If you have ever ordered a pizza online from Domino’s, then you understand supply chain visibility. It’s a basic concept: From the time the order is placed until a high school kid shows up to your door with dinner in hand, you’re able to see what is happening in real time via an online tracker.
Although it’s mostly a marketing gimmick, it alleviates the dreadful anxiety consumers face when they are uncertain where their precious pizza is.
It also represents a growing trend among organizations to seek and provide greater visibility into how orders are processed and how shipments are moved along—for the benefit of the organization, its partners and its clients.
Small businesses should capitalize on this trend to stay competitive with larger businesses. These technologies can give smaller businesses the appearance of being as large and sophisticated as global companies.
“When supply chain business partners at all tiers of the value network, upstream and downstream, can sense and respond to changes in a timely manner, they are better equipped to collaborate on shared goals of improving operational efficiency, reducing risk or profitably responding to supply chain opportunities and disruptions.”
Christian Titze, Research Director at Gartner
Of course, gaining visibility into an intricate global supply chain is a bit more complex than tracking a $20 pizza order. Even for smaller firms that have a limited number of suppliers, manufacturing sites and distribution points, it is difficult to attain a useful level of visibility into their supply chains without the right tools.
To improve supply chain visibility (SCV), organizations rely on a stack of interconnected supply chain management (SCM) software applications, collectively referred to as SCV software.
For small to midsize organizations, these tools can improve visibility, cut costs and improve overall efficiency across all links in the supply chain.
We put this guide together to help you understand how this software can benefit your organization and what you need to understand when implementing a new system.
Here’s what we’ll go over:
(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)
Supply Chain Visibility Software Concepts to Understand
According to Gartner (this content is available to Gartner clients), there are three layers that comprise the “information hub”—the foundation for supply chain visibility:
|Connectivity||The IT infrastructure that allows an organization to connect and communicate with its suppliers, contractors or clients.|
|Interoperability||The ability of different software platforms to exchange information across multiple business units or organizations.|
|Visibility||The presentation and analysis of data that has been captured, typically in the form of a dashboard or other visual format.|
This information hub is what drives supply chain planning and execution processes, and it exists as an ecosystem of different software suites and applications.
Traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites typically include standard supply chain planning and execution applications. However, SCV software solutions are essentially add-on tools meant to foster and streamline collaboration between different business partners.
It is important to understand that there is no single comprehensive software suite that can solve every problem associated with attaining total supply chain visibility.
Most organizations will have to rely on multiple solutions to cover each of their bases.
But, depending how many suppliers, distributors and vendors a small organization is working with—and whether those partners are willing and able to use the same tools—implementing certain core components of SCV software can make strategic sense and produce a strong ROI.
Key Capabilities of Supply Chain Visibility Software
Below are the key capabilities of the information hub comprised of SCV tools:
Analytics. Processes data from every channel within a supply chain system in order to explain patterns and previous events, and predicts future events based on historical data.
Business collaboration. Provides tools that allow business partners to communicate, coordinate and share information.
Core supply chain planning. Encompasses essential planning processes such sales and operations planning, demand planning and replenishment planning.
Core supply chain execution. Manages day-to-day operations such as warehouse and inventory management, compliance auditing, quality assurance. Also assists with supplier relationship management.
Data management. Assists with managing and standardizing data across multiple channels and information streams.
Financials. Provides integrations between the various components of a supply chain system with the backend accounting and ERP systems in an organization’s IT infrastructure.
Traceability. A core facet to enhancing supply chain visibility. These tools assist with tracking, tracing and serialization of individual items and shipments, typically with the help of barcodes and RFID technology. It is vital for ensuring regulatory compliance.
Vendor Landscape for Supply Chain Visibility Software
Traditionally, software vendors offering supply chain visibility software have targeted large, multinational corporations. However, more vendors are beginning to offer SCV tools for growing small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that nonetheless have complex supply chain needs.
According to Gartner research, the value proposition for SCV software will only increase as more organizations implement these tools, eventually reaching a critical mass of users. That will likely result in a trickle-down effect and more affordable SCV solutions targeted at the SMB market.
If you are looking to improve your organization’s supply chain visibility, consider some of the vendors below who target more than large enterprises:
E2Open. A provider of supply chain execution software, E2Open targets midsize to large organizations across many manufacturing verticals. It offers standard SCM applications, while also featuring additional connectivity and networking tools that are necessary for collaborative processes.
Ultriva Lean Execution Suite. Designed with midsize distribution and manufacturing firms in mind, Ultriva integrates with most major ERP platforms as a value-added solution to improve supply chain visibility.
It syncs downstream data from distribution points to relay demand forecasts back to the manufacturer, so it can appropriately adjust production levels. It features core modules such as supply chain planning and business collaboration tools.
LogFire. This cloud-based warehouse management system is designed with retailers and consumer goods in mind. The system specializes in its integrative capabilities with 3PL and 4PL accounting systems.