End-to-end supply chain visibility has been the Holy Grail for procurement professionals for years, yet even with today’s technology and applications at their fingertips, many firms struggle to achieve it. In fact, supply chain visibility is now the third greatest strategic priority for 623 industry professionals in 17 countries, according to the GEODIS 2017 Supply Chain Worldwide Survey.
Despite these priorities, only 6% of respondents could claim full visibility this year, according to Supply Management. The survey also found 67% of the most successful companies placed supply chain leaders in upper management or at the corporate level, and those with industry professionals at the board level saw higher earnings, Edwin Lopez writes in As supply chain visibility rises in importance, a mere 6% of companies can claim it.
What Is Visibility?
Defined as the “ability of parts, components, or products in transit to be tracked from the manufacturer to their final destination, supply chain visibility focuses on improving and strengthening the supply chain by making data readily available to all stakeholders, including the customer,” according to TechTarget. In other words, everyone across the global supply chain can see—at any given time—the flow of goods from raw materials to final delivery.
Driven by globalization, better access to data, and increased customer demands for information, supply chain visibility helps to minimize interruptions, allows firms to more quickly respond to customer needs, estimate future demand, and track performance.
In Tive’s Beyond Visibility: How to Build a Supply Chain That Thinks, the company points out that this year, numerous technological advances have “finally come together to make it possible for managers to track every component from its source to its arrival in the hands of the end consumer.” Here are three more trends that are helping to make today’s supply chains smarter than their predecessors:
- RFID is becoming more ubiquitous. Radio Frequency Identification tags and readers are more affordable, and that means more companies can use them to track products across the supply chain. "Cost will further go down as volume further increases significantly year over year, be it for labels or other RFID hardware," NXP Semiconductors’ Ralf Kodritsch, told IoT Journal. Concurrently, many firms using RFID solutions are talking openly about the benefits and the return on investment (ROI) they have experienced, thus creating more interest in the technology.
- Cellular devices and services are cheaper and require less power. According to Tive, the “other technology” making end-to-end supply chain a possibility is improvement in low-power cellular connectivity, enabling sensor measurements to be transmitted to the cloud in real-time from almost anywhere on the globe, while consuming very little battery power. “This allows many supply chain managers to gain insights into stretches of the supply chain where they did not have any visibility,” Tive points out in its white paper, “and pull impressive amounts of working capital out of in-transit inventory.”
- Sensors are more accessible than ever. Sensor prices are coming down drastically, due to advances in micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS), Tive reports. “These technologies have enabled miniaturization of sensors and proliferation of them in almost every device we carry around today,” the company states, noting that an iPhone 6s contains 10 different sensors; the iPhone 3G only contained three.
Combined, these three factors are putting end-to-end supply chain within the reach of more companies, including smaller firms that may not have previously been able to afford an investment in RFID, sensors, and mobile technology.
“Obtaining real-time visibility across all tiers in the supply chain can significantly increase speed to market, reduce capital expenditures, and manage risk,” Jeff Dobbs, global sector chair, Diversified Industrials at KPMG, told MEP Supply Chain. “Moving toward a demand-driven supply chain is probably the single most important step a global manufacturer can take today.”