What is supply chain visibility?
Supply chain visibility can be defined as the availability of parts, components, or products in transit to be tracked from the manufacturer to their final destination. Manufacturing and distribution companies face challenges throughout every area of their supply chain. Across all stages, visibility is recognised as a key objective. Achieving supply chain visibility means having real time data for all the different processes involved readily available to all parties.
According to the GEODIS 2017 Supply Chain Worldwide Survey, the issue of supply chain visibility rose from the sixth most important strategic priority in 2015 to third in 2017. However, only 6% of firms said they had achieved it. The survey, which considered the views of 623 supply chain professionals across 17 countries, found 57% of respondents considered their supply chain to be a competitive advantage that would enable the development of their company.
Having visibility across the supply chain brings many benefits to a business including:
- Reduced business and supply chain risk
- Improved lead times and performance
- The ability to identify supply and quality problems along the supply chain
How can we achieve supply chain visibility for our business?
The only way to achieve better visibility into your supply chain is to invest in technology. Having the right infrastructure in place will allow a business to properly gather the information they require and act on it. A major challenge for businesses is being able to pass data between unrelated systems. While investing in an ERP system might go some way to solving this problem, such a solution is usually only concerned with internal processes and is not connected to external supplier systems. This poses the question: how do you connect a business running an ERP system with their suppliers who manage their business using entirely different platforms?
As an IFS specialist, we understand the challenges businesses face when it comes to achieving supply chain integration and visibility. We have significant experience of integrating data gathered from IFS with many external systems, ranging from other ERP solutions (such as SAP), additional business systems such as retail systems or with control systems for factory automation.
We are adept at using the IFS Applications component IFS Connect™, an integration broker, designed for XML and web services. IFS Connect can be used to facilitate integration of business logic with external business processes, applications, and devices.
We have also developed our own flexible Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) solution, TRAX which solves the problem of manually dealing with business transactions, ensuring you’re fully integrated with customers and suppliers. TRAX also automates external messages or requests to and from your IFS system.
These solutions are rounded off with ACQUIRE our warehousing management and data capture solution. ACQUIRE can be integrated to any ERP picking process within the Automated Supply Chain, allowing for complete visibility. ACQUIRE can also be implemented as a fully mobile solution providing users with instant access, for example, to part, order and work order related information.
Other supply chain focused solutions such as web-based portals to allow customers to browse stock and create orders on any device and be received into IFS through the external order flow
Achieving integration for our customers
Using the know-how and experience we have gained in developing and customising these solutions, we can help our customers join up all aspects of their supply chain, both internally and externally. Our technology will allow the automating of receiving of orders externally or between systems or providing an electronic Advanced Shipping Notifications. An example of such a project is the integration of Whitworths’, the UKs leader in the production of dried fruit and nuts, IFS solution with an external warehouse management system.
Whitworths were replacing their legacy ERP solution with IFS but had also recently renewed an agreement with existing supplier, CEVA, to provide warehousing and distribution services. The new IFS solution was to be used to manage Whitworths’ manufacturing processes including procurement, quality management, inventory tracking and control and sales and manufacturing. CEVA would provide finished goods warehousing, order fulfilment and distribution operations on site at Whitworths’ Irthlingborough site as well as at other sites within the CEVA estate.
To ensure a successful implementation of the new IFS solution, it was imperative that IFS could exchange data to and from the CEVA system. Furthermore, the solution had to offer the system administrators the ability to create and amend the data interfaces in operation and review messages exchanged between systems. This was to ensure that errors could be reviewed in order to minimise any impact on the business.
To address the challenges faced by Whitworths, we developed a data integration solution using IFS Connect to process the received data as required. The solution was hosted on premise, with a fully functional web-based administration console allowing live and historical visibility of messages between systems, plus the ability to add or edit the interfaces. The solution provided a single point of reference for viewing, monitoring and amending specific data exchanges. The functionality provided by the solution ensured that business critical data was seamlessly shared between external partners, giving full visibility and real time data, ensuring that day to day manufacturing, warehousing and order fulfilment operations could run smoothly.
This project is just one example of how we are striving to develop a holistic supply chain data integration platform which can be utilised by customers across a number of industries. Our work within this area has also seen us nominated as a finalist in the 2018 IFS Partner of the Year Awards in the category of Innovative Partner of the Year.