Supply chain technology is never a simple thing, but current conditions make it a tougher IT landscape than ever. On top of ongoing pandemic-induced disruptions, there’s now added upheaval as companies struggle to comply globally with new financial and trade sanctions tied to the war in Ukraine that are scrambling partner networks.
These factors have put supply chain resilience on everyone’s agenda – from the White House to enterprise investment, to capital infusions for supply chain technology innovation. Amid all these efforts, what are takeaways for IT professionals working in enterprises like retail that rely on the supply chain? Let’s examine some key, business-centric approaches these supply chain technologists can embrace to help their businesses cope.
Navigating Multiple Pain Points
Recent disruptions have exacerbated nagging pain points many enterprises already struggle with across increasingly digital and connected supply chains. These include lack of transparency across IT operations supporting key business functions; siloed and tool-specific teams that lack cross-system context; and slow root cause analysis from lack of end-to-end transaction visibility.
Retail-specific woes include stalled completion of business processes like stock replenishments, inventory counts, purchasing and roll-out of promotions across stores. And business data flow blockages between applications from intermediate document (IDoc) errors can affect orders, invoices, billing and shipments.
These breakdowns lead to transaction failures, lost revenue and lower customer satisfaction. And the fact that everything’s happening at production scale makes it difficult to monitor, track, prioritize and resolve issues manually. IT teams often struggle with impact analysis to discern which issues are causing major SLA impacts, and how much time they have to rectify a problem.
Three Business-Centric Approaches
While many of the pain points mentioned involve IT-centric problems, supply chain technologists must adopt a very business-centric mindset to solve them. Here are three foundational approaches for an effective, business-centric IT strategy:
Approach 1: “Blueprinting” business functions and transactions to achieve a 360-degree view
Getting complete, end-to-end visibility is a critical first step for working within a connected supply chain. The way to do this is to create a “blueprint” of critical business processes and transaction flows, complete with advanced tagging that ties these elements to their respective distribution facilities or functions. In retail, this involves utilizing multiple data sources to learn about each store’s IT operations, and then “blueprinting” the store’s individual IT context. The blueprint should reflect the structural and behavioral aspects of all business processes and related applications, infrastructure and devices required for smooth functioning. All this can be done with out-of-the-box models for business processes spanning across the network blueprint.
Approach 2: AI diagnostics for better root cause analysis and autonomous resolution
We discussed how the scale of operations makes it unrealistic to manually monitor, track and prioritize issues for resolution. The good news is that it’s possible to automate these activities at scale by employing AI diagnostics. This involves intelligent automation to monitor and detect anomalies in business transaction data flowing through multiple applications, middleware and platforms. Once errors are identified, AI diagnostics can parse transaction data trends and analysis to provide root cause analysis – and then prioritize fixes based on the financial impact to the business. Ideally, this can be done via tools that leverage pre-built knowledge and autonomously validate system processes afterward to ensure a fix was successful.
Approach 3: Dynamic dashboards and alerts to enhance cross-collaboration and decision support
The interconnected nature of modern digital supply chains is such that technologists operating in siloed IT teams without a cross-system context are essentially operating blind. To break down these barriers, an advanced dashboard and alert system can elucidate anomalies hidden among the thousands of transactions and then enact role-specific, multi-channel notifications (through email, collaboration and mobile applications) for the appropriate business and operations teams. Visualization options ideally should include geographical, anomaly-based and hierarchical drill-down views across dependent applications, platforms, servers and devices. It’s even possible to analyze alert patterns with predictive intelligence to anticipate and remedy future issues before they even happen.
Despite the many different pain points IT teams encounter with the digital supply chain, the good news is that they can address many of these challenges with just a few core, business-centric approaches. Especially given today’s historically disruptive environment for supply chains, these strategies are even more critical in protecting operations and business value for the enterprise.