When children play football (or soccer as we call it in the USA) they tend to all rush after the ball at once. This makes it difficult for them to see where the ball is, never mind being able to control it.
My six-year-old said: “Everyone should get out of my way so I can see the ball. That way I can know where it is going to be.” It’s true, it would make the game a bit easier for him, but is just seeing where the ball is going to be really what he wants?
This made me think of supply chain visibility. Because if you could see where something is going to be at any given time you would have better visibility and control over your supply chain.
In football, what my son needs is to see the projected path of the ball - then he can run around the rest of the players and kick it into the goal. In supply chain, what manufacturers need is the ability to see what their trading partners are doing at any given time. Then they will have visibility into inventories and the ability to control the logistics and movements of their products. Like in football, if you cannot see what is happening then you won’t know what your reaction will be. But the problem is, you’re still reacting to problems as they arise, just like my son in his soccer game.
So I asked him, “Is seeing where the ball is now what you really want?” His brow scrunched up, he looked at me and then wandered off, by which I assumed that the conversation was over. He quickly turned around and said, “No, I want to know where the ball is going to be and to do that I need to know what the other players are going to do so I can think about what I will have to do to kick the ball.”
He’s right of course. A manufacturer doesn’t want to know what their suppliers and logistics partners just did. They want to be able to anticipate or dynamically predict what their suppliers are going to do, how they are going to perform so that the enterprise can prepare a response to what is going to happen.
It doesn’t matter how great your trading partners are, problems can arise that might stop your products getting to customers in time or your materials to your production lines. Ideally, you want them to share real-time data with you in order to see what is where and when. But that’s just part of what’s needed for Supply Chain Visibility. The other part is understanding and predicting performance for every supplier or partner - and that takes data, lots of data. With that you need the ability to analyze that data in real time to understand not only what is happening right now but what is going to happen in the future to allow for efficient and effective decisions to be made.
Technically, it can be accomplished. Integrating all suppliers and partners, even the rarely used ones, to share real-time updates can be accomplished quickly. Analyzing all of that data for actions at the supplier facilities, materials in transit, enterprise logistics activities and in-transit shipments to customers can all be done in real time and used to identify failures days to weeks before those failures occur. Industry leaders are doing this today and a few examples of this are here.
But my son still wasn’t through with his revelation. “What I really want, Dad, is a helmet that lets me read minds. Can you please go build it for me? Don’t you do stuff like that at work?”
Well, sort of.