Visibility is a hot topic in supply chain circles today, and depending on the audience, some readers might immediately think of customer visibility or planning visibility. However, visibility into supply execution would serve many organizations better in the long run, allowing them to address any upstream disruptions more effectively.

The reason for this fixation on upstream visibility is that supply chain professionals make a living by solving problems and keeping plans on track. In order to do that effectively, they must have enough visibility and time to understand each and every issue they encounter.

Figure 1: Upstream Visibility Capabilities

The first thing to realize is that there are multiple points of failure (suppliers, logistics providers, customs, partners, and anyone who might touch or make a decision about a shipment.) Figure 1 provides a cross-functional view of many of these points of concern. The Best-in-Class (top 20% of respondents based on performance) have this figured out, as they are 56% more likely to have visibility into in-transit shipments, which is where basic tracking against a schedule takes place. Regardless of mode, they have visibility into shipping status at all times, helping them ensure that deadlines are met. With no visibility into in-transit items once they’re shipped, one can only hope for an on-time arrival, especially for international shipments. If a shipment doesn’t show up, a lot of expensive expediting ensues.

Having positive status information sounds simple, but too many organizations lack it. A good place to start is having the ability to highlight exceptions through automated alerts. For international shipments, many companies focus on visibility into trade document flow to establish cleared checkpoints. Often, it’s the paperwork that can hold up international shipments. This makes document monitoring and tracking as critical as the shipment itself when ensuring on-time delivery.

The next step is how the information is pulled together in a model that provides an end-to-end view, with shipment data and real-time alerts for any disruptions. There are many ways disruptions can be monitored, but services can be contracted to provide the most relevant data for a particular location or company. Incorporating that into a comprehensive view, within the context of the plan, is what makes it effective. The Best-in-Class are 50% more likely to have this in place.

For international shipments, knowing the milestone events for customs clearance, shipping dates, and monitoring points is as critical as tracking a work order on the shop floor as it flows through various departments. The key is to have the data reported so progress can be tracked.

Online trading partner collaboration is another facet of gaining this visibility. In any supply chain, there are perhaps thousands of shipments on the move, making individual tracking infeasible. That’s where collaboration tools come into play by filtering out the exceptions and providing confirmations on everything else. The advantage of these types of partnerships and tools is the immediate visibility they provide, allowing employees to focus on the exceptions before they become real issues. The Best-in-Class have a big advantage here and All Others would be wise to increase their partner collaboration.

Upstream visibility on the supply side is essential to ensuring schedules and plans are on track. Supply chain professionals work hard to gain this level of visibility so that action can be taken on an issue at the earliest possible moment. Best-in-Class companies have established a competitive edge with this level of visibility into their operations, and for companies seeking to improve their upstream visibility, Aberdeen recommends following their lead as a playbook for improvement.

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