The Refrain is the Same: Can You See Me Now?

The Refrain is the Same: Can You See Me Now?

Every year there are several surveys asking supply chain executives to rank the challenges they face. And, for as long as I can remember, supply chain visibility ranks at or near the top. This year’s reincarnation of the control tower metaphor is being applied to supply chain visibility. Can you see me now? If it’s so critical, why haven’t we implemented it?
—Rich Sherman, Supply Chain Discipline Expert at Trissential

The supply chain landscape is composed of many different applications and systems often within an enterprise, let alone the inclusion of the customers and suppliers required to achieve end-to-end supply chain visibility. It’s a complex functional and technical network. There are many vendors addressing the issue; after all, in many ways it represents the Holy Grail. However, the problem is that for supply chain visibility to work, many systems from many vendors are going to have to interoperate. And, which company in the supply network is going to be the “mother ship”? Your customer and supplier base are composed of competitors to one another and you’re not their only trading partner. Like them, you have competitors that are their customers and suppliers. Aha! Perhaps this is the reason that for as long as we can remember, supply visibility is the most desired yet underserved solution in supply chain.

That is not to take away from the number of vendors that are providing visibility to a limited subset of the supply chain. There are some solutions in transportation, electronic transaction exchange, procurement, intra-industry collaboration, and other functional capabilities that provide control-tower-like applications. Just no one seems to be addressing a company’s entire supply chain. Well, no one except Hewlett-Packard.

In contract with Vecco International, H-P defined and developed a technology agnostic collaboration platform, primarily to incorporate their supplier base to address the challenges of managing the complexity inherent to their business. It’s the one implementation that we have observed that meets what we think are the requirements for supply chain visibility.

  • The solution has to be agnostic and non-competitive. Vendors will not surrender to a competitor; but they may be willing to give up a piece of the pie for the larger opportunity supply chain visibility brings to enterprise applications.
  • The solution must be non-intrusive. It has to plug and play with many and any vendor’s applications. The solution can not recommend one application or require one application over another.
  • The solution has to be highly configurable and interoperate with other visibility solutions such as the functional applications we described earlier.
  • The solution has to have an easily mapped process model and a common data model.
  • When all is said and done, it has to be non-threatening to the technology market, open-architected, plug and play, and offered as a service (SaaS/cloud).
  • Will anyone subscribe to such a model? We certainly hope so, as we are tired of seeing supply chain visibility as the unrequited and unfulfilled love of the supply chain. Can you see me now?

The Outlook

In 2013, expect to see some companies boldly go where few have gone. As mobility, AutoID, location-based services, monitoring and controls, telematics, cloud computing, analytics and other data collection and communication technologies become more pervasive and affordable, the “smart supply network” becomes more of a reality. The core tenet of the smart supply network is supply chain visibility to provide real-time data for real-time decision making to synchronize the flow of goods end to end.

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