business, within that software – but not beyond it. However, from an end-to-end perspective, goods travel. Unfortunately, the data associated with those goods doesn’t (at least not always). So the data needed to answer an apparently simple question is probably held in a variety of siloed, non-connected systems.

The data simply isn’t connected

Typically, a single business’s systems only give them a tiny amount (approx. 20%) of visibility of their end-to-end supply chain. The rest (80%) of their visibility sits in systems that are NOT owned by them and sit “outside their own four walls”. Those systems are typically owned by their 3PL providers, suppliers, customers, etc. So your question ‘Where’s my stuff?’ can only be answered by combining information that lies both within and outside of internal IT systems.

The consequence of not knowing where goods are can be significant

Ultimately, your customers’ customers don’t know and they don’t care why you can’t answer their question. They just want to know where their stuff is. And if information is not readily available, the customer experience suffers.

Is there a solution to address the supply chain visibility challenge?

So what can you do to connect systems and gain greater end-to-end SCV? The answer lies in combining people, processes and technology to provide one version of the truth. SCV is the holy grail – but it is achievable. Data doesn’t have to be highly fragmented and unstructured. It is possible to integrate data from one end to the other. It’s possible to translate data from any format to any other format.

[blockquote style=”2″]In this way, visibility becomes an achievable goal – and your customers can finally get a simple answer to the question “Where’s my stuff”, now and in future. Customer automation management can help.[/blockquote]