A few years back, customers would have to make multiple calls to the service centre/store to check on the status of delivery on the purchase they have made at the store. With the advent of e-commerce, the explosion of mobile phones, internet access, the expectation around the access to up-to-date information on the status of delivery anytime, anywhere and on any device has gained significance. The expectation from customers is that of proactive notifications (Emails/SMS) from vendors about delivery status.

All stakeholders of SCM expect easier, faster access anytime and anywhere of Orders in Process, WIP Inventory/FG Inventory, risks and events at various stages in the supply chain. Making this data available, driving insights from them is Supply Chain Visibility.

Supply Chain Visibility initiatives have the potential to impact the bottom line of the organisation. Obtaining real-time visibility across all tiers in the supply chain can significantly increase speed to market, reduce capital expenditures and manage risk.

In an ideal supply chain with total visibility, all stakeholders have access to relevant data and information at any time. Visibility of data, information is highly contextual in an organizational setup and depends on functional roles, industry practices, type of business scenarios (B2B or B2C), SCM complexity etc. It also involves the integration of various technology platforms.

Consider the following scenarios which entail visibility in different contexts:

• For a customer who has ordered a shirt online from an e-commerce portal, knowing when the order will be delivered at his doorstep is important. The portal conveys a tentative date and the customer is kept informed of the status of his order. For this, orders on e-commerce portal need to integrate with ERP system of the vendor. To ensure this visibility to customer, multiple processes work in tandem.

• For an SCM Manager, the status of dispatch from warehouse for orders due for the day and exceptions/delays to be notified is important. In some industries like pharma or perishables, live location of containers, reefer trucks may need to be tracked along with parameters such as temperature. For this, trucks and containers are GPS enabled and their location can be tracked through technology platforms. IoT enabled containers enable monitoring of live temperature data during transit.

• Marketing Manager requires data on when production can be completed for the customer order and finished good ready for packing and dispatch. Based on this data, information on dispatch date can be conveyed to the customer based on certain heuristics.

• Production Manager requires data on the status on stages of production orders/outsourced orders. Based on the progress, updates can be provided for likely dispatch date and any deviations that are foreseen. This requires individual stages of production to be tracked. For this, Manufacturing Execution Systems need to be integrated with ERP.

• A CEO shall be able to asses the performance of all sales channels on a Sales Dashboard sitting in his room. Manufacturing dashboard for CEO will help to monitor the performance of all manufacturing plants at any given time.

• SCM Manager can assess real-time positions of all vehicles due for delivery on a dashboard.

From the examples above, we can see the parameters that Supply Chain Visibility can be manifested differently depending on:

1. What is the data and information required?

2. Who (Role) requires the information? (CEO, Head Marketing, Sales Manager)

3. Where the data is available? (On-premise ERP/standalone system not Integrated with ERP/partner system/Cloud)

4. How is this data/information to be collected?
This is the most crucial aspect of Data Visibility Initiatives.
a) Integration between legacy and new technology is important. This integration converts data collected in steps above to useable insights.
b) From manufacturing context, collection of data from OEMs could have its challenges. It will be worthwhile to check compatibility of data from multiple OEMs on the visibility platform.
c) Change Management – To collect Real time information, roles on ground need to be trained for use of technology. SCM Visibility also requires highly collaborative working between departments within the organisation.

5. How is this information to be presented?
Conversion/Aggregation of data to information and presenting Insights based on the role of the person accessing data is crucial.
Data could be required on a 55-inch LCD screen for a CEO Dashboard and also on a Mobile Phone. Designing flexible UI is the foundation for fantastic user experience.

As seen from scenarios above, there is the presence of multiple disjointed partners in the supply chain ecosystem. Partners need to share information in real-time for Supply Chain Visibility to be meaningful. While there are multiple innovative products and technologies with niche features, their ability to integrate with existing systems needs to be considered in detail before embarking on the SCM visibility initiatives.


This article has been authored by Parag Dani, Lead for SCM and Digital Initiatives, Aditya Birla Group. All views expressed are personal and belong to the author. He can be reached at parag.dani@gmail.com