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Foundational Aspects of Supply Chain Wide Visibility

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This commentary represents the first of an ongoing Supply Chain Matters thought leadership and market education series directed at clarifying needs and requirements addressing supply chain wide visibility, which is being sponsored by LLamasoft.

More and more, one of the most critical challenges cited by multi-industry supply chain teams is extended supply chain visibility.  This challenge is becoming universal since industry supply and value-chains continue to become more complex with constant changes in needs for business support. It is consistently cited by many supply chain leaders as a continued perplexing challenge.

This industry analyst often hears teams describe their visibility challenge from differing business process perspectives that often include needs for end-to-end supply chain planning, customer fulfillment, supplier based process or overall decision-making synchronization.

Often, this visibility term is lumped into other challenges including supply chain wide traceability, transparency, capacity or inventory management. Thus it is rather important for teams to clarify specific short and long-term visibility capability needs and decision-support requirements from the ongoing distraction of day-to-day symptoms stemming from lack of needed information.

At a recent MIT sponsored supply chain event, Joel LaFrance of General Mills provided simple and powerful definitions.

He described supply chain visibility as a framework of digital informational connections with a long-term goal for the ability to leverage the convergence of digital and physical supply chain processes:

Supply chain traceability was described as a tracking need required to respond to business needs related to regulatory process requirements, product recalls, quality conformance and earning consumer trust.

Supply chain transparency was described in the context of building trust among internal and external organizations and stakeholders that make up the firm’s supply chain.

I’m sure, many of our readers have either similar of slightly different definitions, but what is important is the clarification of business process need and capability, both short and long-term.

A further insight is what organizations have learned in their journey or frustrations related to achieving overall visibility. In the case of General Mills, the learning was described as:

  • Connected data is critical- with the implication that data is channeled into an information utility that can be leveraged by multiple functions or organizations.
  • That such capability is architected and designed to support insights, needed actions, and to drive faster and more-informed decisions.
  • That broader visibility and decision-making changes the way organization’s work in terms of mindset, skills and process requirements leading to data-driven actions vs. bias or gut driven actions, and that supply chain wide visibility implies broader end-to-end ownership and goal-setting vs. any singular functional goal-setting.

The above learning was insightful. We can share other considerations as well.

Enabling end-to-end visibility is not about ripping out existing IT and software application investments.  That is often too disruptive, especially to mission critical supply chain processes. The reality is that supply chain data is indeed spread out among various internal and external systems in varied formats, syntax, and degrees of quality. Instead, it is about building-out enhanced information management, integration and decision-support capabilities from more streamlined sources of planning, execution, supplier based and customer fulfillment information.

From an informational architectural perspective, consolidating required or essential end-to-end supply chain data into a central access utility is rather important. That includes data integration capability supported by universal connectivity, data validation, cleansing and data visualization supported by dashboards and augmented by various forms of essential analytics.

From an organizational change management perspective, establishing a common vision and roadmap of required capabilities that differentiates the various components of required visibility is likewise essential. Like any other change effort, that roadmap should address the implications from people, process and augmented technology dimensions.

It requires a prioritization for which components of supply chain visibility have the initial priority. As an example, overall planning and execution synchronization may be the priority for one supply chain while traceability may be the priority for supply chains in consumer-facing or regulated environments. The ultimate end goal of end-to-end supply chain visibility remains the same, the roadmap and emphasis of approach may vary.

Finally, teams should not presume that universal visibility can be garnered under a single program or initiative.  Instead, it is a building block approach requiring a solid foundation, design principles and modular construction of capabilities that can be changed or modified as-needed without disruption.

In our next Supply Chain Matters market education commentary addressing supply chain visibility, we will address the various considerations related to business process foundational needs.

Bob Ferrari

© 2016 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

Disclosure: LLamasoft is one of other sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog.

A Recent Interview Profile: Ferrari Under the Hood


This Founder and Executive Editor not only oversees the day-to-day content of Supply Chain Matters but from time to time, gets the opportunity to be interviewed by other blogs focused in the area of supply chain businesses processes and information technology.

The Innovator’s Solution, a blog produced and featured by demand analytics and supply chain optimization software provider ToolsGroup recently interviewed me for a series of profiles among supply chain management market influencers.

The blog posting, Ferrari: Under the Hood, is a profile of my efforts in growing Supply Chain Matters, my view of changes that have occurred in the area of supply chain planning, my advice for supply chain planners as well as my background and personal interests.

We are making cross-reference to this blog posting for the benefit of our readers as-well.


Bob Ferrari

The Celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year

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This weekend marks the prelude of the Lunar New Year across China and other regions, one of the most important cultural celebrations across China. It is a time when many contemplate building good luck for the year to come and there are many superstitious traditions to insure previous year bad luck does not come forward.

The upcoming New Year is that of the Year of the Monkey. Ritual would indicate that people born in the Year of the Monkey are said to be intelligent, clever, and gregarious, and mischievous. They are noted as skilled and smart, but do exhibit shortcomings, like a quick temper and a touch of arrogance, tending to hold them back.

It is a time of great migration as millions of adult children travel home to gather with parents and other family to celebrate the start of the New Year. A report published by Fortune indicates that earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of travelers were delayed at railway stations in Guangzhou and Shanghai due to snow and ice storms delaying trains.

As supply chain teams are well aware, many if not most of China’s manufacturer’s shutdown operations during at least the designated week-long Lunar New Year celebration period that begins on Monday. Traditionally there are 15 full days of celebration ending with the Festival of Lanterns.

As the Lunar New Year begins China’s manufacturing sector remains quite challenged with declining export and domestic product demand.  Overcapacity is noted as rampant and many manufacturers are struggling financially hoping to hold on. Thus, the upcoming year takes on considerable significance for new beginnings and better fortunes. The government of China has developed plans for investment in strategic industries and has initiated efforts to consolidate state-owned manufacturers.  With the adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership, China is indicating a renewed emphasis on sustainability and climate change measures to reduce levels of pollution.

As the Year of the Monkey begins, it is indeed fitting to be a time for not exhibiting arrogance but that of patience and insight.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our China based readers good luck for this Monkey year.

Happy Holidays and a Timeless Classic From Supply Chain Matters

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On behalf of myself and Supply Chain Matters, I would like to extend sincere best wishes for a joyous holiday season and happy and rewarding New Year.   Happy Holiday Wreath

As was been our tradition, we share a classic and time worthy 2012 holiday commentary from U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) that reports on what supply chain resources Santa Claus would need to deliver his holiday presents. It’s a great recording to share with children and prospective students of supply chain management.

Supply Chain Matters will be publishing live commentaries during the week from the Christmas holiday through New Years day. After all, supply chains are always at-work somewhere in the world.

Readers can anticipate our year-end commentaries regarding the final results of the 2015 holiday buying surge and Omni-channel commerce as well as other year-end milestones.  And, if you can, take the time to review and reflect on our previously published 2016 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains.

Best Wishes to All.

Bob Ferrari, Founder and Executive Editor

A Short Break

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We want to advise Supply Chain Matters readers that we will be taking a summer vacation break over the next two weeks.  During this period, we will be publishing a limited amount of commentaries.

However, over the past two weeks we have working long hours in loading-up lots of industry, technology and business process focused blog commentaries that can be reviewed and commented upon.

Anticipate that we will be returning to a full publishing cycle in mid-August.

Once again, let me take this opportunity to express thanks to all of our global-based subscribers and readers for their continued readership.

Bob Ferrari, Executive Editor

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