While it might be good for a superhero or a wizard, invisibility is an unwelcome condition in supply chains. Order management, in its slow, manual-based state, often suffers from a crisis of invisibility, with large gaps forming where processes and personnel are operating under the radar. But without the proper tools to illuminate these dark corners of order management processes, it was difficult to imagine a better way.
Invisibility in inventory and order management causes productivity problems, availability issues and accountability gray areas, which can translate into headaches at the B2B and B2C levels. But there are solutions available now that have arrived only recently. They can form something of a visibility cloak for enterprises, a way of eliminating shadows and saving money in the process.
Lack of management, lack of monetary gain
Invisibility creates issues. It causes different parts of the company to remain unaware of what colleagues and partners are doing. In the supply chain, this could manifest as an omni-channel commerce issue. A customer purchases a product online, and while the commerce portal says it can be delivered the next day, it's relying on unreliable information. Or worse, as EBN contributor Mary Shacklett pointed out - it could even be the result of theft or significant product loss at some faraway end of the supply chain. Either by accident or on purpose, information gets more corrupted as it moves further down the order management chain. This is how the company ends up promising a product that is no longer available in the right location - because the inventory was off in a nearby warehousing facility, but the problem isn't readily visible until after there's already the guarantee of an angry consumer.
Manual data input, manual tracking - these are the kinds of practices that lead to visibility problems. The supply chain is only as reliable as the data it uses, which creates opportunities for users to err. As Supply & Demand Chain Executive contributor Vincent Spadafora recently observed, the lack of accountability stemming from manual data usage is getting increasingly difficult to justify in the age of better tools.
"Every time companies rely on manual input of data they are gambling with one of their company's most precious resources: information," Spadafora wrote. "Manual input allows for errors in the amount of supplies ordered, mistakes in the number of packages received, overpayment/underpayment/late payment of invoices - all of which can cause manufacturing bottlenecks, inventory shortages/overages and cash flow issues."
Investing in order management software to get visible
It's true that supply chain managers had little recourse in the past but to rely on manual processes, and thus a certain degree of invisibility that makes a visible dent on the bottom line. But this doesn't have to be the case. By investing in an order management solution, a company can take advantage of automated processes, better information control and ultimately, a much improved order management capacity.
A solution such as IBM Sterling Global Inventory Visibility, for example, offers an array of solutions for more cost-efficient order management and greater visibility. Some of its benefits include:
- Multi-site inventory visibility: Gaining the ability to see across facilities is absolutely critical to eliminating problems like in the scenario described above, where manual data entry allows inaccurate information to metastasize and derail the final leg of the supply chain. The software can be implemented in more than one facility, including those operated by partners, to provide a single, consolidated view of data, promoting accuracy and accountability in the process.
- Available-to-promise in real time: The advantages of visibility allow businesses to make more competitive shipping and delivery promises, getting consumers the products they ordered quickly and without snafus. The IBM Sterling solution keeps track of data for inventory that is currently available in every location and in transit from one place to another, allowing e-commerce portals to reflect real-time product availability and giving customer service representatives correct information.
- Analytical segmentation: The IBM Sterling platform allows users to develop and customize multiple categories for orders and inventory that can easily be evaluated and compared, as well as utilized in the implementation of performance metrics that identify areas of opportunity.
Visibility comes from the development of a business strategy that is equal parts people, process and platform. Deploying a global inventory visibility solution provides a firm foundation for the deep implementation of visible practices and accountable productivity across the supply chain.