Seeing Supply Chain Visibility through Different Lenses

Rajesh Mani, Director of Presales, Supply Chain Apps, Bristlecone

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 disruption, I have come across many organizations and ‘initiatives of the month’ focusing on improving supply chain visibility. This got me thinking about the nuances of supply chain visibility – what is it and why should organizations care about it, at this moment in time?

Supply chain visibility means different things to different audiences. Depending on where they are in the value chain, their opportunities, pain points and motivations tend to vary.

Let me illustrate with a few examples from my experiences:

1. With consumers seeking better customer experiences, retailers have the opportunity to maximize sales.

A couple of years ago, I was shopping for tiles for a personal home décor project. I visited a popular outlet but found that the tiles I wanted weren’t in stock. In order to quote a lead time, the customer representative had to follow a long, drawn-out process of calling the tile distributor in the state of Washington and leaving a message – only to finally get back to me the next day to tell me that the shipment might be available around next week.

I couldn’t wait for an ambiguous amount of time and decided to go to the competitor across the street for a tile that was going to be assuredly available the following day. It was the uncertainty of whether the product would be available that drove my purchase decision. I chose predictable availability.

However, I did like the unique tiles and the expert design assistance offered by the first retailer and thought through what could have been an ideal customer experience for me:

  • The tile retailer having the ability to look up the current inventory of the distributor online.
  • Ensuring my order would be included in the earliest shipment that the distributor was planning to make from Seattle to the Oakland warehouse.
  • Giving me a confirmed delivery date that would then help me schedule an appointment with my contractor.
However, in this case, the retailer missed a sale due to lack of inventory visibility at the distributor site.

2. New sources of revenue and increased staff productivity await logistics service providers.

Recently, in a conversation with a leading U.S.-based freight forwarder, who moved goods like tiles, he emphasized how important it is for his business to be able to predict delivery of goods from the port to the factory warehouse.

The ability to provide advance visibility to delivery windows helps him bid higher-margin, time-sensitive product shipments and grow his business. Supply chain visibility has allowed him to grow his portfolio from just moving tiles to now bidding on automotive components from suppliers to facilities that operate on just-in-time supply plans and make a bigger profit.

In order to achieve a realistic ETA that could dynamically vary, the freight forwarder needed deeper, reliable visibility into port operations such as traffic into the port, any containers that are held up, weather conditions en route to the warehouse, etc. Ensuring on-time delivery of goods is a complex problem with multiple variables that need to be closely monitored.

In addition, precious time that could be used in enhancing the costumer experience through proactive information and intervention was being consumed by manual data entry.

By leveraging artificial intelligence to automate manual data entry tasks, the freight forwarder was also able to decrease turnaround times for quotes for customers while freeing up staff for more value-added activities. AI helped him attain a new level of efficiency in last-mile delivery as well as employee productivity.

3. Distributors can create reliable sourcing networks and ensure responsive and scalable customer service.

In my conversations with multiple distributors over the past few months, I have learned that they have been scrambling to identify which raw materials are likely to get compromised due to supply chain disruptions.

Their immediate need in the first phase of the pandemic was proactive insights that would allow them to secure supply. Depending on the product category and customer segments served, they were building rules that balanced fair allocation of products to customers with profit maximization from priority order fulfillment.

In a pre-COVID situation, the same distributors were keen to understand manufacturing status, expected shipment dates and short-order shipments so they could communicate ETAs to their customers.

The pandemic has highlighted the ineffectiveness of their traditional supplier collaboration portals. Links between customer service teams, suppliers and customers were compromised by lack of visibility and, therefore, lack of information. This proved to be a challenge when presented with basic questions like “Where is my shipment?” and “When will it reach me?” by a customer whose order has been inexplicably delayed.

Pandemic or no pandemic – distributors operate on thin margins, so operating a large transaction volume in an efficient way with self-service tools for customer service can be critical to their profitability. Technology can help alleviate this challenge.

Getting Started with Supply Chain Visibility

With our track and trace solution,, an organization can continuously monitor shipments, manage transition from outdoor to indoor environments, proactively identify delays, estimate ETA using structured data feeds from air/ocean/land carriers and enable targeted multiparty handoffs from order to shipment.

With our supply chain risk-sensing solution,, an organization can identify which suppliers are at risk of shortage, sense any disruptions in a shipment lane for both in-transit and to-be-scheduled shipments, and recommend alternatives to mitigate supply chain risk.

With our digital manufacturing solution, a consumer goods, medical equipment or automotive manufacturer can remotely monitor the health of the expensive molds, take proactive mitigation actions such as maintenance or a refurb, and enable data-driven discussions with suppliers. In addition, as they commission new molds, they could remotely qualify the molds with the tool builder.

With our document digitization-based process automation solution,, an organization can avoid many manual touches that are involved, such as an Accounts Payable person reviewing a supplier invoice and entering the invoice data into an ERP system or a Quality Control inspector reviewing the forms of a manufacturing job that has just been completed.

Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the ineffectiveness of traditional demand planning models. Our approach has been to model the underlying demand drivers using to improve forecast accuracy.

No matter where you are in the value chain, we have a solution that can be customized to your needs.

Interested in taking a deeper dive? Reach out to us at to book a demo.