Maximising Visibility: the Path to Sustainable Supply Chains

Visibility in supply chains is vital for tracking goods, finances, and sustainability, allowing organisations to optimise resources and reduce waste

Visibility in supply chains is vital for tracking goods, finances, and sustainability, allowing organisations to optimise resources and reduce waste.

Organisations want visibility across the supply chain, from sourcing to delivery, to boosting efficiency and transparency.

With advancing technology making it easier to manage every function of the supply chain, more pressure is being put on businesses to see every asset and make its supply chain as strong as possible. Advanced tools like IoT and AI enable real-time monitoring and decision-making, fostering collaboration and resilience across the supply chain.

How are procurement professionals dealing with the challenges of maintaining as much visibility as possible, what is the impact it's having on sustainability and how could technology make it even better?  

What are the most common challenges in maintaining visibility in a supply chain?

Michael Stockdale, Group Head of Supply Chain and Logistics at Red Sea Global, said: “Maintaining visibility in a supply chain is a multifaceted challenge that extends beyond procurement alone.

“Amid globalisation, economic uncertainties, diverse product ranges, and evolving consumer demands, supply chain operators face the daunting task of orchestrating this chain while ensuring compliance with safety, quality, and sustainability regulations.

“Moreover, they must navigate swift responsiveness, tight lead times, disruptions, reverse logistics, and technological advancements.

"Achieving visibility in this dynamic environment involves managing vast data generated by IoT devices, instrumentation, and big data analytics. Robust monitoring and control tower platforms are essential for real-time tracking, ensuring activities proceed as planned and addressing exceptions promptly.

"Competitively meeting demand requires accurate demand forecasts and proactive inventory management or responsive mechanisms to react swiftly to actual demand signals.

"However, realising effective visibility necessitates continuous technological advancements and skilled professionals adept at leveraging these tools to navigate the complexities of modern supply chains.”

Adam Spurdle, Global Supply Chain Partnership Director at Communisis, adds: “When it comes to maintaining visibility in the supply chain, inconsistent data flows, disparate business systems, and limited collaboration among supply chain stakeholders, all hinder visibility.

“When there are lots of data anomalies and systems don't work together effectively, it becomes difficult to track goods and operations across the entire supply chain."

How are these challenges impacting sustainability?

Sreedhar Patnala, Vice President of Digital Products at Systech, says: “Measuring the true environmental impact of a product requires tracing the precise journey of how that product was made, including the suppliers and materials involved. This data from multiple sources must then be consolidated to derive actionable insights.

“Without full supply chain visibility, organisations cannot make informed decisions regarding the products and suppliers they work with and how environmentally friendly they are. This hugely impacts their sustainability performance as a whole.

“Traceability, however, is one piece of the puzzle. Coupling it with data to monitor, report and mitigate through insights is vital to significantly impacting sustainability performance.”

"Real-time data access is crucial for a smooth supply chain,” adds Jon White, the UK Managing Director at InXpress.

“Inefficient logistics and transportation processes are often the result of poor collaboration between all parties, missed optimisation opportunities, and unnecessary trips. These inefficiencies can increase fuel consumption and emissions, making it essential to prioritise the optimisation of supply chain processes.”

How can procurement professionals and suppliers work together to improve visibility?

Michael says: “Procurement professionals can enhance visibility by fostering close collaboration with suppliers. Such partnerships facilitate reduced inventory levels and improved service levels, benefiting all involved parties.

"Clear and open communication is paramount. By establishing shared goals and maintaining alignment on expectations, collaboration becomes more fruitful and sustainable.

“Procurement professionals can mitigate this risk by clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and objectives, ensuring both parties are on the same page from the outset.”

Adam adds: “Promoting collaboration and data exchange with suppliers. Clear guidelines for information sharing and leveraging technology for real-time data transmission are critical steps. It is also important to align on shared sustainability goals to ensure concerted efforts towards monitoring and communicating performance.”

How can an organisation effectively review and look for improvements in their supply chain visibility?

Andy Coussins, EVP and Head of International, Epicor, says: “Enhancing IT integration and collaboration across the supply chain tackles the problem of data silos and instead encourages seamless data flow, boosting overall supply chain visibility.

“Implementing a cognitive ERP system that can enhance engagement between ERP systems and essential workers through natural language prompts and user-friendly interfaces can be key to improving supply chain visibility.

"Using these systems to digitalise and automate data entry and inventory management will also be key to developing visibility. Having data stored in one centralised system can reduce silos and greatly improve visibility and overall supply chain operations.”

What role does advancing technology have to play in improving visibility

“Supply chains and procurement are undergoing rapid evolution and improvement, mirroring the advancements in technology and processing power," Michael adds.

“The most successful supply chains will demonstrate mastery over disruption, seamlessly adapting to changes in consumer behaviour, evolving business models, and shifting economic landscapes.

“Organisations that harness the power of information proliferation by effectively analysing big data through investments in processing power and early adoption of AI capabilities will gain a significant competitive edge.”

Sreedhar says: “Solutions are now available that provide end-to-end visibility throughout the supply chain, help businesses navigate complex regulatory environments, and support efficient manufacturing while avoiding waste.

“From raw materials to final products on store shelves, businesses can track and trace their goods with precision and ensure they comply with environmental standards. In addition to supporting the reduction of waste and inefficiencies, this level of transparency ensures the authenticity and quality of products.

“Carbon footprint is reduced through deployment of innovative technologies including advanced sensors, operational efficiencies, automation, digital traceability and product authentication.”

What does the future hold for supply chain visibility

Jon says: “Emerging technologies will undoubtedly be implemented in this space in the future to help drive further visibility and efficiencies.

“AI-powered analytics are capable of processing large amounts of supply chain data and identifying patterns, predicting demand, optimising inventory levels, and detecting anomalies or potential disruptions. Meanwhile, machine learning algorithms can continuously learn from data to improve forecasting accuracy and enhance supply chain performance.

“Integrating the supply chain with blockchain technology offers secure, real-time tracking of goods from origin to destination, reducing fraud and errors.”

Adam adds: “AI is definitely a key trend that we’ve already seen starting to come into effect.

“Through automated data capture and classification, AI can turn supply chains from reactive to proactive and predictive models, improving forecasting, optimisation and decision making.

“Specifically, AI systems can suggest solutions to address disruptions and improve workflows, such as alternate suppliers, production schedule changes, and delivery route optimisation, which are continuously refined.

“As AI develops, the automation and new processes will get smoother, so we’ve got a lot to look forward to in this space.”

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