Supply chain visibility has become a make-or-break point for industries and companies worldwide. It is seen as a potential panacea for recent issues and breakdowns. While that might not be the case, visibility can help create strong risk mitigation policies. And supporting visibility efforts for others is an important way to prove your value to partners, suppliers, and customers.
Visibility advice for manufacturers typically focuses on the production floor, asking if you’re tracking equipment wear and tear or ensuring a steady stream of parts and raw materials from multiple suppliers. This can minimize a call for operations at the 50,000-foot-view to modernize so that visibility is part of overall supply chain success.
When production excellence becomes the standard for your level of expertise, partners and customers will demand proactive support. Taking those steps with technology in mind has the added benefit of ensuring you can support visibility efforts and pushing partners to include you in those conversations.
Adopt portals and dashboards
Technology remains a top enabler and barrier to supply chain visibility. Manufacturers aren’t often part of the conversation when downstream partners build their tech stacks. You often get a list of required tools to support or requests for API and EDI support. Push past that limit.
Adding manufacturers to shared data platforms makes it easier for all partners to look up and downstream. It improves the ability of all to meet requirements or adapt to potential supply chain disruptions. Creating portals or working on multi-user dashboards can help manufacturers monitor the health of their supply chains, check on raw materials, and look for patterns that may show unexpected changes in demand.
Implement parallel checks
Some of the best advice you’ll hear is often said in such a boring, yawn-inducing manner that it’s hard to pay attention to when planning your efforts. Your mission is to think about these platitudes and see if there’s hidden insight after you rub the sleep out of your eyes.
One of the best is the advice to “stay on top of the news.” This is beyond reading your trade publications or refreshing Google News and setting up keyword alerts. Manufacturers should look for ways to build relevant data from outside of their supply chain and see if it matches existing forecasts.
If your team looked at the market from your customers’ perspective, would they make the same orders and requests? Or, would their analysis predict a different demand curve?
Some manufacturers that built out these parallel assessments of the market were able to prepare for customers that overstocked in the second half of 2022. Inflation, consumer price concerns, freight rate instability, and more, highlighted their need to reassess the start of 2023 to reign in costs as orders began to slow.
Claim a seat at the table
The latest CartonCloud Logistics Index notes that more than one-third of logistics companies aren’t tracking data needed to offer client and partner visibility. A chief reason was that “they did not feel this was necessary for their operations.” That’s an attitude that manufacturers may need to overcome in this space, especially if you’ve not traditionally asked for in-depth supply chain data from partners.
However, that same survey points to 24% of logistics providers believing that offering supply chain visibility and tracking is a way to improve their services and customer relationships. Use this as an entry point into the conversation. Demonstrate how your production capabilities and upstream partners provide a direct benefit, enticing downstream partners to share more data and improve your overall supply chain visibility.
Automation, regular updates, and access to your full capabilities can earn you a seat at the table.
Borrow from downstream partners
Manufacturing operations often feel separate from downstream operations. You manage a broadly different set of suppliers, load types, local regulations, import and export hurdles, and more. In many cases, your customers want you to do all that work, so they only need to focus on quickly scheduling dock doors or unloading containers.
Even with that approach, your customers often struggle with their supply chain visibility and security. Because these sectors tend to be larger and more diverse, they receive more attention. Borrow heavily from the flood of articles and news items to help your customers build a more resilient supply chain.
While you’ll see the standard advice of improving relationships and increasing the diversity of suppliers, downstream customers often get pitches on new technologies. They’re also likely to get advice about when is the right time to outsource versus nearshore parts of their business.
Track these outside recommendations to ensure your business is perceived as a leader in what’s next for supply chain efficiency. You’ll also get a heads-up on new efforts to centralize data, adopt IoT, or change platforms. Spending time on enabling this technology or making the shift helps ensure you’re relevant and systems remain up to date instead of falling into outdated models.
Geoff Whiting is the Senior Writer for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce 3PL focused on supporting heavy, bulky, and high-value products. He has more than a decade of experience covering eCommerce, technology, and business development. In his free time, Geoff enjoys exploring new cuisines and music, and trying not to get too lost listening to podcasts while walking in nature.