Visibility Part 1: What is Supply Chain Visibility and why should we care?

 

Visibility Part 1: What is Supply Chain Visibility and why should we care?

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 - 14:45
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 14:41
The focus this week is to discuss how better visibility can help organizations improve performance and cut costs in their supply chain. In this blog, we’ll elaborate on the importance of visibility in the supply chain and major pain points for organizations.

In today’s global world, your supply chain is no longer isolated to your own organization. Instead, today’s supply chains encompass a spider-web of partners and dependencies, whether you want it to or not. Materials in an agency’s supply chain may make stops in multiple warehouses, ride a global transportation network, or sit for months or years before suddenly being needed in a matter of hours or days in the event of an emergency.  The complexity and unpredictability of requirements makes the supply chains for departments such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the military, among the most difficult to manage.  

One proven way to increase the reliability and responsiveness of supply chains is to increase visibility into everyday supply chain functions. Better information can reduce bottlenecks, identify process improvement opportunities, and make government supply chains function better and at a lower cost.

The focus this week is to discuss how better visibility can help organizations improve performance and cut costs in their supply chain. In this blog, we’ll elaborate on the importance of visibility in the supply chain and major pain points for organizations.

So, what does “visibility” mean in the 21st century supply chain?

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 predictability. Great visibility into a complex, 21st century supply chain not only answers the basic questions of what is the current state, but it also helps answer questions like: how are we in this state; why are we in this state; and what will the state look like in the future?

Knowledge of the challenges and roadblocks that organizations face when trying to achieve visibility in their supply chain can help position organizations to select the appropriate implementation activities that can really make a difference. Listed below are some of these challenges:

  1. Basic solutions alone can’t solve the challenges associate with global visibility. Newer solutions have recognized that a single snapshot from one organization is not enough, and makes one blind to actions that happen outside of the control and visibility of one organization. For example, new visibility tools help the U.S. Navy see relevant supply chain data from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), commercial suppliers, and others, for a more reliable and efficient supply chain. 
  2. Asking an organization to collaborate and share data beyond its walls is tricky. While a single, organizational snapshot may not be enough, security and intellectual property concerns make it challenging to gain visibility between organizations’ supply chains—even though they may be linked. For example, a U.S. Navy weapons supplier may need information on availability of certain parts—yet, how can a visibility system be devised so that this  commercial supplier can learn of the Navy’s need for a particular part without compromising sensitive information?
  3. As a result of these first two challenges, global visibility into activities beyond just one organization can be a tough hurdle to overcome—but it is an important issue to face. Using the Navy example again, an F/A-18 squadron in Japan may need a particular part. Better, improved visibility tools can help the Navy gain greater asset visibility of the part—regardless of location—be it an aircraft carrier, a storage location, or a commercial repair site and improve the speed and reliability of its replacement.
  4. A lack of real time software and data tools makes it tough to get real time data and make real time decisions. For example, an aircraft landing component may consistently fail at a certain temperature. Using real time data, an organization could monitor when a temperature threshold has been exceeded, and send out notifications to relevant partners within the supply chain.

These four, intertwining challenges, are just a few of several roadblocks that organizations face when they try to improve their supply chain visibility. It might be easy to overlook these issues and stick with existing tools; however, in this day and age and with the demands of government supply chains, real time visibility beyond the single enterprise is of critical importance. And once you know what these challenges are—and why you should care—it becomes easier to see how improving your supply chain’s visibility can make a big difference.

Stay tuned this week as we discuss how to address some of these challenges with implementation activities, our successes, and how we answered some of these challenges. In the meantime, we’d appreciate your feedback: has your organization faced challenges that greater supply chain visibility would improve? If so, what has worked well in the past? What has failed? 

 

 


 

John Simone

Mr. John Simone is an IBM Certified Executive I/T Architect. Mr. Simone has over 36 years experience in the Software Engineering industry. He has served roles as an IT Architect, Director of Development, and Chief Technology Officer. He is currently the CTO of IBM's Public Sector Supply Chain Practice. He has been involved in both the technical and business aspects of the information technology sector as an innovator and decision maker.

Mr. Simone has experience as a Software Engineer, IT Architect, Software Engineering Development Manager and Corporate Executive for several well-known technology firms. Mr. Simone has managed and developed projects for major corporations in the aerospace, insurance, automotive, government and retail sectors. He has modeled business processes and designed solutions for various business domains and technologies including Online Transaction Processing, Commerce, Procurement, Product Life Cycle, Supply Chain, and Business Intelligence. Mr. Simone is a winner of the IBM 2009 Technical Achievement Award.

John Simone (simonej@us.ibm.com)