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Your Supply Chain Visibility is Only as Strong as its Weakest Link

July 28, 2023

February 5, 2024

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x min read

Supply chain visibility, the art of untangling the elaborate route that products take from production to delivery, is not merely a buzzword—it's an imperative. This pivotal procedure meticulously tracks each stage of a product's journey: creation, handling, transportation, and delivery. The chief objective? To provide stakeholders—from manufacturers to consumers—with instantaneous, critical insights into a product's location and condition.

Nowadays, supply chain visibility is the backbone of successful businesses. It fosters agility and efficiency, enabling swift detection and resolution of potential bottlenecks and excursions. Moreover, it proactively manages risks, facilitates real-time tracking of goods, addresses the increasing demand for transparency, enhances customer satisfaction, and informs decision-making.

But let's not forget—a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This concept holds especially true for supply chain visibility, with a mere 6% of companies boasting complete visibility. The purpose of this article? To spotlight these weak links and deliver robust strategies for their reinforcement.

Weak Links in Supply Chain Visibility

BlueVoyant's startling study shows that 97% of firms have endured supply chain breaches, with 93% attributing direct impacts to weak links within their supply chains. This compelling data underscores the pressing need to rigorously examine and rectify these frailties. 

Data Quality and Accuracy: Unseen Pitfalls in Supply Chains

Robust supply chain management depends on the quality and accuracy of data. Erroneous or inaccurate data can spur a cascade of incorrect decisions, creating inefficiencies across the supply chain. Unaddressed data inaccuracies can inflate inventory levels, lead to an increase in expired items, and heighten the likelihood of stockouts.

Communication: The Lifeblood of Supply Chain Management

Effective communication is the cornerstone of efficient supply chain management. Yet, achieving this clarity becomes a Herculean task when multiple systems and data sources are at play. Communication breakdowns pave the way for misunderstandings, delays, and inefficiencies, impairing the seamless flow of operations.

Manual Processes: A Double-Edged Sword

A surprising number of supply chains continue to depend on manual processes like spreadsheets and check calls. While these methods have their merits, they come bundled with drawbacks. Manual processes are time-consuming, error-prone, and inefficient, lacking more advanced systems' real-time visibility and automation.

The Complexity of Multimodal, Multi-leg Shipments

Within the intricate web of supply chains, cargo often changes hands multiple times. This complexity can make control and visibility a monumental challenge, sparking delays, damage, or loss. Even minor disruptions can echo throughout the entire journey, skewing delivery times and exacerbating the complexities of multimodal, multi-leg shipments.

Data Utilization: A Critical Success Factor

Access to data isn't the be-all-end-all for successful supply chain management. Equally important is the ability to leverage this data effectively for informed decision-making and operational improvements. Achieving this requires combining the right tools, efficient processes, and specialist expertise.

Improving Supply Chain Visibility

Enhancing supply chain visibility is paramount to maintaining operational efficiency and resilience. It allows businesses to preempt bottlenecks and mitigate potential disruptions, thereby bolstering customer trust. Here are some effective strategies to consider.

Mapping the Entire Supply Chain Network

Improving supply chain visibility begins with comprehensive network mapping. This process involves identifying every stakeholder—suppliers, manufacturers, distributors—  involved in product delivery. What's the final goal? It's to expose the weak links within the supply chain by meticulously analyzing and understanding the product's journey. A study cited by Harvard Business Review underscored this complexity, tracing 690,000 links across 47,390 global firms from 2003 to 2017. It found, on average, 90.5 intermediary firms annually connecting chipmakers to automakers, illuminating the intricate nature of supply chains.

Sharing Updates Proactively

Enhancing supply chain visibility requires proactive communication that involves regular updates on production schedules, inventory, and delivery times. Doing so aids in effective planning that minimizes disruptions. For example, in case of a production delay from raw material shortages, proactive sharing of this information enables customers to adjust plans and avert disruptions. Similarly, regular inventory updates guide customers' informed decisions on order placement and quantities.

Maintaining Regular Supplier Communication

Constant communication with suppliers is a fundamental tenet of supply chain visibility. Clear communication channels foster strong supplier relationships, encouraging them to provide timely, accurate information about their operations. A 2020 McKinsey survey involving over 100 large organizations across various sectors revealed that companies communicating frequently with suppliers enjoyed higher growth, lower operating costs, and greater profitability than industry peers.

Offering Shipment Tracking and Real-time Updates

Elevating supply chain visibility with real-time updates and shipment tracking enhances transparency and reduces uncertainty. This strategy, focused on customer engagement, fosters trust and satisfaction. It empowers customers to organize efficiently, circumventing potential disruptions. Moreover, prompt notifications regarding delays help customers swiftly adjust their plans, softening any adverse effects.

Gathering and Implementing Customer Feedback

Customer feedback forms an essential cornerstone in enhancing supply chain visibility. It not only assesses performance but also identifies operational gaps, steering data-driven decisions for improvement. For instance, persistent customer reports of delays or stockouts can yield invaluable insights. They may signal underlying issues related to supplier communication and inventory management or even necessitate upgrading supply chain systems.

Strengthening Weak Links

Here are some ways to strengthen real-time transportation visibility:

Real-Time, Iot-Based Monitoring

According to Tive's 2023 State of Visibility report, an overwhelming 77% of supply chain decision-makers call real-time visibility a critical requirement. Strikingly, however, a mere 25% actually utilize it in practice.

As offered by platforms like Tive, IoT device-powered monitoring strengthens supply chain weak links by providing real-time, item-level data on the location and condition—temperature, light, humidity, shock—of shipments at all times. This real-time visibility allows swift responses to unexpected events and keeps all stakeholders informed. By using the location precision of Tive's trackers—which use a combination of GPS, cellular, and WiFi technologies—businesses can swiftly pinpoint and address vulnerabilities in the supply chain. In addition, critical condition alerts such as temperature can enhance accountability and customer service. 

Condition Tracking

Condition tracking is indispensable for industries like food and life sciences, where maintaining transit conditions is essential. Multi-sensor tracking devices, which measure and report on temperature, humidity, and shipment integrity in real time, can drastically reduce spoilage, damage, or instances of theft. Despite an estimated annual loss of $35 billion from cold chain failures, many shippers still overlook the importance of comprehensive tracking, including humidity and shock data. Utilizing trackers and cloud-based visibility software can ensure quality, enhance delivery performance, and provide a crucial audit trail for regulatory compliance.

Integration with Other Systems

Integrating tracking systems with other supply chain systems is pivotal for visibility and decision-making. Tracker data from platforms like Tive can be seamlessly integrated with other real-time transportation visibility (RTTVP), SCM (supply chain management),  ERP (enterprise resource planning), TMS (transportation management), and WMS (warehouse management) systems,  promoting fluid data flow and improving the quality of data across the entire supply chain. Moreover, integrating Tive's tracker data with predictive analytics platforms like Everstream can elevate shipment data quality. As reported in PwC’s 2023 Digital Trends in Supply Chain Survey, this effective use of technology can reduce risks and costs. Moreover, per McKinsey, early adopters of AI-enabled supply chain management have seen 15% lower logistics costs and 35% improved inventory levels, significantly bolstering supply chain strength.

Customizable Alerts

With their prompt detection of deviations from set parameters, customizable alerts fortify supply chain resilience, safeguarding operational fluency and customer satisfaction. Tive refines this principle, offering finely tuned, personalized notifications for key parameters such as temperature shifts, geofence excursions, or delivery delays. These timely alerts curtail disruptions and strengthen supply chain operations steadfastly.

Proof of Compliance

Proof of compliance is critical in sectors like pharmaceuticals and food and beverage. Real-time tracking systems provide invaluable historical data, demonstrating regulatory compliance concerning transportation conditions. 

Data-Driven Decision Making

Harnessing data from real-time visibility tools empowers strategic decisions in supply chain management. By analyzing this wealth of data, weaknesses within the supply chain that surface can guide necessary improvements. Integrated data, eliminating silos, and connecting systems support a data-driven mode, paving the way for effective demand forecasting, optimized inventory, and improved operational efficiency.

Beyond Data: The Human Element

Fortifying your successful supply chain's weak links goes beyond data and technology—it calls for the human touch. Here are strategic actions you can take with your team:

  • Embrace Training and Education: Equip your team with the knowledge and skills to use visibility tools effectively. In-depth training on equipment handling and procedure protocols ensures high-quality data collection.
  • Promote Open Communication: Foster an environment that encourages dialogue within teams and with suppliers, as it aids in identifying and mitigating potential risks before they escalate.
  • Ensure Responsiveness: Deploy dedicated teams to monitor real-time data and who ready to act swiftly on minor anomalies, preventing them from becoming significant disruptions.
  • Prioritize Analysis and Strategy: Human insight is indispensable in dissecting data, spotting trends, and forming strategic decisions. While machines gather data, human intelligence interprets it.
  • Commit to Excellent Customer Service: Even the most advanced tracking systems aren't foolproof. An exceptional customer service team can maintain trust and satisfaction, communicating effectively during disruptions.
  • Cultivate Supplier Relationships: Strong bonds with suppliers boost communication and cooperation, leading to resolving issues more swiftly. Regular meetings, shared performance metrics, and collaborative problem-solving are tools to enhance these relationships.
  • Encourage Innovation: Humans are at the heart of innovation in the supply chain. Encourage your team to explore novel data usage, automation opportunities, or more efficient ways to work for constant improvement.

Strengthening Your Supply Chain's Weakest Links

Throughout this exploration, we've emphasized the need to reinforce the weakest points in your supply chain to enhance overall visibility. With the integration of advanced real-time shipment tracking solutions and a data-driven approach, it's possible to transform these vulnerabilities into efficiencies. Real-time data allows for strategic decision-making that strengthens the whole chain.

As we turn towards the future of logistics, your business stands at a pivotal junction. Embrace innovative technology and build a robust, transparent supply chain to meet tomorrow's challenges head-on. Revisit your supply chain processes, identify the weakest links, and allow Tive to help transform them into pillars of strength. Your journey toward unparalleled supply chain visibility begins here—are you ready to take the first step?

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