At the close of 2019, Jennifer Van Cise via IndustryWeek reported on the steep challenges faced in manufacturing and downstream supply chains. New challenges arise daily, and even as companies look to squeeze efficiency from all processes, a lack of visibility remains a major problem. In fact, 84% of chief supply chain officers note the lack of visibility as their biggest challenge, but why? The answer is simple and comes down to disparate systems and poorly integrated supply chain planning. To overcome the obstacles through 2020 and the future, shippers need to understand the key challenges associated with disparate supply chain planning, the unmatched benefits of integration, and a few steps to maximize the value of a unified TMS and system lineup.
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Problems That Arise Without Integrated Supply Chain Planning
While the most obvious disruption of today’s supply chains focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not the only problem. A parts shortage, delays in transit, and incorrect shipment data can lead to massive disruptions and significant added costs. Yet, these problems have a common denominator. Somewhere, hints arose that a problem existed, and an opportunity was lost to intervene.
An inability to intervene due to a failure to recognize the initial hints of possible problems is the root cause of disruptions. Yes, some disruptions are inevitable, such as hurricane-related events, but even in those circumstances, strongly integrated supply chain planning could divert resources to overcome the obstacle and get supplies to their destination on time. There is always a solution, but without integrated systems and plans to intervene, the solution remains beyond reach.
Proactive Measures to Integrate Systems Yield Strong Benefits
Proactive measures in the supply chain surround the concept of integration. Remember that the key principle of integration is the same across any system. It provides a way to move information between systems. That’s the whole purpose. Advanced integration can automatically trigger events within the system, such as scheduling freight pickup or delivery, payment processing, and auditing of past activities.
Integration is also an opportunity to validate information in real time. Instead of waiting for a problem to cause a disruption, shippers have the information to take a proactive stance, validate data, and complete the transaction. Imagine the possibilities for freight management and route optimization through integrated supply chain planning. By reviewing real-time traffic reports and travel restrictions, shippers can choose trade lanes that move freight the fastest and have a “Fast-Pass” for moving through checkpoints. Ultimately, improved visibility through integration will help maintain business continuity throughout disruptions. And, the application of integrated supply chain planning before, during, and after a disruption will teach shippers how to build the better mousetrap of freight management and effective logistics.
Key Steps to Integrate and Maximize Logistics Management Value and Responsiveness
Shippers should follow these steps to reap the greatest gains from integrated supply chain planning and system use:
- Build a strong business case for integrated supply chains. A strong business case might not seem like a necessary step, but the business case can easily prove the value of integration by pointing to the benefits associated with it and help avoid the risk of partial integration. In other words, shippers need to build a business case for connecting everything, not just a single system.
- Require suppliers and carriers use portals to access your TMS and other systems. In conjunction with requiring adherence to the inbound freight routing guide, shippers should encourage all partners to use appropriate system portals and channels to make like-system use more accessible. It’s almost a means to twist the hands of carriers and avoid unnecessary work or error.
- Automate. Automate. Automate. As carriers move further into the use of automated scheduling, shippers should leverage AI and machine learning to gain more information about the supply chain. Integrated supply chain planning never stops, but if it can be automated through dynamic rulesets that flex in times of disruption, shippers realize additional savings and performance improvements.
- Gain end-to-end visibility. Shippers should also gain end-to-end visibility through integrated supply chain planning, leveraging systems that truly span from the manufacturer through the last mile, as well as the inclusion of reverse logistics, to paint a thorough picture of freight management.
- Train staff on how to use the system properly. Robust training and education must be top priorities for shippers that are focused on integrated supply chain planning. Without properly trained staff, any improvements that require the use of a system or a specific function will fail.
- Consider the use of new technologies, such as blockchain, to create an unbreakable record of the supply chain. As reported by Adam Robinson via Industry Week, “As an incorruptible resource, blockchain could provide heightened accuracy in processes, virtually eliminating the need for invoice auditing programs. Since blockchain is not yet widely available for use in supply chain systems today, companies looking to increase end-to-end visibility should consider outsourcing freight auditing programs. This would require integration with third-party logistics provider (3PL) platforms as well.”
- Use visualization tools to rapidly understand and apply analytics’ insights. Advanced visualization tools quickly transform metrics into time-relative graphs and charts to help share information and figure out how to better mitigate losses during a disruption.
Build Responsiveness Into Integrated Supply Chain Planning With a Connectivity-First Approach
A successful supply chain is an integrated, thoughtful supply chain. It must have a connectivity-first approach, leveraging technology and best practices to maximize its value and enable true responsiveness. In today’s age, disruptions will continue to stress supply chains, but through integration, that stress will only forge a stronger, more efficient supply chain.