Making Your Supply Chain Data Work for You

With complete supply chain visibility, businesses can reduce dwell time, speed transit time, resolve misrouted shipments, improve fleet utilization, better manage inventory and demand and lower transportation costs.

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Data is the lifeblood of any business, but you must do something with the data to gain value for your organization. Many businesses have silos of information within different departments that hold this data captive, not sharing it with other operations. With labor shortages, natural disasters, unruly weather, port congestion, war and a global pandemic, supply chains have been greatly affected over the past several years – and holding supply chain data hostage is not helpful in this volatile environment.

To have a thriving business in 2023 and beyond, businesses need to harness the power of their supply chain data, improving visibility from end to end, increasing efficiencies, and reducing costs. Supply chain visibility is about knowing where your inventory is, tracking the movement of raw materials and orders and mitigating disruptions within your supply chain processes.

With complete supply chain visibility, businesses can reduce dwell time, speed transit time, resolve misrouted shipments, improve fleet utilization, better manage inventory and demand and lower transportation costs.

Data, Data, Everywhere

Not all data within a business comes from an ERP system. Businesses today have systems to manage transportation, warehousing, payroll, human resources, procurement, sourcing, manufacturing and more. Each of these systems generates data that can be used to create visibility and analyze performance across the supply chain.

One of the problems with so many disparate systems is that you need to gain access to the information within. APIs and cloud technologies can create seamless data exchanges so that you capture all the information available across the business.

Data comes in the form of structured data, found in the systems above, or unstructured data, which comes from user reviews, surveys, partner information, customer databases and social media. Mobile apps create even more data that can be combined with other supply chain information to provide deeper insights. For example, you could add weather information to your transportation processes to determine a more accurate estimated delivery time. To gain visibility into the supply chain from end to end, you need to harness information from both structured and unstructured data.

The data you use must be clean. Often companies will use data without proper cleansing processes in place, which can lead to duplicate data or the wrong address being used for a delivery point. For example, the City of Atlanta has over 71 streets that bear the name “Peachtree." There is Peachtree St, Peachtree Ave, West Peachtree, etc. If you don't use the correct "Peachtree" in the shipping address, orders may be sent to the wrong location.

Transportation and Visibility

Many companies use a transportation management system (TMS) to gain efficiencies and productivity in their logistics processes. A TMS facilitates supply chain visibility by tracking products and orders in transit. If you combine the TMS with GPS, telematics or ELD devices, you get real-time (or near real-time) updates to the location of orders every step of the way. Think how Amazon lets customers know everything they want to know and more about an order – from order entry to delivery. With real-time visibility updates, your customers will know exactly when their orders will arrive.

With the visibility of transportation data, customer service reps can alert customers if there will be a delay in shipment. Perhaps the delay can be associated with a supplier being out of a specific product or not having enough inventory to fill the order. By having visibility into issues like these, you can find alternative sources or fill inventory from multiple locations to circumvent any delay in shipment. If the delay is caused by bad weather or road work, you can pinpoint the truck's exact location and re-route it to avoid a disrupted trip.

Agile Supply Chains and Visibility

Before COVID, many companies spent years “leaning” their supply chains to lower costs and improve performance. However, when the pandemic hit, companies started increasing inventory levels, boosting manufacturing capacity, and diversifying their sourcing to satisfy customer needs – which has led to increased costs and overloaded warehouses.

Today, supply chains need more of a data-driven approach, where data is strategically used to manage production, distribution and inventory in real time. This type of approach makes the supply chain more agile and able to reach sudden changes. An agile supply chain has visibility across all processes within the business and can dynamically shift to market sensitivities.

Many companies utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies for deeper insights into supply chain data. These technologies allow you to learn from your data and deliver predictive insights on what will happen within the supply chain and prescriptive insights into an optimal course of action that mitigates risk and maximizes performance.