- Communication Vehicles: Having communication capabilities that can gather and translate inventory information from all internal and external sources is crucial to a successful inventory visibility program. Success requires a means for gathering data from multiple internal and external sources, which may include direct computer-to-computer communications and input from Web portals or EDI network transactions. Cloud-based connectivity applications can be especially helpful in gathering inventory information because they enable simultaneous input from many sources, such as from your network of tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers. Mobile devices can be used to gather inventory data from small, non-automated locations. As you gather the data, you will also need translation technology that can recognize the disparate input formats and protocols and translate them into a common input stream for use by your processing systems. The translation technology becomes the hub of your trading partner network, synchronizing data and workflows so all parties can leverage the information to better serve customers.
- Execution Capabilities: Companies require inventory visibility so they can react to changes quickly, whether those are evolving market conditions, supply disruptions or demand volatility. Responsive and resilient supply chains demand execution systems that are built to be adaptive, beginning with event management and alerting capabilities for immediate, proactive response to disruptions or other supply problems. Next, WMS and TMS systems must be able to quickly react by resourcing or repositioning inventory and re-optimizing shipments. Finally, near-real-time analytic systems are required to uncover supply network trends and sources of problems for immediate action by decision makers. It is only through this ability to “see” across your supply network and take action accordingly that inventory visibility becomes an effective business tool.
The key to customer satisfaction
As you can see, visibility means more than just awareness of where materials are at a given point in time or the amount of goods in a warehouse. Instead, visibility means a window into a wider range of data, supply chain processes, events and patterns that enable automation, dynamic responses and adaptability. This allows organizations to reduce inventory levels and delays associated with supply chain disruptions while ultimately improving customer service levels.
Although manufacturers, distributors, logistics professionals and retailers may not be able to slow the rapid pace in which technology and consumer demand are constantly evolving, establishing inventory visibility throughout the supply chain will allow organizations to see changes sooner and give them more time to plan ahead of the competition.
Jim Le Tart is Director of Marketing for RedPrairie, Alpharetta, Ga., a software solutions provider for the retail, workforce, warehouse, supply chain, inventory and transportation management space.