Faced with massive market disruptions and rapidly-changing consumer expectations, visibility has become one of the biggest supply chain management buzzwords in recent times. The theory: if companies could capitalize on visibility, then substantively increased value was also within reach.

The challenge? Translating generalized advice about visibility and transparency into actionable processes and practices for real-life supply chain operations. 

This is especially critical as supply chain solutions evolve; while the right solutions can help companies capture market value and improve customer satisfaction, scattershot spending could yield the opposite result.

Leveraging the linchpin that is enhanced supply chain visibility requires an improved understanding of what a connected supply chain means, what challenges exist, and how companies can apply improved operational sightlines across both internal and external processes.

 

Visualizing Value

As noted by Phys.org, "manufacturers must unlock supply chain visibility to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic." The same applies to other enterprises across the supply chain, from shippers to freight forwarders to last-mile logistics providers.

But what does visibility really mean? And how does it translate into a competitive advantage, smarter inventory management, and more efficient operations overall?

At its most basic, supply chain visibility can be broken down across three key areas:

1) Back-end insight

This area forms the foundation of any effective supply chain insight - companies need ways to discover what's happening in-house and on-demand. This includes current inventory levels, product dimensions, storage locations, packaging, and shipping requirements - and also extends to forecasting both short-term and long-tail demand.

For many companies, however, robust back-end insight is frustrated by legacy processes that require repetitive, error-prone operations paired with manual data entry. Here, cloud-based solutions capable of automatically capturing and curating inventory plus customer demand data can help organizations gain critical internal operational insight.

2) Midstream observation

The need for visibility doesn't end when shipments leave supplier warehouses. From importer of record (IOR) partnerships to customs requirements and concerns around increasing detention and demurrage costs, companies need on-demand data for all key stakeholders that accompanies shipments throughout their supply chain journey.

Consider the potential risks that come with visibility loss of shipments at maritime ports. With many import and export terminals now overwhelmed with shipment volumes as they struggle with reduced staffing levels and equipment challenges, shipments may end up in detention or demurrage environments far longer than expected - which in turn can generate substantive charges for storage. Data-driven midstream visibility empowers companies to identify the best rates and turnaround times for shipping ports - before cargo arrives and before bills start to pile up.

3) End-user transparency

Complete visibility is also critical for end-users, including customers, agents, and partners to ensure data is effectively and efficiently shared with all relevant parties. Historically, this visibility has been achieved through email and phone conversations with shippers and freight forwarders but as the volume and velocity of shipments have increased, it's no longer possible for these people-driven processes to keep pace.

Instead, companies need on-demand tools that empower self-service logistics data - such as live tracking of shipments wherever, whenever - to ensure end-users have access to the information they need and staff can focus on streamlining shipment processes at scale.

 

Internal Advantages

Software solutions that drive improved supply chain visibility offer key advantages for internal operational efficiency, including.

  • Improved decision-making

With access to on-demand data around inventory, shipping management, port fees, and shipping rates, companies can make better decisions about how, when, and where to ship products.

  • Greater operational control

Visibility across the entire supply chain is the first step in improved operational control. By understanding how supply chain operations work both individually and in tandem, companies can streamline key processes and reduce total complexity.

  • Regulatory compliance

As countries look to ensure the security of their borders and the safety of their citizens, regulatory requirements are on the rise. Increased transparency is critical to ensure that shipments carry the right paperwork and that key partners - such as IORs and logistics providers - satisfy all local, legal obligations.

  • Issue identification

No matter how robust and reliable your global supply chain efforts, issues still emerge - and they're often beyond your control. And while it's not possible to eliminate the effects of challenges such as natural disasters or political pressures, data-driven software tools can help companies identify issues and mitigate their overall impact.

 

External Benefits

Enhanced insight of supply chain performance and processes across back-end, midstream, and end-user operations also provide external benefits such as:

  • Increased customer satisfaction

Increased visibility helps increase customer satisfaction - and simultaneously reduces the burden on supply chain staff. Armed with in-depth data about shipment progress and potential problems, companies can provide customers what they need most: Reliable, real-time information.

  • Reduced risk

If companies fail to meet external regulatory obligations or overlook potential port delays, the result is substantively increased risk of fines or shipment failures. Access to critical information as it relates to current shipments can help significantly reduce this risk.

  • Enhanced reputation

As supply chain competition increases, reputation matters more than ever. For companies to succeed, a positive market reputation must precede them - which means cultivating a public presence that highlights speed, reliability, and industry expertise. In practice, this is only possible when companies have transparent access to key supply chain data.

  • Improved market positioning

Markets are evolving rapidly as mobile-first, on-demand access becomes commonplace. Software that both enables better visibility and enhances the customer experience can help companies stand out from the crowd and improve their market position in a crowded supply chain field.

 

Seeing is Succeeding

Supply chain visibility is the linchpin for shipping success. But it's not enough to simply recognize the need for improved visibility - to succeed, organizations must realize the practical advantages of both external and internal visibility by deploying reliable and robust software solutions across supply chain infrastructure at scale.