March 2012 | Commentary | IT Matters

Managing Supply Chain Disruptions

Tags: Risk Management

Henry Hicks is supply chain industry vice president, Progress Software
919-461-4365

These are challenging times for supply chain managers. During the past few years, a range of events and natural disasters has severely disrupted global supply chains, causing far-reaching effects across diverse geographies and markets.

Yet today's logistics landscape also holds huge potential for supply chain technology developments that help organizations better manage catastrophic events, as well as cope with everyday supply chain disruptions.

Logistics managers can face today's challenges and opportunities by addressing the following three evolving supply chain elements.

1. Unforeseen events. Natural disasters, industrial accidents, international conflicts, geo-political situations, and mundane disruptions all pose a constant threat to lean supply chains. Many organizations are attempting to avert risk by on-boarding new suppliers closer to their end market. This shift, however, makes the supply chain even more complex and difficult to manage.

2. Reduced sense-and-respond time. Shippers also have to face shorter predictive time horizons. As competition increases, organizations have to deliver goods faster, which means a shorter working timeframe.

Many organizations are adding real-time visibility and event processing systems, along with automated decision-making, to manage the supply chain, rather than using historical or predictive methods.

Evolving responsive supply chain solutions promise the ability to gather and analyze data to understand correlations and effects within the business, but the speed and form in which this data is delivered to managers will be the crucial differentiating factor.

3. Total visibility. Having a seamless view of the entire supply chain network drives success, and supply chain managers continue to seek a centralized system of command and control. While the challenge of disparate parts and siloed systems remains, supply chain technology is constantly evolving to make a single view of the network more feasible.

Gaining Supply Chain Insight

Shipping company Royal Dirkzwager is a prime example of how end-to-end supply chain visibility can improve overall management. The company faced the challenge of incomplete network visibility as it tried to meet growing client demand for faster, more reliable data about its global shipping network.

Royal Dirkzwager deployed supply chain technology that provided total visibility throughout the system, allowing managers to gather full shipping movement details worldwide and relate them in real time to information such as planned routes and weather.

The insight this technology provided allowed for more effective client decision-making, easier processing of increased data traffic, and a highly developed business model that allowed the company to expand its customer base with new maritime logistics products. Enhanced visibility also improved overall event processing by giving customers all the information needed to make educated shipping management decisions, which, in turn, helped improve route planning and reduce fuel costs.

While the nature of supply chain management often involves dealing with unforeseen issues, the technology available to logistics managers today can help ease that process.