Why SKU level supply chain visibility is so important

Melina Saliba

In the world of global supply chain, the last mile is often cited as the most critical stage in the shipping process to ensure a successful delivery and with it, satisfied customers. However, the first mile is equally, if not more important. A mixed bag of issues can arise at this stage, making it even more imperative that you have full control over this area. Factories often run late, producing less than the actual order requirements or are too eager to ship before the order is complete. Understanding what stage manufacturing is at some 30 or 40 days in advance allows for corrective actions to be taken long before it's too late, either at the origin or adjusting downstream intakes and demand commitments.

Many providers, be it start-ups or established companies, market themselves as 'end-to-end' supply  visibility providers. However, visibility is a broad term and most of these companies track shipments at a consolidated level, making it difficult for companies when searching for a certain SKU or a critical order. These providers ultimately give you a bird’s eye view of all of your global shipments, from the beginning of its journey until it reaches its destination, but they do not constitute true insights into what is happening within your global supply chain  

SKU level visibility solutions give you the necessary data for decision making

It's imperative that every partner from freight forwarder to customs brokers to third or fourth party logistics provider manage its piece of the supply chain at SKU and order level. By utilizing data-driven insights, a complete view of the inner-workings of the manufacturing phase is always available, all building up to “ready to ship”.  

You should also take the QA/QC process prior to shipping into consideration as a part of the end-to-end visibility process, all living in one centralized platform.  Each of these elements are crucial in understanding and managing your supply chain at a deeper scope. Connecting the first-mile milestones from your vendors with your production and last-mile is the key to a successful and efficient global supply chain.

By having a single source of truth, every stakeholder in your supply chain ecosystem can be held accountable for the necessary measures. The ability to manage your global supply chain at order and SKU level with data driven actionable insights to make fast decisions and act before issues arise is no longer an unattainable luxury to supply chain leaders, but an industry standard requirement. Locating a vessel and obtain all necessary information including SKUs, order numbers, quantity, etc. should be at the fingertips of supply chain leaders everywhere, as it’s ultimately more efficient than having source a separate system and comb through additional data to find it.  

A fully synchronized visibility platform that prioritizes transparency into all aspects of your global supply chain in the most detailed level allows companies to gain a sizeable advantage over their competitors, allowing them an angle that others don’t have.  

The difficulties of supply chain management with limited visibility

As experts in global supply chain management with more than 150 years of experience from 100+ realized customer projects, we can speak honestly and confidently with the following statements.

You cannot run a supply chain effectively off spreadsheets. Spreadsheets have been proven to be inefficient time and time again. Without real-time updates, weekly reviews of manual spreadsheet data won’t allow you the confidence necessary to know when and how your shipments will arrive and make required early on decisions in case of delays. Neither can you by just knowing where a vessel, flight, rail movement, or truck is if you don't know the goods leave your vendors facility from the very first mile. . Not having data insights at SKU/part level from -30/60 days from the manufacturing base can leave you short on or with the wrong inventory to meet planning requirements and demand. The vital piece here is a clear end-to-end view in a single source of truth for accurate decision making.  

Businesses also notoriously purchase more product than needed to meet customer demands. This is often due to lack of transparency into the global supply chains, acting as an endless money eating cycle. Excessive inventories in warehouses and distribution centers and unnecessary costs for overcapacity tie up cash, which is elementary for CFOs these days. With proper data, insights and analytics, managing upcoming forecasts is simplified and streamlined, making it all the more important to keep as a priority in your supply chain.  

SKU level end-to-end visibility is the key to ensuring goods reach the right destination at the right time

Order and SKU level end-to-end visibility is the key in allowing you the freedom to ensure goods reach the right destination at the right time and ultimately meet demands. Once implemented, it enables companies to quickly make early-on decisions like slowdown or re-route containers but only if you have the insights into which SKUs and orders are inside the containers. It also allows you to adjust processes that might not have worked in the past, and align your priorities to fit your specific supply chain ecosystem by using actionable dashboards. Instead of going in blind, order and SKU level end-to-end visibility ensures that everything is accounted for, and moreover, the future can be easily mapped out.

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Having a high-level view of shipments is not enough. Managing a global supply chain goes beyond this level, and this is where order and SKU level end-to-end visibility plays its pivotal role. A fully integrated visibility and execution platform should connect all your data sources such as your ERP system, your vendors, forwarders, carriers and logistics service provider as well as leveraging further external data to provide true end-to-end visibility and control. Acting on data-driven actionable insights is the only way you have complete control of your global supply chain. By doing so, you can make decisions with confidence and certainty.

If you work with global supply chains, here are ways we can help you gain full control and visibility over your shipments.
If you’re operating with spreadsheets and disparate sources of data, learn more about how a digital platform can provide you with supply chain visibility in this free guide.
If you’d like to learn more about how to leverage your ERP with a supply chain platform, check out our free guide.
For more supply chain best practices, visit our resources page.
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