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Op-Ed: Improve Trust and Collaboration with Supply Chain Transparency

One of the buzzwords in supply chain management today is “transparency.” And to be proactive in managing everyday supply chain problems, companies need real-time transparency across the entire supply chain, allowing them to identify and correct potential problems before they escalate into full-blown crises.

Supply chain transparency is made possible by systems and processes that can help companies achieve much higher levels of collaboration, responsiveness and overall performance. What are the steps involved in achieving supply chain transparency? Let’s take a closer look.

Step #1: Be proactive with calendars and collaboration

How are supply chain problems handled today? Chances are, your first indication of a problem starts with an email, a phone call or, worst of all, product being delivered in poor condition or late— and by that time, there’s little you can do. The questions that companies typically ask like: “Who knew this,” “When did they know it,” “What did they say,” only help minimize the damage.

Supply chain transparency, however, empowers companies to be much more proactive, typically through web-based supply chain management systems that alert them to potential problems in advance. These systems include four essential ingredients:

  • Calendars: Workflow calendars set expectations for what must be done in order to meet a schedule. These calendars should be available for every phase of your supply chain and be flexible enough to handle multiple workflows.
  • Alerts: In conjunction with calendars, alerts keep users ahead of potential issues by automatically signaling when key milestones are not met. This provides the information to immediately take corrective action before a problem escalates.
  • Exception Management: Configurable reports and dashboards provide the user only those pieces of information they want—and need—to see. Management by exception keeps users focused on resolving problems, not trying to discover them.
  • Collaboration: Instead of email, your supply chain should include the ability to collaborate, include attachments and track through to resolution while maintaining a history for future use. Collaboration puts all communication into a searchable, traceable and singular source — making it far easier to keep a supply chain on track.

With these tools, companies are no longer minimizing the damage but preventing it.

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Step #2: Travel non-stop with a single supply chain platform

Did you ever ride a train that didn’t go directly where you needed? Or have to transfer from one train to another to reach your final destination? It’s far better to travel non-stop—and your supply chain is no different.

You should be able to get to any part of your supply chain without “transferring” and “waiting” as you log into multiple systems or wait for data uploads.

For true supply chain transparency, all information—from design to production to logistics, and much more—should reside within a single platform. Although the teams entering and maintaining data may be different at each step of the way, these teams don’t operate independently of each other. Information created or modified along the way must be transparent, accurate and immediately available.

Consider the importance of issuing a P.O. to a vendor without knowing whether the vendor is certified, has the capacity, has a sample approved or if all the components are tested. Or consider what happens when a designer decides to remove or change a buckle. How is this information communicated? These events need to be acknowledged to ensure agreement and approval — which means this information must travel non-stop throughout your supply chain, so that all appropriate parties are notified. This is only possible when companies use a single platform with real-time transparency and user collaboration and alerts.

In our view, these systems must incorporate areas such as product development, planning, costing, approvals, testing, compliance, quality and much more, as each of these has a direct or indirect impact on the entire supply chain. Companies must view their supply chain in a way that encompasses every area of PLM and SCM, given the ever-increasing need for greater speed to market, regulatory compliance and product quality.

Step #3: Turn your vendors into partners

“I don’t trust my vendors, and I would never let them enter data directly into my systems!” We have all heard that statement before. However, companies will only succeed if they make their vendors partners in the success of their supply chain, and therefore their business.

Ownership of data needs to reside with the team that controls it. A change in delivery date, for example, is a vendor-controlled task. Within the supply chain system, there should be methodology for a vendor to update status, alert the internal team responsible for approval, and then update the system with new approved dates. This creates accountability throughout the supply chain, and companies can control permissions, levels of security and overall access so that vendors are restricted to only the appropriate areas. In this manner, vendors, testing labs, agents, and all other third parties can become true partners in your supply chain.

The Results: Improved trust and collaboration

The benefits of having transparency to all aspects of your supply chain in an interactive, real- time environment far surpass just a financial ROI. Companies can shorten their cycle times, eliminate redundancy, reduce errors and improve overall performance. Teams will spend more time being productive and less time being reactive. But most importantly, companies will have greater trust in their supply chain data and improved collaboration throughout their organization—benefits that make all the other results possible in the first place.

Article by Mark Goldberg, Director, Western Region, NGC