Do you know those trashy reality TV shows? The ones that you can't get away from? The ones your kids watch on their phones while you try to talk to them about something important? Yeah, those.
And then there's the term "visibility," which is used in the supply chain industry – and it's just as annoying. Admittedly, the audience for visibility isn't as large as for “Too Hot to Handle” or “Love Island”. Still, for supply chain industry savvy people, it's also just another term for trash TV that you can't escape.
But here's where things get interesting: there are some pretty consistent parallels between these two types of trashy media. In these broadcast formats, every angle is filmed and tapped - similar to tracking cargo in transit! Every detail of going to the bathroom (including intimate shaving), activities under the covers in the bedroom (and much more) is filmed and recorded seamlessly using "sensors." And because such "raw data" aren't necessarily valuable for themselves – in fact, they're often downright embarrassing – sequences are manipulatively edited to make it seem as if things happened at a different time or place than they actually did. To focus public opinion specifically on intrigues and bitching that don't happen that way - similar to a dashboard for supply chain visibility.
And, also in agreement: Nothing happens afterward, and everything is quickly forgotten. No valuable actions follow from it.
It's true: most supply chain visibility solutions today are trash!
(It might not be the most popular opinion to have …).
I want to support this admittedly provocative thesis a bit more.
We keep getting told that we need more visibility, more data, more intelligence—more everything!
But why? What does it actually give us?
The answer is a little. Or, at least, not much more than what we already have. That's right.
So, let's take a moment and talk about what we're really getting out of these so-called "solutions" and why they're not solutions at all.
If you ask me, the term visibility is wrongly applied with a very traditional approach and view of the supply chain. Without being able to back it up scientifically, I claim that over 90% of supply chain visibility solution providers are purely concerned with the whereabouts of goods – tracking them physically from point A to point B. Despite millions of dollars in investment, we're not making progress – on the contrary, things are getting worse. Just check out the “Global Supply Chain Pressure Index” highlighting the need for change: Supply chain disruption is at an all-time high in the last decade.
So why is supply-chain visibility so tricky? Why is visibility just a meaningless buzzword? Why aren't we making headway on this issue?
Because it's all about entertainment!
The aim is not to change and to improve at all. It is about a show, like in these trashy reality TV shows. It's not about added value.
Of course, it's pretty cool to see the real-time temperature development in a container on the high seas. And, of course, everyone is sitting in front of the screen to see the truck move as a point on a map and calculate the arrival time to the second. This can only be topped if the driver leaves the given route, and theft may occur. A SWAT team can be deployed immediately, and a drone can stream the operation live.
As a young consultant, I was trained to always ask and answer the question: So What? You know – the classic Socratic method of asking questions of yourself or others until you get to the root of an issue. And this question also arises here: So What?
My gut feeling tells me that the problem with the term visibility lies on the one hand in the fact that we define the generation of signals using sensors as visibility. And on the other hand, we usually talk about technologies when we talk about visibility – technologies for generating data, technologies for analyzing data, technologies for integrating data, etc. But supply chain visibility should not be (only) a story of technologies!
After all these critical and trashy words, I'll try a timid approach to a more comprehensive definition of supply chain visibility. After all, the path to improvement begins with a clear definition.
Visibility is the state of being aware of and able to act on anything that can impact the business.
Based on this definition, the view and approach around visibility in the supply chain need to be re-approached. Solution providers must consider reconfiguring supply chain visibility regarding efficiency, quality, financing, integrity, and sustainability - not just location. I'm not saying that location isn't essential – I'm just saying it's not enough.
The key to success, to the value of a solution, is to focus on business outcomes. I strongly believe in the approach called "business outcomes," where I need to be able to answer the question: So What?
And the positive answer to the So What question should not be pure entertainment. I want to avoid sitting there with a bland emptiness as with trash TV. I want to be able to learn – a real purpose for improving things in supply chains!
So, what's the takeaway?
I don't have the solution (yet). But it should go more in the direction of a documentary instead of trash TV. (What if there was a documentary-like show out there that could help us understand the world around us in a way that was fun and easy to digest?)
I am also sure that the requirements will (have to) come from the BCOs. And for that, three aspects are essential:
- See it all: BCOs must have access to reliable data. And data must also be able to be exchanged confidentially and securely between the various parties. To date, there has yet to be a practical solution for either. Why is it important? Create trust!
- Know it all: BCOs must be able to generate industry- and product-specific analyses from the data. No BCO wants to see manipulative, suggestive dashboards. Analytics must be cross-functional and meaningful and be generated on demand and, at any time, prescriptive and predictive. Why it matters. Awareness and Mindfulness!
- Do it all: BCOs must be able to answer the so-what question. And the BCO can only answer the so-what question if something was done or not done, deliberately based on the analytics. Action! That's why it's important… to come back to the TV or movie genre.
I would like to hear if you agree with my analysis. And if so, what would the solutions have to look like?I would like to outline a possible approach in another newsletter in a few months. With your help?