What will mobile supply chain visibility look like in 2021 and beyond?

According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), with the COVID crisis in full swing in March 2020, 75% of organizations reported disruption in their supply chains, and about 44% had no strategy for dealing with it. The most resilient of them have since found ways to deal with the continued disruption. But other companies are still struggling with the impacts and trying to develop a plan of action. 

Ready to shore up their global supply chains, companies across all industries are now investing in the technology they need to gain better supply chain visibility and operate more efficiently in 2021 and beyond. 

For many organizations, this means integrating and using more mobile technology

What does good supply chain visibility look like?

Supply chain operators have been talking about visibility for years, but it wasn’t until 2020 that the phrase “visible supply chain management” became part of nearly every executive’s vernacular. Up until that point, having good visibility across end-the-end supply chains was largely left up to the procurement professionals and chief supply chain officers (CSCOs), who managed and procured materials within the context of these intricate, global networks.

Along with the pandemic came an unexpected demand, which put a new strain on inventory and timing. Processes suddenly needed to become much more efficient and transparent, and companies began to rethink how they source their raw materials and manufactured components. At the same time, we saw increased scrutiny of supply chain visibility, which IBM defines as “the ability of stakeholders throughout the supply chain to access real-time data related to the order process, inventory, delivery, and potential supply chain disruptions.”

In 2020, the division between the organizations with good supply chain visibility and those that didn’t was clear.

The benefits of improving supply chain visibility

The modern-day supply chain is complex and expansive, incorporating diverse supplier networks, global customers, logistical obstacles, and regulatory requirements. Knowing exactly what’s taking place within these networks has always been important, but it became even more critical during the pandemic. 

According to EY, supply chain visibility allows enterprises to identify disruptions up and down the supply chain and synchronize supply and demand both at the point of sale and at the required time of delivery. Armed with these insights, companies can perform what-if analyses and simulations and then use the results to optimize production and material usage. When this occurs, EY says its consultants see benefits like a 20% to 25% reduction in costs, as well as inventory reductions and overall service level improvement. 

Visibility also helps organizations reduce their risks and supply costs, EY adds, pointing out that end-to-end visibility relies on real-time data availability across the supply chain. This helps enable better decisions on risk management and performance improvement.

How to achieve supply chain visibility in 2021

Supply chain visibility helps companies better respond to disruptions. Rather than working in “reactive” mode and waiting for something to happen, companies can monitor operational dashboards, plan collaboratively with key suppliers, and find ways to proactively address what might be coming around the next corner.

This was imminently clear during the early stages of the pandemic, which changed everything for companies with poor supply chain visibility going into the disruptive event. “Going forward, end-to-end supply chain visibility will be a critical differentiator for leading companies,” EY predicts. “It already was a top-of-mind concern for many enterprises; however, the COVID-19 crisis has magnified the need.”

Addressing supply chain visibility may seem daunting, but advanced technologies can help to ease some of that burden and simplify the process of obtaining, tracking, and monitoring critical data points. Using real-time supply chain data, for example, companies can more accurately pinpoint demand and supply; procure the materials that they need to make and/or distribute the products customers are asking for; and reduce overall supply chain risk.

Inbound Logistics reports that companies are also using mobile supply chain management IoT to gain complete supply chain visibility and using existing mobile networks for connectivity. “In cases where transportation and logistics companies once only found it financially feasible to track entire trucks,” it adds, “they are now seeing the [return on investment in tracking] millions of smaller, individual assets with considerably lower-cost mobile IoT-powered asset trackers.”

How to improve supply chain visibility with mobile devices

Mobility puts real-time supply chain visibility within reach. For example, assembly line employees and production managers use it to source materials, collaborate with their trading partners, and pivot quickly to alternative suppliers when needed. Armed with ruggedized laptops and devices, front-line managers working in warehouses can provide insights into fulfillment center activity, identify potential disruptions, and find ways to avoid them, all on the fly.

Across the supply chain, WiFi and 4G LTE mobile broadband-equipped mobile devices like smartphones and tablets help employees pick up real-time information about products and respond quickly to demand. Warehouse workers, truck drivers, and retail store clerks, for example, all need properly-configured mobile devices that help them enter data, share information, and collaborate.

Their devices must be tough enough to withstand conditions on the warehouse floor or out in the field, including drops from a forklift, truck vibration, extreme temperatures, and rain.

By integrating innovative software applications from our ecosystem of industry-leading partners with rugged mobile tablets and handheld computers, Panasonic provides visibility and traceability throughout the delivery process. Proof-of-delivery software paired with rugged mobile computers connects drivers, back-office workers, and logistics management to enable faster data entry, reduce delivery and pickup errors, and provide real-time information for customers and organizations.

Using barcode readers, NFC, RFID, and other modern tech, companies can gain real-time insights into orders, materials, suppliers, and other supply chain information. They can then use it to respond to immediate crises, enhance supply chain planning, improve operational performance, reduce errors, and make better decisions.

Learn more about Panasonic TOUGHBOOK Solutions.