Don’t Fear Open Data: Why Data Sharing Helps Smooth Your Supply Chain

Supply chain managers that embrace data sharing will conquer disruption and prevail in today’s chaotic landscape.

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Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics carry enormous potential in transforming supply chains into more effective and resilient systems.

That potential, however, is hamstrung by an organization’s ability to utilize data, which fuels AI and ML engines to better learn, understand and ultimately act.

It’s like eating carrots. The more data you eat, the better your visibility. From a supply chain perspective, increased visibility leads to added predictability, efficiency and productivity.

Supply chain managers that advance their data maturity will prevail in the chaotic landscape we find ourselves in. Those that foster a community of data sharing will succeed even more, leading to a more robust, agile, aware, efficient, intelligent and sustainable supply chain.

Sharing data isn’t just an idea that will help you down the road. Open sharing of data will help you and your partners immediately. Wharton estimates that the manufacturing sector alone, could realize $100 billion in efficiencies by better sharing data across its stakeholders both up and downstream.

How can we shed legacy silos and embrace a more open frame of mind?

To start, you can think about open data in the same way our enterprise customers think about open technology solutions, which allow organizations to tap into a more diverse ecosystem of vendors and be more strategic about how they tackle complex business challenges.  

Swap in data for technology and you begin to see the benefits. Broadening your data ecosystem helps democratize data across partners, provide more real-time insight into associated supply chain networks and grants stakeholders access to the information they need when they need it.

On the surface, we all say we need to collaborate more. For many, that's easier said than done, as it's a leap of faith and requires stakeholders to be vulnerable with one another. With enterprises owning more data than ever, think of how much data goes to waste because it simply isn’t being shared with the right stakeholder.

In some areas, such collaboration is already unfolding. Just recently, FedEx Dataworks and announced a “strategic alliance” in which the two companies will share data to improve e-commerce fulfillment for both merchants and consumers.

It’s an encouraging start. More needs to be done.

It starts from within.

It's important to understand how a data strategy will add value to your business.

You can invest in and implement all the advanced technologies you wish, but if the data is fundamentally flawed, those investments will still yield limited results.

The smarter approach is to start with business processes — and how your data is measuring the success of those business processes. When you work backwards from the business issue at stake, it’s funny how the technology tends to present itself as a problem solver.

Most organizations do not spend enough time or energy ensuring their data is accurate or align to operational processes. Too often, data quality is low, meaning leaders will likely receive data in inconsistent formats and report on different measurements. In this sense, it’s no wonder leaders fear open data if much of it is inaccurate or incomplete, which leads to confusion.

That said, sometimes tech can force the issue. Even something as simple as labeling a project a “digital transformation” can help win budget or create a rallying point for the business to shift. Sometimes tech can be a catalyst for change.

The right tools and methodologies can add visibility and predictability to your supply chain strategy. Adopting a data-centric mindset that leverages AI, ML, cloud and automation (with security wrapped around it all) will reduce risk, optimize resources and ingrain data sharing best practices throughout your teams.

Always verify.

You’ve likely heard of the old saying, “You know what happens when you assume.” The cheeky motto would help all of us as we navigate this transformational era of data sharing.

Data and details are more fluid than ever. True visibility relies on continuous verification that your systems and processes are giving you a holistic view. 

A report from the Business Continuity Institute found just one in six organizations carry out due diligence on key suppliers at the procurement stage, with a quarter leaving it until contracts are signed. 

Continuous verification should be taking place on multiple fronts:

  • External: Every link of your supply chain is vital. Are you verifying beyond your direct partners and vendors, and probing the systems and processes of your Tier 2 and beyond suppliers?
  • Internal systems and processes: Are you continuously vetting and validating the information or data your technology and systems are producing?
  • Internal people and resources: With technology increasingly playing a role in transforming supply chains, are your people and hiring plans up to date with the needs of the business? Are you verifying your people have the right skillsets or access to upskilling resources?

Sharing is caring.

Sharing data with partners and customers will undoubtedly be a change of pace for many, which is at the same time exciting and challenging.

To succeed, open data relationships must be:

  • Built on a foundation of trust and collaboration: Trust stems from being vulnerable and receptive to the needs of others. Listening to understand the goals and challenges of partners and customers within your value chain can help establish a reciprocal trusting relationship that will work to your benefit the rest of the way. 
  • Implemented with long-term operations in mind: For sure, data sharing will result in quick wins for your organization. But those wins will intensify as more data is shared across stakeholder groups. Understanding your long-term business objectives can help provide a framework for which you share and receive data.  

Establishing a culture of collaboration with vendors and suppliers allows you to adopt more agile, data-driven delivery models that offer greater real-time visibility, predictability and validation that they're delivering on their commitments. 

Just 6% of companies report full supply chain visibility, which is causing disruptions that drive a massive 62% loss in finances.

Shared visibility  putting data out in the open  will have a profound effect on mitigating those losses and drive future innovation.