Supply chain visibility has emerged as a critical factor for organizations aiming to stay ahead of the curve. The ability to monitor and understand the intricacies of supply chain operations has become paramount in mitigating risks, optimizing processes, and capitalizing on opportunities. But why does achieving comprehensive visibility remain a pressing challenge for so many businesses?

For episode 137 of The Sourcing Hero podcast, we interviewed Frank Kenney, Director of Market Strategy at Cleo. He chatted about the importance of supply chain visibility, its role in creating choice, and which teams in the business should hold responsibility for its management.

Why is visibility so important?

“You have to be able to see something to react to it,” says Frank. “Visibility and the ability to see things that are happening – both in a real-time way and being able to go back and take a look at trends – becomes incredibly important, especially when you are thinking about all of the little pieces of the puzzle.”

“It could be a minor accident that is slowing up traffic on I-4 between Tampa and Orlando that is going to dramatically impact a truck that drops off fresh fruit to a port or a rail yard that then has to take those strawberries up north. You can have a simple car accident really throwing off an entire system. But when you have visibility, then you have options.

“I think people and companies tend to look at visibility as just this piece of technology or bits of data, instead of visibility being this event that will trigger multiple consequences and multiple realities. Visibility opens the doors to choice. It opens the doors to governance. It opens the doors to accountability. I really think that those are the things that are going to make a difference as we look ahead ten years at what supply chain management means over the next decade.”

 

Why do we need supply chain visibility? Visibility opens the doors to choice. It opens the doors to governance. It opens the doors to accountability.

 

Visibility, choice, and accountability

Visibility forces us to make choices and make decisions. “Prior to visibility, especially visibility around the supply chain, managers fell into thinking that whatever is going to happen is just going to happen,” says Frank. “But having that visibility now forces us to say, ‘Well, this happened, and I can do A, B, or C, or I can do nothing, but those are still the choices that I have.’

“For example, if you are ever in a car and are using any of the driving apps, every once in a while, your phone or your system will say to you, ‘There is traffic up ahead, but you are still on the best route to get to where you want to go. Would you like an alternative route?’With visibility comes choice. With that choice comes accountability for whatever you decide to do. That’s really the power of visibility. It’s the choice and accountability for that decision-making. I think that companies today are so much more empowered because they see the things that are happening, and they now have a choice and a responsibility to do something, or do nothing.”

Who is responsible for visibility?

Traditionally, the supply chain function or procurement function has had responsibility for the current risk position in the supply chain, working out backup plans and making decisions when things change. But with the rapid advance of supply chain visibility technology, the danger is that the responsibility for visibility begins to fall on IT instead.

Frank believes visibility needs to be the responsibility of the business, including procurement, supply chain, and (especially) the salespeople who deal directly with customer complaints.

“The sales guy has to sell it, but the sales guy also has a responsibility – or is at least the proxy – for how things get fulfilled,” says Frank. “As a customer, I’m not calling the IT department of the company whose iPhone case I just bought. No, I am calling the sales team. I am calling the customer success team. I am saying, ‘Hey! When am I getting this? It says that you created a waybill, but it says that it hasn’t been dropped off and it has been like this for two weeks.’

Frank notes that although IT may play the major role in ushering these systems in, the decision-making is a shared responsibility. “The business of supply chain – including the sales organization, the fulfillment organization, and the procurement organization – must take more responsibility for what this visibility means. Visibility into what? What are the physical things that get impacted by delays? It definitely needs to leave the realm of just IT and needs to be owned and embraced by the business.”

For more insight into supply chain visibility, listen to Frank Kenney's full episode of The Sourcing Hero here: