Businesses today face two competing drivers. The “Amazon Effect” has instilled customers with a need-it-now attitude and a demand for an order-to-delivery expectation of one or two days. This forces companies to constantly have a wide variety and amount of inventory on hand ready for immediate shipment. On the other hand, pressure to control costs is pushing businesses to reduce inventory levels. How can these two competing interests be reconciled?

More companies are coming to understand that the only way to effectively deal with these two drivers is to develop and maintain a streamlined supply chain with full visibility from purchase order to delivery. Integrated supply chain visibility solutions help enable optimum product availability while at the same time minimize capital tied up in inventory. However, realizing the goal of a full integration and visibility is a major challenge due to the siloed nature of many organizations’ supply chains.

According to a survey from GEODIS, almost two thirds of respondents stressed that their supply chain should be a competitive advantage, but only 6% report having full supply chain visibility. Nearly eight of ten said they have either no visibility or a restricted view of their supply chain. To meet compressed time frames and increasingly complex demands while controlling costs, businesses must break down the silos isolating the inbound, internal, and outbound components of their supply chains.

There are three keys to knocking down these silos and attaining full global supply chain visibility.

Information: The Foundation of Global Supply Chain Visibility

The foundation of any visibility solution is information – the data collected from the multiple links in the supply chain. This starts with loading data from the core internal systems of the company including ERP, purchasing, and logistics. The business must then move on to the other two components of their chain - supply (suppliers, 3PLs, manufacturers, TSA, inbound carriers) and demand (retail, online, distributors, clients, and outbound carriers).

Some of these organizations will have systems that are highly digitized using EDI which simplifies data transfer. Others may be low tech using Excel spreadsheets and email communications. The key to effective global supply chain visibility is connecting these systems and non-systems that are using different communication methods and data formats. Any one of the links that can’t be connected represents a “black hole” and impairs visibility. Having an advanced supply chain solution with both EDI and API capability enables a business to close those gaps in the chain.

Process: Establishing Workflows and Automation

Once the business has automated the exchange of business information up and down the supply chain to leverage it properly, organizations must establish the appropriate workflows – both internally and externally - to ensure effective collaboration among the partners.

The business must establish appropriate workflows for invoicing customers to avoid errors and chargebacks. They need to be able to communicate broadly with all segments of the trading partner base without relying on emails or out of data spreadsheets. Workflows must be put in place for order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay processes. These processes enable the members of the chain to collaborate on performance-related issues that help resolve discrepancies with full traceability and audit control. They also empower business partners to leverage these workflows to standardize on their own processes.

Implementing process automation helps manage the different processes so things flow correctly across the many disparate systems.

People: Business Rules and Intuitive Dashboards

Businesses need to have the proper technology and process in place to ensure global supply chain visibility, but in the final analysis, people make it happen. Going from B2B Integration to B2B collaboration requires automated processes like order fulfillment, carrier integrations, and integrated purchase ordering, but it’s not about robots taking over the workforce.

The business has to establish business rules to ensure the processes are being followed. People use business rules to validate the data that is visible throughout the supply chain and use thresholds and alerts to allow them to manage by exception.

Using dashboards, people are able to collaborate with other partners in the supply chain with real-time information. This keeps everyone in synch with the data and enables rapid decision making based on the most up-to-date information available. With a single view of inbound, inventory positions, and outbound activity integrated with internal systems, businesses can collaborate effectively and quickly with partners to make adjustments if there is a problem somewhere along the chain.

Once a business has the structure of a supply chain visibility solution in place, it is then able to track the lifecycle of its products from order placement to delivery to the end customer. With the right technology platform, effective processes, and ongoing collaboration among all parties, a business is able to provide a seamless process fully visible to all stakeholders. That leads to an optimum performing supply chain that can help ensure business success.

How Descartes Can Help

Descartes can enable seamless coordination between diverse trading partners, databases, and systems; agnostic to software or hardware. Our approach to connectivity is holistic and includes:

  • Access Portal – A secure, intuitive end user interface that supports role-based user management, data and transaction monitoring, tracking, exception management, reporting and more
  • Integration Hub – A gateway for integration with a suite of tools to manage inbound and outbound data
  • Business Process Manager – Enables management of transactions based on the unique rules and workflows specific to a company
  • Trading Partner Manager – Provides a rich set of tools for the management of members within a company’s trading network

Contact us to discover how Descartes can help you succeed.