Supply chain visibility can help supply chain managers overcome many common challenges. However, achieving supply chain visibility is something that comes with plenty of obstacles on its own, and, despite the incredible advances of modern technology, supply chain visibility challenges continue to abound.
This article, explains the importance of supply chain visibility before discussing common supply chain visibility issues and how they can be overcome to help you achieve complete supply chain transparency and all of the benefits it offers.
What is the State of Supply Chain Visibility?
The simple definition of supply chain visibility is the capability to track shipments of commodities at every point in the journey from sellers to buyers. While this may not seem so monumental of a task compared to other technological accomplishments of the 21st century, complete supply chain transparency remains a difficult goal for most companies.
The challenges of collecting and managing shipment data in a way that promotes supply chain visibility have only been amplified in recent months by broader supply chain challenges. However, these broader supply chain challenges have also made achieving supply chain visibility all the more critical. Supply chain visibility is a luxury that allows supply chain managers to predict and respond to disruptions, better coordinate with partners, and create a more cost-effective supply chain — all of which can go a long way toward helping companies meet the challenges of today's global economy.
Types of Visibility
Supply chain visibility can be broken down into three categories or stages: the order stage, the in-transit stage, and the invoice and audit stage. During the order stage, visibility ensures that the correct product and quantity are shipped to the customer. During the in-transit stage, supply chain visibility allows both shippers and cargo owners to track the location and status of a shipment. Finally, visibility during the invoice and audit stage ensures that the transaction between sellers, buyers, and contracted LSPs is handled properly and efficiently.
The Importance of Supply Chain Visibility Integration
During the product's journey from the seller to buyer, there's a lot of data to collect and manage. In the past, this data was collected and managed via exclusively manual methods. However, manual data management and collection presents a number of problems. For one, it is time-consuming and inefficient. Perhaps an even bigger problem with manually collecting and managing shipment data is that its process is incredibly prone to errors, and these errors can often turn into costly problems.
A far better option is to create an integrated approach to data collection and management that utilizes application programming interfaces (APIs) to create a network of independent yet connected systems that can automate the process of collecting and organizing shipment data. By reducing the likelihood of errors and reducing the number of staffing hours required to collect and organize shipment data, utilizing an integrated and automated approach to supply chain data handling can do a lot to boost a company's bottom line.
What Are the Challenges in Getting Real-Time Supply Chain Visibility?
The benefits of supply chain visibility are undeniable, but so are the challenges of achieving it. Today, the biggest obstacles preventing companies from reaching complete supply chain transparency include:
- Lack of synergy between automated and manual operations – Even companies that leverage automation to its fullest extent must still rely on a number of manual processes throughout their supply chain. Unfortunately, a lack of synergy between these automated and manual operations makes sharing data between them a challenge.
- Difficulty collecting and managing data – The challenges associated with collecting and managing shipment data, such as real-time container tracking data, present by far the biggest obstacle standing between most companies and supply chain visibility. Manual data collection leads to data that is messy and error-prone. It's also time and resource-intensive. However, building an automated container tracking solution is a time and resource-intensive project as well.
- Inability to draw valuable insights from data – Even when companies can collect accurate shipment data, it's often so messy and unorganized that analyzing it for valuable, actionable insights is a real challenge.
- Difficulty coordinating between partners – In addition to being difficult to analyze for insights, data that is messy and not standardized between partners makes it difficult for companies to communicate with various partners throughout their supply chain — and efficient communication and coordination is vital for supply chain visibility.
The Importance of Data Quality for Confident, Proactive Visibility
In covering supply chain visibility challenges, we've already touched on the importance of data quality. It isn't enough for companies to simply collect real-time container tracking information and other shipment data. While this is certainly a vital first hurdle to overcome, it's not the end of the road. For tracking data to offer any real value, it must be accurate, organized, and standardized.
The importance of collecting accurate shipment data is easy enough to understand; if a supply chain manager bases their decisions on incorrect data, those decisions aren't likely to yield beneficial outcomes. With manual data collection and management, errors and inaccuracies can be unacceptably common.
Along with being accurate and free of errors, it is also essential for shipment data to be well-organized. Even if it is completely accurate, the data you collect is only valuable as the insights that you can draw from it — and drawing actionable insights from messy and unorganized raw data sets is a near impossibility.
Finally, ensuring that your shipment data is standardized across partners means that you won't have to worry about critical points getting lost in translation. By guaranteeing sees the same facts and numbers presented in the same format, standardized shipment data facilitates far more efficient collaboration between partners.
What Are the Benefits to Supply Chains When Visibility is Solved at Scale?
When companies can achieve complete supply chain transparency via shipment data that is accurate, organized, standardized, and automatically collected, the benefits are wide-ranging. Supply chain visibility solved at scale leads to benefits such as:
- Mitigating Risk – Supply chain visibility makes it easier to predict and mitigate risks before they turn into real-world problems. When you can view and analyze every aspect of your supply chain in real-time, identifying areas of concern ahead of time becomes much simpler.
- Faster Response Times – In addition to helping you predict and prevent disrupting events, supply chain visibility can also help you respond to such events faster when they do occur.
- Improved Inventory Control – With complete supply chain transparency, you can know what's on its way to your warehouses and when it will arrive at all times, providing you with much more reliable control over your inventory.
- Higher Customer Satisfaction – The same tools your company uses to track shipments throughout its supply chain can be supplied to your customers as well, allowing them to track their purchases in real-time and boosting customer satisfaction.
- Better Insights Into Your Supply Chain – A completely transparent supply chain is also one that is far easier to analyze for potential areas of improvement. Accurate, organized data leads to insights that can be used to improve the health and efficiency of your supply chain.
The Future of Supply Chain Visibility
Overcoming the challenges of supply chain visibility will require companies to develop an automated, integrated, proactive, and API-driven approach to data collection and management .
Real-time container tracking APIs allow companies to automatically collect container tracking data that is complete, organized, and standardized across partners. In the recipe for supply chain visibility, this type of high-quality container tracking data is by far the most important ingredient, making container tracking APIs the future of supply chain visibility.
However, building a custom container tracking API in-house is something that can amount to a massive financial investment and a project that might take years to complete. Fortunately, there is a better way!
Achieve Complete Supply Chain Visibility With Help From VIZION
With VIZION API, shippers and BCOs can receive organized and standardized real-time container tracking data pushed via API to any software system or spreadsheet. By putting high-quality real-time tracking data at your fingertips, VIZION API can open the door to complete supply chain transparency. To see for yourself why VIZION API is the future of ocean freight visibility, be sure to schedule a demo of VIZION API today!