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End-to-end supply chain visibility: Why is visibility so hard to achieve?

As the majority of companies increase their investment in supply chain resilience, it’s vital to consider the impact of each dollar put to work. Visibility has a crucial role in enabling resilience. With only 6% of logistics companies claiming full visibility over their operations, the industry has significant scope for quick wins and strategic solutions to support better outcomes.

But why is visibility so hard to achieve? Why does this seemingly straightforward concept prove so elusive in practice?

What is supply chain visibility?

Firstly, let's dissect the concept itself. Supply chain visibility refers to the ability of companies to track and monitor their products, materials, and components as they move through the supply chain from suppliers to manufacturers to distributors and ultimately to customers. It involves having real-time or near real-time information about the location, status, and condition of goods at various stages of the supply chain.

Visibility enables companies to anticipate and respond to disruptions, optimise inventory levels, improve operational efficiency, enhance customer service, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

The transformative power of visibility and real-time data

True supply chain visibility gifts organisations a rich, panoramic view of ongoing operations, and potentially a glimpse ‘over the horizon’. Potential bottlenecks and resolutions, process optimisations and strategic options at each stage combine to drive overall efficiency and effectiveness.

In warehousing and logistics, the ability to track inventory with increased precision, and to better monitor shipments and warehouse ops can offer game-changing commercial and financial rewards to service providers and inventory owners.

Data is incredibly powerful for how leaders and teams make decisions. Timely, accurate data is a competitive advantage in business, and perhaps even best illustrated in the complex, fast-moving world of supply chain. Real-time data and insights with today’s innovative solutions can transcend traditional boundaries and expectations.

From dynamically adjusting inventory levels, to re-routing shipments in response to unforeseen events, the impact of real-time data extends far beyond operational efficiency. It becomes a strategic tool that proactively positions organisations to respond quickly to customer demand, market shifts and unforeseen challenges.

Why is full visibility so hard to achieve?

One of the fundamental challenges lies in determining what data needs to be collected. The modern supply chain generates an immense amount of data from different sources, making it complex to identify and gather the most relevant and valuable information.

Acquiring data is just the first step; translating insights into actionable insights and strategies is crucial. Many companies struggle with this transition from a systems and resource perspective, creating roadblocks to develop effective strategies based on the acquired intelligence.

First step: Identifying blind spots

Blind spots can emerge at any juncture in the supply chain, from the conceptualisation of a product to its journey to the end customer, making it challenging to track and manage operations effectively.

Interestingly, we often find that the warehouse becomes a focal point where visibility tends to falter. This isn't surprising given it's a hub of numerous processes, people, machinery, and where customers share the same physical space. Warehouses are often susceptible to visibility issues, especially concerning accurate inventory tracking, stock levels, and potential discrepancies between recorded and actual stock. The complexity of warehouse operations underscores the need for enhanced visibility solutions to address these challenges and ensure a seamless flow of information throughout the supply chain.

We call this lack of visibility the Visibility Gap.

Close the Visibility Gap in your operations

We advise organisations to invest in real-time data through integrated systems. With the recommendations below, organisations can pave the way for streamlined operations, improved collaboration, and adaptive processes to meet the challenges of an ever-evolving market and the future opportunities it will bring.

1. Real-time data integration: Invest in integrated systems for instant updates on inventory, order status, and shipment tracking. Traditional Warehouse Management Systems may not suffice, necessitating technologies like RFID and IoT sensors for true real-time visibility.

2. Advanced analytics and predictive monitoring: Leverage AI and analytics for timely insights into demand fluctuations and warehouse dynamics, empowering proactive decision-making to optimise inventory and mitigate bottlenecks.

3. Technology infrastructure investment: Upgrade warehouse systems with WMS, IoT devices, and cloud solutions to streamline operations and enhance visibility.

4. Collaboration prioritisation: Foster collaboration with partners through shared platforms and standardised data exchange protocols to ensure seamless communication across the supply chain.

5. Employee training and change management: Provide training and change management support to optimise technology use and ensure smooth transitions, maximising efficiency gains.

6. Continuous improvement culture: Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement through regular assessment and refinement of processes based on data analytics and feedback loops to adapt to evolving market conditions.

At Iron Mountain, we’ve got a unique position of building a 3PL. We have seen very rapid growth in the last two years. With that, we needed the structure, the people, the organisation and the right systems. When we looked at the inventory management system, we wanted something that could give us accuracy and real-time data. Not only to help our customers, reduce their overstock, but to run the operations efficiently, to make sure we have visibility of the warehouse and to optimise our warehouse space.

Maria Torrent-March, Iron Mountain

Explore all our recommendations and opportunities to close the Visibility Gap​​™

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This company has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 849938