5 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Visibility

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Your Supply Chain Needs Kung Fu

What is the one thing you should focus on to improve supply chain visibility? You must focus on what you cannot see, and then you will see Grasshopper.  

If you’re familiar with the old TV western Kung Fu you might appreciate my attempt at profundity, and you’ll learn there’s a more serious meaning to the answer. Kung Fu is one of my favorites for several reasons, but mainly because it contrasts perspectives and aims at our inability to see beyond ourselves. The flashbacks to the Shaolin monastery, the flutes, flickering candles, and ancient proverbs of questionable authorship make for campy, thought-provoking, touching stories. Supply chain visibility has mysterious qualities that may present challenges to your company. Perhaps a little Kung Fu can help us see the answer.

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Visibility is Invisible

Here is a paradox. Supply chain visibility is invisible. Supply chain visibility is not an object we can see - it’s an abstraction. However, we can see the data and the software that creates visibility and its effects on execution. It’s similar to the inner strength of Chi, which is invisible, but a force that guides the process to the desired outcome.

Visibility is Undefinable

Each company must discover the meaning of supply chain visibility, defining visibility for itself. It must be understood and represented as relevant to your company’s process, so it serves your company’s decision-making process and objectives. If there are potentially infinite definitions for visibility and our definitions are subject to change at any time, then a formal definition does not exist.  

Visibility is Elusive

Visibility is elusive. It’s not just because you can’t see it or because it lacks definition. We can describe how it works, and I define visibility as situational awareness, which means taking action to achieve the desired outcome when relevant conditions change. Situational awareness evaluates a snapshot in time, looking for changes, and that presents a potential problem.  

A supply chain is dynamic, constantly changing from one moment to the next. As soon as you are aware of the picture, it has already changed. Software applications that are monitoring data for changes can only respond to the most recent snapshot, and that works if these snapshots are constant.

We talk about real-time data, but at what cost?   Sure, monitoring everything all of the time is ideal, but as long as we live in a world of limited resources, we must choose wisely.  

Visibility Has Limits

There is a limit to how frequently data is monitored and actions initiated to change execution. The ability to share data and support remote function calls that initiate changes in execution depends on the systems in use. Visibility requires collaboration between your company and its supply chain partners, and that won’t happen unless you can solve the Supply Chain 4.0 riddle. The resources needed to support this level of integration may be negligible at first, but they can mushroom as visibility increases the number of partners and data elements.

Visibility is Infinite

Hold it. I just stated visibility has limits, but now I’m claiming it’s infinite. Another paradox, or am I full of contradictions? Grasshopper?

As the volume of data swells in this age of BigData, it appears the trend may have no end, and for all intents and purposes, we could treat data availability as infinite.  Like rising sea levels, we’ll need to spend more resources in the future cleaning up data models to limit intake and output.

There is no end to the number of data elements in a supply chain network.  The primary issue for your enterprise is choosing what data is worth monitoring and how often.  

Increasing Visibility Decreases Visibility

 

Digitalization improves visibility and interferes with visibility.  Another paradox.   Consider how digitalization increases the complexity of supply chain processes: 

  • Digitalization introduces layers of sensors and controllers, decision points, and data multiply - processes grow more complex.       
  • Increasing dependence on semiconductors, sensors, 5G, AI, predictive analytics will expand the number of parameters and algorithms. 
  • Digitalization divides algorithms into ever-smaller micro-processes for fine-tuning small steps for ever-bigger gains.  
  • Larger system footprints as processes drill deeper for granular data and extend outwards to surrounding environments and beyond for BigData.     

As complexity increases and more supply chain partners connect, the software source code, data, and integration points increase.  This problem could occur in your company’s enterprise or a supply chain partner’s.  Either way, an error affects both parties.  

Defining a process and data model for your supply chain can reduce this risk and potentially influence partners to do the same for their enterprise.  The best case would be partners borrowing your model.

Focusing on Partners is the Answer

Supply chain visibility is ultimately about connection; integration is a two-way street both parties must navigate.  Just as your company must clearly see where to integrate with partner systems, partners need to clearly see where to integrate with your enterprise Grasshopper.   

Focus on the perspective your supply chain partners have when looking at your enterprise and you will see the answers you seek,  Grasshopper.