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Supply Chain Tech Series: Managing Supply Product and Chemical Data

According to Aberdeen Group’s 2013 study, Chief Supply Chain Officers continue to be challenged with supply chain visibility, or having the awareness of and control over specific information related to milestones in the design, commercialization, production and shipment processes. Their concerns are compounded by the continued globalization and complexity of supply chain operations.

Visibility solutions are not “new” in the retail supply chain space and the market is flooded with products focused on the range of areas in the product life cycle. The common benefit of these solutions is a consolidated platform that can aggregate data from multiple systems and allow for management by exception. However, with the increased requirements for product testing and chemical data management to protect brands against recalls or delays, product compliance also needs to be managed with a visibility tool.

The time to address product and compliance risk should start early in product development. Leading companies proactively ensure that products meet regulatory, business and performance targets in the earliest stages where changes can be readily made and have the least impact.

One great example of supply chain data collection challenges faced by manufacturers is in the area of materials compliance. Traditionally, sourcing teams continuously bombard suppliers for disclosure updates so they can respond to ever-changing government material compliance regulations like REACH, RoHS, Conflict Minerals, and now the many new state-level directives.

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Manufacturers have to collect, screen and manage documentation from potentially thousands of suppliers and, furthermore, on hundreds of thousands of material suppliers in order to understand the compliance status of the components going into a product.

This process is inefficient for both suppliers and manufacturers. Today’s manual data collection processes are cumbersome, inefficient and costly, and often result in inconsistent data quality. Historically, effective collaboration with supply chain partners was never explored because of a lack of trust. The traditional lack of trust and control prevented retailers from collaborating closely with suppliers, causing friction and redundancy when both parties duplicated the same tasks.

With the transparency of shared data and mutual collaboration, retailers are more comfortable offloading responsibilities to suppliers. The trend to more open and bilateral communication has made this a non-issue. The trust factor is no longer a barrier for developing and maintaining collaborative relationships, and most retailers have been able to dismiss this as a concern.

Retailers can also benefit by handing off some technical work to their suppliers while focusing on more important tasks. Some are able to classify their “premier” suppliers based on past performance, provide them with an overall design, then allow these suppliers to carry out the technical aspects of production.

Raw material, component and product testing is a critical phase of production that is often only given a glance when included as part of the long supply chain process. But like driving a car, without the best visibility all around, something could appear in the blind spot and lead to a disastrous situation.

Gaining visibility at all levels of product development, commercialization and production details does nothing but expose problems and opportunities unless this level of exposure is used for remediation and long-term changes. By enabling collaborative processes, retail leaders clearly demonstrate superior quality, cost, service and competitive advantage. They first gain visibility into the milestone data (WIP) and then they invest in dynamic collaborative technologies to build responsive “control center” technologies that are able to act on that intelligence when changes, roadblocks or opportunities occur.

Most companies are exposing the blind spots or gaps in functionality using cloud-based collaborative systems, especially when combined with other solutions for compliance and testing. By adopting visibility and control tower technology, companies enable cross-channel, multi-party, and end-to-end efficiency and agility. These enhanced and more unified processes help bridge the blind spots and company silos as well as reduce current gaps in internal and legacy systems.


About the Author:
Gary M. Barraco is Vice President of Industry Development for ecVision. He is an expert in retail industry technology solutions and a contributing writer for Sourcing Journal