Supply Chain Visibility: Why Do You Need It In Real-Time

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    Over the past few years, supply chain disruptions and shortages have caused issues for consumers and retailers alike. With these issues, the need for greater supply chain visibility has emerged. 

    Supply chain managers and their customers benefit from transparency and accountability resulting from visibility into the movement of products throughout the supply chain.

    In this article, we’ll discuss all things supply chain visibility, starting with what it is and the benefits of real-time visibility. From there, we’ll discuss creating real-time visibility for your organization. 

    What is Supply Chain Visibility?

    Supply chain visibility is the process of tracking the movement of products from initial shipment to final delivery. 

    Thankfully, it’s not as tedious as it sounds with the help of supply chain management software platforms. These solutions connect and provide all stakeholders with access to the same information.

    Real-time insights into the movement of goods improve efficiency and responsiveness to ever-changing demands, which is especially important for e-commerce businesses.

    Take, for instance, a men’s clothing e-commerce brand offering an array of suits like traditional suits and tuxedos. With fluctuating consumer preferences and seasonal demands, having real-time insights into the movement of goods becomes paramount. 

    Imagine a surge in orders for men’s green suits ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. With supply chain visibility tools, fashion brands can seamlessly track inventory levels, streamline production, and ensure timely delivery. 

    The result? Customers are thrilled that they look sharp in their green suits during their favorite St. Patrick’s Day festivities. A better customer experience boosts the chance of word-of-mouth referrals.

    Plus, meeting customer expectations gives you a leg up on the competition. In short, the customer is happy, and you boost your bottom line. It’s a win-win. 

    Benefits of Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility

    Real-time supply chain visibility has many benefits, including reduced disruptions and costs, improved product quality, and more. Let’s examine some of these perks.

    Reduced Disruptions and Costs

    One of the most significant benefits of real-time supply chain visibility is the reduction of disruptions and costs, which is very helpful to all parties involved. 

    When you’re on top of the movement through the supply chain, you can quickly detect potential issues. With that, you can react to issues more quickly and guarantee faster response times. 

    This protective approach:

    • Mitigates disruptions caused by market variables
    • Encourages efficient transportation
    • Prevents wasted workforce time
    • Optimizes inventory levels

    Improved Product Quality

    You can quickly use the information you gain with supply chain visibility to improve product quality by iterating faster and with more information. This also facilitates product localization if you want to expand globally.

    Plus, with eyes on the process every step of the way, quality control becomes much more attainable. Constant monitoring leads to faster detection and resolution of quality issues. 

    Staying on top of production issues that may compromise the quality of your product or buyers’ experience will help you better serve your customers.

    Increased Customer Satisfaction

    Both of the benefits of supply chain visibility we’ve discussed so far help to improve customer satisfaction. Of course, retailers want their items to arrive on time and without any changes in costs. Improved product quality speaks for itself.

    Beyond that, supply chain visibility helps to ensure accurate delivery estimates with real-time updates. Additionally, managing the supply chain effectively makes it easier to handle returns and replacements when the need arises. 

    Streamlined Regulatory Compliance

    As we mentioned, supply chain visibility creates transparency and accountability, which is why these efforts are helpful in streamlining regulatory compliance.

    Supply chain visibility will help to ensure compliance with import and export requirements, environmental regulations, and worker safety. Plus, being aware of how things are moving allows for timely adjustments to changes in regulatory requirements.

    Improved Ability to Stay on Trend

    Staying on trend is a key to success for many businesses, and supply chain visibility helps you do just that.

    For example, with the rise of eco-conscious consumerism, companies are increasingly adopting sustainable packaging solutions‌ — ‌such as sustainable food packaging‌ — ‌to minimize environmental impact.

    Real-time supply chain visibility enables businesses to track the demand for these materials, ensuring timely investment and facilitating the swift adaptation to consumer demands or regulatory changes. 

    This level of oversight is crucial in maintaining the delicate balance between sustainability goals and operational efficiency, ultimately leading to a more resilient and responsive supply chain.

    5 Steps to Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility

    You can take several steps to create transparency and visibility in your supply chain. 

    Fortunately, you can implant these practices and protocols at any point, so they’re helpful whether you’re just getting started or looking to optimize older supply chain processes.

    With that said, here are a few things you can do to create real-time supply chain visibility for the movement of your products. 

    1. Know Your Supply Chain

    The most basic step to creating real-time visibility is to know your supply chain. If you don’t have a clear picture, take some time to familiarize yourself with the journey your products take. Get to know your suppliers and the processes that keep things moving from point A to point B.

    A good exercise for this is creating a detailed supply chain map. Creating this visual representation can make it easy to follow any time you expect products. It can also help identify gaps and pain points.

    As you map out your supply chain, note points of contact for every step along the way. Having easy access to contact information for people responsible for crucial parts of the process will help you quickly reach the appropriate person if there’s ever an issue.

    2. Leverage Automation, Data Management, and Analytics Platforms 

    Another crucial step to creating supply chain visibility is investing in the proper tech stack to streamline your processes. 

    Here are a few tools and platforms that can improve your supply chain visibility tenfold:

    • Contract lifecycle management (CLM) software: CLM software helps manage contracts from initiation through to renewal or expiration. Gain real-time insights into contract status and obligations for maintaining reliable supply chain partnerships.
      • Examples: LinkSquares, Ironclad, Conga Contracts
    • Artificial intelligence: AI enhances supply chain visibility by predicting market trends, optimizing inventory management, and improving demand forecasting. It can also analyze large datasets to identify inefficiencies or risks.
      • Examples: IBM Watson, FourKites, VORTO
    • Process automation: Automating repetitive tasks speeds up operations, reduces errors, and frees up resources to focus on strategic decisions. Real-time data collection and processing enables quicker responses to supply chain disruptions.
      • Examples: UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism
    • Cloud computing: The facilitation of real-time data sharing across the supply chain, enhances collaboration and supports the integration of other technologies like AI and process automation.
      • Examples: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud

    One valuable tool for creating supply chain visibility is ClicData. If you’re not familiar, ClicData is a data management and analytics platform that does the heavy lifting to help business professionals ‌streamline their decision-making process across the board.

    ClicData offers support for data integration, management, analysis, visualization, and collaboration. In other words, it’s the perfect tool to help you ‌create real-time visibility for your entire team.

    3. Train Your Team

    Supply chain visibility becomes more attainable when your team is equipped and motivated to achieve this goal. Getting everybody on board requires comprehensive training that’s designed with the goal of real-time visibility in mind. 

    Some effective strategies for training your staff include:

    • Offering ongoing professional development opportunities
    • Implementing regular performance and skill evaluations
    • Fostering a positive work environment
    • Comprehensive onboarding

    Within these exercises, be sure to focus on the “whys” and “hows” of supply chain visibility. 

    Here are a few ways you can put these training strategies into action:

    Example 1: Conduct workshops that cover the onboarding and training in advanced supply chain analytics tools we discussed above. 

    Example 2: Organize sessions where team members (from different parts of the supply chain) come together. Discuss how their unique roles impact visibility and how they can work together to improve any existing bottlenecks. 

    Example 3: Regularly assess your team’s competencies in using supply chain management software and data analytics tools. Identify areas that need further training to close any gaps.

    Example 4: Pair new employees with experienced mentors who are well-versed in supply chain management. Focus on the importance of visibility and tips on how to improve it (or identify flaws) in their daily roles.

    4. Track and Analyze Your Data

    Setting up the tech to monitor your supply chain is excellent, but what you do with the information you gather matters most. 

    When using ClicData or another analytics tool, you should use every bit of relevant data to inform decisions related to your supply chain processes to improve and iterate going forward.

    Some key supply chain metrics you should look at include on-time shipping, order fill rate, perfect order rate, and order cycle time. 

    Although it errs on the side of supply chain management rather than visibility, understanding these metrics will give you a clear picture of your supply chain strengths. It’ll also help you better understand any weak links that you can reinforce by addressing issues with the specific vendor or replacing them if necessary.

    5. Choose Partners Intentionally

    There are many moving parts in the supply chain, and partnering with the providers that keep supporting this movement will give you better insight into statuses within your supply chain.

    For example, creating partnerships built on trust and communication with suppliers will help you better understand your inventory status. Partnering with a trustworthy and transparent courier service will always be the best option when tracking shipments at the end of the supply chain.

    On that note, recognize when to search for a new partner. If you track the data and see patterns demonstrating that a partner’s performance isn’t up to par, it may be worth searching for a replacement. Loyalty is valuable in this industry, but it’s essential to do what’s right for your business. 

    Furthermore, “cheapest” doesn’t always equal “best.” A partner with higher rates is worth the investment when other terms are favorable, such as quicker deliveries or more accuracy in orders.

    How ClicData Can Help Optimize Your Supply Chain

    Choosing the right tools to optimize your supply chain and improve your visibility is key. With the support of the right technology, you can confidently streamline this crucial business process.

    ClicData is a robust platform that integrates with various data sources and systems to collect and analyze supply chain data. This allows your business to make informed decisions and identify areas for improvement.

    Ready to access your supply chain data in real time? Sign up for ClicData today to start your free trial, or book a demo to learn more.

    About the Author

    Author: Ezekiel Cohen

    Ezekiel has a special affinity with numbers and patterns, on top of being a natural at PR. This gives him the edge when it comes to SEO analytics and advertising strategy.