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by Chris Jones
EVP Marketing & Services
Descartes Systems

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Supply Chain Comment

By Chris Jones, EVP Marketing & Services, Descartes Systems

April 18, 2012

Five Points for Getting Value from Visibility Solutions

Results from Visibility Investments have been Hit or Miss - Tips to Ensure Success

The concept of visibility has been around for almost 20 years, but the results received from one company to another have been “hit and miss”. From our experience working with leading retailers, distributors and logistics services providers, we have developed a five point framework for customer success.

Jones Says:

Because time to value and data quality matters so much and there will be unknowns, a premium should be placed on choosing a solution with flexibility and trading partner connectivity.
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Narrow the Focus

The biggest challenges with visibility projects are scope and time to value. Visibility projects fail from the start when the scope is too comprehensive and there is a “hockey stick” view of value. Because visibility is so nebulous for many executives, tangible results and momentum really matter. To get results fast, start by picking a defined portion of the supply chain (e.g. a small set of trade lanes) or a couple of critical supply chain events to track. Do not underestimate the time and effort of getting trading partners and carriers connected as it can be the longest part of the implementation. This is one of the reasons that network based cloud solutions with preconnected parties are becoming more pervasive.

Manage Data Quality

Did you know that the acronym ASN has two definitions: advanced ship notice and already shipped notice? The latter can make any visibility project fail. Data quality is still alarmingly poor and needs to be recognized as a management problem as opposed to a technology problem. As part of the initial phases of a visibility project, implement data performance reporting to measure the timeliness and completeness of data for all of the parties involved – including your own organization. Scorecarding data quality is just as important as delivery performance will make and keep visibility projects producing great results.

Expand your constituency

The fatal mistake in achieving or maximizing visibility value is to keep the data confined to the supply chain organization. There are so many others that can use the information and impact supply chain performance. For example, one customer provided visibility system access to their merchandising organization and completely eliminated a large inventory staging yard piled 3 high with 40’ containers. As the merchandisers gained confidence in the reliability of the shipment data, they began to order less reducing inventory. Include “360o” scorecarding with the carriers and logistics services providers. One version of the truth is essential to improving supply chain performance and do not assume that their systems will tell them what is really going on.

Add Visibility Layers

It is important to understand that implementing a visibility system is a learning experience. By analyzing the visibility information with your greater constituency, you will expose blind spots in the supply chain. For example, knowing the status of customs clearance for international supply chains or scheduled dock appointments may be key information that provides you with a comprehensive view of your supply chain performance. Look for solutions that have a comprehensive view of the purchase order to warehouse receipt, but with the ability to layer in a more events as your learn more about your supply chain performance drivers.

Achieve actionable visibility

Visibility systems make information available to all of the supply chain parties and form the basis for making collaborative decisions that improve performance. However, these systems do not provide the actual collaborative process for making decisions. Without “baked in” processes, so many visibility projects fail to realize their full potential. There is a next generation of multi-party applications that allow all of the parties to participate in the decision process and understand the impact of the decisions made by each party. These solutions use the information of the visibility system, but have the multi-party process built in to facilitate decisions and project their outcome. One new solution which we call Load Flow Control is used by a retailer, its suppliers and carriers to intelligently consolidate shipments at the supplier or within the carrier network. As changes are made by any of the parties, the solution’s intelligent route guides dynamically advise if the changes comply with the retailer’s delivery performance mandates and makes the information available to the retailer, supplier and carrier.

Final Thoughts

From our experience, successful visibility implementations can be counter intuitive to many technology projects – less is more and they are a journey. Because time to value and data quality matters so much and there will be unknowns, a premium should be placed on choosing a solution with flexibility and trading partner connectivity. From there, the single most important objective is to determine a reasonable scope and stick to it until the results start pouring in.

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