Is Your Supply Chain Control Tower an Asset or a Liability?

Data abounds In the digital age – to the tune of roughly 44 zettabytes. (For a sense of scale, just add 21 zeroes to 44). That data can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your supply chain. Or it can tank your digital transformation efforts. Ernst and Young refers to this as the “data-growth trap.” In the data-growth trap, the mismanagement of extreme volumes of data created by supply chains results in increased costs, compliance risks, and poor insights.

Without the right tools, too much data can obscure useful information or lead your teams to the wrong conclusions. Many supply chain control tower solutions on the market fail to deliver the quality or organization of information it takes to enable effective decision making.

The general consensus is that digital supply chains are key to business transformation success. But little attention is paid to the gaping difference between visibility for visibility’s sake and a foundation of usable data for exception-based management. Here’s how to avoid the information overload and build a strong basis for actionable supply chain visibility with data.

What Questions Drive Your Data Strategy?

Control towers provide a central hub to monitor supply chain-related activity. Beyond the impressive user interfaces, however, lurks a lack of functionality. It’s important to carefully consider the actual user needs that will yield benefits for your business. Most users don’t need to see all the shipments that are on time. Instead, they need to focus on deviations from the norm; exceptions that require corrective measures and potential coordination across supply chain partners.

Users want simple answers to obvious questions like: “Where’s my shipment?” Customer service reps are looking for quick and accurate responses to incoming customer calls, not a string of clues.
What’s less obvious is the intricate interweaving of information from multiple systems that must occur to create that answer. Typical business intelligence (BI) programs extract, transform and load data to create a data cube. And although the resulting platform looks comprehensive, it ultimately can’t pinpoint which shipment will miss the target delivery date.

A data platform with a live dashboard and exception-based conditions directs your attention where it’s needed. The crux is the underlying data. Without usable data driving your visibility and analytics platform, your digital transformation effort won’t empower your teams to be successful.

Where Most Control Towers Fall Short: Prioritizing the Right Data and Making it Actionable?

First, data has to be gathered from disparate systems and third-party sources and brought to one place. This includes unstructured and IoT data, PDFs, or even the on and off ramps of blockchain networks. Providers such as Value-Added-Networks (VANS), EDI Vans and EDI Translators capture data from these sources and sell you their digitization effort.

But digital access to a wide range of data doesn’t automatically translate to supply chain value and actionable advice. We’ve been doing both for over 20 years to build and deploy our Digital Supply Network platform at some of the largest companies in the world. Let’s examine how cleaning and linking create a foundation for holistic, agile decision making.

End-Game: Outcome-Driven Behavior

Visibility and exception-based notifications are nice once all the data is connected and linked together to portray a total picture of the supply chain for an organization. The question though is how does a connected network with a visibility solution solve specific disruptions? It is crucial to be aware a shipment is late, demand is fluctuating, or a customer requested order date has changed.

Using machine learning can even help with new estimates for time of arrival. But how does a network inform partners about specific issues in a realistic time frame? The value of the digital supply chain network is not simply digitization of the processes.

The network control tower must be able to inform participants of updated schedules or suggest looking for alternative sources of supply or modes of delivery. This must be done in a timely manner with enough reaction time for the users to resolve through collaboration. The tools must leverage the network of participants in resolving the issue at hand for orders and shipments. The network and the visibility solution must enable the resolution.

With Elemica’s platform, you can pre-program business logic for specific customer orders. Specific notifications for event processes can be built-in for the participants. Those can include associated units of measure for as-ordered, as-sold, as-shipped, as-invoiced, etc. Therefore, a foundation of usable and actionable data is the difference for supply chain visibility and execution efforts for supply chain business outcomes.