The need for visibility across supply chains has been reported for many years, and by many analysts, as a key strategic objective for supply chain leaders. The topic of supply chain visibility, more specifically, real-time transportation visibility is one people are widely aware of and have at least an intuitive understanding of the need. The ability to see and act in real-time or even ahead of problems occurring is powerful. It is especially powerful in areas of the supply chain that rely on so many independent stakeholders performing a variety of roles to move goods from A to B.
Sitting alongside the clear need and apparent understanding of the visibility topic and its potential advantages, there are many supply chain visibility platforms. Software tools that can provide visibility of vehicles on maps, Internet of Things applications which can provide deeper and closer monitoring at asset level.
However, the adoption and use of technologies to deliver visibility remains largely sporadic. There are some use cases where adoption would appear stronger than others. Very specific and confined use cases such as the monitoring of temperature-controlled goods are where visibility technology has mainly been applied/implemented. A sensor stuck to the product monitoring location and temperature is helpful, not least to mitigate disputes if something were to happen to that product whilst in transit.
But beyond these specific and more confined use cases, visibility technology hasn’t really taken hold. At least, not to the levels that had once been predicted and certainly not in a way that fulfils the early vision of supply chain visibility and its transformational impact on global supply chains.
You see, monitoring certain products or assets through the supply chain offers very narrow and limited value. The real power of supply chain visibility technology is that it can start to move the supply chain to a point of autonomy. Decisions can be made, processes can be started or paused autonomously. Predictions can be made at much more macro levels than on whether as opposed to on a more individual level such as whether and individual product will arrive on time and in the right condition. To achieve the larger vision, the more transformational impact, technology needs to be far more embedded to the business and its operation.
Businesses today are striving to find ways to remove costs from the supply chain whilst increasing flexibility and resilience. They are looking for ways to remove complexity whilst involving more and more suppliers and partners. They are looking to mitigate incoming legislation and friction brought about by global changes. They are looking to find ways to reduce their overall carbon impact on this planet and demonstrate corporate responsibility.
These challenges cannot be solved by the ‘traditional’ approach to real-time transportation visibility. Visibility needs to offer more than a dot on a map. Businesses need to be able to connect every system they interact with. The data needs to flow back into the business to drive automation. The data needs to be structured in a way that lends itself to macro analysis enabling smarter and more precise macro decision making in the future. This requires a new, further reaching, and more radical approach.
Visibility technology needs to go further than it has before. For the full vision of visibility to be realised and the truly transformational impact to be seen, Technology needs to be built into a business, integrating across various systems in ways that are unique on a business-to-business basis. Essentially, the technology needs to be capable of being built into and around each business. How the technology captures data needs to be configurable and targeted, the outputs delivered by the technology need to meet specific businesses requirements. The technology essentially needs to be capable of being deployed at a more unique and specific level to each adopting business.
The future supply chain visibility technologies need to deliver bespoke visibility. Visibility that is built specifically for each business. It’s obvious really… If every supply chain is different, and every business has different requirements and a different vision for how they want to use visibility, one-size-fits-all really doesn’t make much sense.
Now, achieving this is complicated and poses new challenges to technology folk. Of course, building each business a brand-new platform will be both costly and time-consuming. So much so, it will stunt adoption, not accelerate it. Instead, real-time transportation visibility platforms need to be built in a way that enables and maximises flexibility.
Technology can be built in a way that delivers the flexibility required to work in and around existing systems and processes. It can be built in a way that enables unique outputs, unique interfaces, unique automation. Not only can the bespoke approach help to deliver unique advantages for today’s challenges, but it can allow future developments and iterations to maintain competitive advantage. The approach from vendors needs to match the technology requirements. Long-term, collaborative, and innovative models need to surround each deployment, working closely with end-users to ensure the exact outputs are achieved.
The platforms and companies that can deliver bespoke visibility, and therefore deliver true competitive advantage, will revolutionise supply chains both today and tomorrow.