A little more than two years ago, the Covid-19 virus shut down the Chinese city of Wuhan, setting off a chain of disastrous global events. Within a few weeks, there was worldwide upheaval, as the steady flow of vital materials fuelling supply chains began to slow or even halt.
As a result, almost every supply chain encountered severe disruptions, seemingly out of the blue. Grocery shelves, automobile showrooms, and even gas stations suffered from low stock levels, sending consumers, distributors, and manufacturers into a state of panic. Fast forward a couple of years, and things have finally begun to settle down, although we are certainly not out of the woods yet.
Among the many lessons that the pandemic taught us, one of the most valuable may be the way it highlighted the vital importance of supply chain visibility. In many cases, the strain of the pandemic revealed just how fragile many elements of global supply chains are. When put under even the slightest bit of stress, they begin to crumble and function far less efficiently, which sets off a domino effect, subsequently presenting its own set of challenges.
What is supply chain visibility?
Supply chain visibility is essentially a strategy that encompasses enhancing the capacity to track and monitor individual components, subassemblies, and finished goods as they journey from supplier to manufacturer to customer. Thus, complete supply chain visibility implies that an organization is always aware of the location and condition of its inventories.
Armed with this data, company leaders are able to orchestrate the storage, transport and delivery of their products to the end consumer, vastly improving order fulfillment and exceeding customer expectations while keeping operating costs low.
In contrast, low supply chain visibility can leave companies at risk, exposed to numerous issues such as an inability to properly manage disruptions, low-quality (or lack of real-time) data, and a lack of information about individual stakeholders along the supply chain. With that said, let’s take a look into some of the primary reasons why supply chain visibility is more essential than ever before.
Meeting rising consumer demands
Today, consumer demands are sky-high. Once again, we can place a large part of the blame on Covid-19 for this phenomenon. As soon as the pandemic hit, consumer habits were upended, and millions of people were forced to change their behavior.
In response, companies changed their business models, which mostly consisted of opening new online channels where they could service their customers. Due to this large uptick in digital adoption, customers have become accustomed to the perks of eCommerce, such as next-day delivery, discounts prices, and rapid customer service. Many have even developed a lower tolerance for mistakes.
In many ways, improving supply chain visibility and increasing transparency across the entire delivery network is one of the only ways companies can meet these demands consistently or with any sort of efficiency.
Driving results with data
As technology levels the playing field, industries are becoming more competitive by the day. In this data-driven world, it’s the companies that are able to collect and harness data that produce the most accurate insights that are the ones who will find success over their rivals. This is especially the case when it comes to supply chain optimization.
If suppliers and stakeholders along the supply chain are left to manually update information regarding the items in transit, then it will almost certainly lead to outdated data. This results in a failure to identify risks and wastes valuable time and resources on avoidable issues that require reactive responses.
However, complete SCV provides companies with a transparent overview of their respective supply chains, empowering them with the crucial data they need to make more accurate decisions. This ability to make data-driven decisions across the board gives companies the opportunity to maximize productivity, leading to supply chain excellence.
The last few years proved that no one knows what is lurking around the corner. Pandemics, earthquakes, floods, government regulations (think Brexit), and war. All of these incidents can have an immediate and severe impact on supply networks.
Without supply chain visibility, companies impacted by these disturbances may lack a disaster recovery plan. Conversely, if you anticipate probable disruptions, the likelihood of them causing problems is minimized.
Operating a supply chain that is based on robust data analysis and communication will reduce the possibility of bottlenecks and lead to exceptional results.
Addressing the ongoing climate crisis
The growing signs of climate change have shown that more needs to be done to reduce the resource-intensive, wasteful methods of manufacturing and shipping products. Not only that, but ineffective supply chains are responsible for reprehensible levels of waste, especially when it comes to temperature-sensitive items such as food.
Supply chain visibility is one of the best tactics manufacturers have to combat this issue, as it means they will have access to the data they need to salvage shipments that are on the brink and can optimize delivery routes while continually monitoring the conditions of the items in transit.
Moreover, according to a Deloitte study, ethical and environmental issues continue to be a significant buying factor for nearly a third of customers, who claim to have avoided purchasing particular brands due to related concerns. Therefore, companies must be seen to proactively address these issues if they don’t want to alienate a third of their customer base.
It is apparent that supply chain visibility is quickly becoming a prerequisite for any successful supply chain. With consumer demands rising and the pandemic still not fully resolved, there has never been a better time for businesses to invest in increasing supply chain visibility.
Furthermore, companies have an ethical and moral obligation to increase the efficiency of their processes by eliminating waste and limiting their environmental impact, and improving supply chain visibility is one of the most effective ways to make that possible.