In Part 1 of this two-part series, I covered the history of supply chain visibility, its benefits, and also some of its shortcomings. In summary, we’re happy to see the standard supply chain tech stack get a much needed upgrade with the addition of visibility solutions. Now, more than ever before, supply chain operators need new tools to tackle unprecedented levels of complexity and volatility. Furthemore, the supply chain ecosystem (e.g. suppliers, CMs, distributors, and carriers) are finally ready to embrace data sharing as a means to achieve collective efficiencies. That said, visibility is not the be-all and end-all for solving today’s supply chain challenges. Instead, it is a step in the right direction. The real improvement comes when we combine visibility with actionability. In this Part 2 of the blog, I deepdive into the advantages of combining visibility with service management for the most actionable and impactful supply chain digitization strategy.
How Service Management Works with Visibility
Service Management and Visibility are highly complementary. Both can operate independently, but both are better together. There are two scenarios for benefiting from the Service Management + Visibility combinations:
- 1. Post-Deployment
- 2. Pre-Deployment
In the scenario where visibility is already enabled, the visibility solution and service management platform are connected to create a seamless flow of information and action. Since both visibility and service management are built as modern SaaS solutions, they are easy to connect via REST API. Just like we laid out as the ideal scenario, it’s now possible to:
With the combination of visibility and service management, supply chain leaders can finally get true, end-to-end visibility:
- • Real-time visibility of assets: shipments, containers, SKUs, etc.
- • Real-time visibility of processes: late shipments, OS&Ds, penalties, etc.
True, End-to-End Visibility
Unlike before, when there was a problem and the next steps disappeared into an offline spreadsheet, now it’s possible to track, prioritize, and manage every exception to its final conclusion. In this way, organizations can finally take advantage of N-Tier Visibility by making that visibility actionable. Furthermore, since every process and every step is now tracked in a single source of truth, there is the added benefit of analytics to identify trends and systematically address recurring problems.
Visibility is helpful, but visibility with service management is a game changer.
That was the case for BASF, the global chemical manufacturer. Tired of their customers learning about issues before their own logistics team, BASF implemented full-upstream visibility for its maritime shipments back in 2016. With the benefit of inbound visibility, BASF could now mitigate delays in real time and also proactively communicate with its customers so as to avoid any surprises. However, with tens of thousands of shipments, it was difficult to track all the communications and make sure that each issue was properly mitigated. As a result, BASF began incorporating service management in 2019 in order to define and track each step of its late shipment process.
In this setup, the visibility solution would trigger a late shipment alert, which would then be automatically ingested by the service management platform, kicking off a predefined workflow. Now, every hand-off – from import manager to planning to customer service – could be tracked and proactively managed.
In 2021, with the process standardized and well documented, BASF replaced many of the manual steps with automated bots. Not only did this increase the time to identify and resolve issues, but it also freed up the team’s time to focus on the more complicated issues.
For most companies, the journey to end-to-end visibility is a process that takes several months to several years to fully deploy. The reasons are fairly straightforward that integrating with supply chain partners requires both a considerable amount of time upfront educating and coordinating with them and then also mapping the different systems data fields to complete the integrations.
During the planning and implementation phase for visibility, many companies have found service management to be a light-weight bridge to considerable value. Even without the real-time late shipment alerts, companies still benefit significantly from standardizing and streamlining their existing processes. Moving the existing late shipment escalations from emails and spreadsheets to a centralized SaaS platform already delivers 80% of the value with 20% of the effort. The same can be said of your other Excel-based processes, like NPIs, quality issues, supplier delays, and many more.
Because service management does not require partner integrations, most companies go live within 30 days. There’s no IT required, either. Then, as the visibility solution comes on line, the processes are primed and ready to ingest the alerts and automate the workflows.
For many companies, adopting service management in advance of visibility is a best practice that ensures you’ll make the most of their visibility investment.
Ken’s Foods saw the benefits of this approach when they started with service management and then added visibility. In 2019, Ken’s was having difficulty reconciling the fact that customers were frequently complaining about late deliveries, but Ken’s own internal KPIs were showing near perfect performance. Initially, Ken’s saw end-to-end visibility as a way to flush out any inconsistencies and address any problems. While the logistics team at Ken’s began investigating visibility solutions, the supply chain team took immediate action by rolling out Elementum for service management. The net result was an ideal one-two punch.
Within 30 days of rolling out Elementum, Ken’s identified the core of its problem: the brand new distribution center was creating major bottlenecks. These problems had gone unnoticed because everyone assumed the “old sites” must be causing the problems. However, it turns out that during setup, the TMS and WMS had not been properly configured, and the new DC was constantly mixing up orders. Only when Ken’s had centralized all of its exceptions and could filter by site were they able to zero in on the root cause of the problems. Once the root cause was identified, IT was able to jump in and sort everything out. Chargebacks were reduced by 15%, new issues were addressed 7x faster, and customer satisfaction went up.
The new streamlined Ken’s was then a perfect candidate for the full benefits of visibility. Ken’s decided to utilize BluJay, which was already its TMS provider. By combining BluJay and Elementum via API, Ken’s combined real-time alerts with standardized, automated workflows. Now, Ken’s feels like it truly has control of its end-to-end supply chain.
Like Peanut Butter & Jelly
When I was an industrial engineer at Boeing, I wished our team had end-to-end visibility. When I was building a visibility product, I realized the criticality of making visibility actionable. Now that I’ve spent the last few years building a service management product, I realize that visibility and service management go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re both good on their own, one salty and the other sweet. But together, they’re the perfect combination to get you through a long day.
It’s good to see supply chain management getting more attention in higher education. Supply chains are both more complex and more important than ever before. We will see a major shift towards supply chain management as a core competency for senior executives at Fortune 1000 companies. Here are recommendations for students and new grads looking to get their careers off to the right start. In Part 2, I’ll be sharing recommendations for employers.
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