As many supply chains involve a multitude of different partners, managing them is sometimes allocated to 4PLs or Lead Logistics Providers (LLPs). These organisations have overall responsibility for coordinating and managing all of the parties used to operate the supply chain on behalf of the principal or supply chain owner.
The key to managing anything of this nature, particularly on an international basis, is supply chain visibility. This has been a critical necessity for many years. And while some companies and operators claim they have it, very few really do.
The global integrated carriers come closest, with their sophisticated track and trace capabilities, but these only work well when the entire supply chain operates within their realm, using their assets.
In fact, the truth is that most global chains use a variety of logistics service providers, transportation service providers and others. As soon as the chain of custody of a particular order or shipment transfers to another party, the granularity of visibility changes.
This has resulted in many companies exploring the notion of establishing a supply chain ‘control tower’, through which all activities are coordinated and controlled. In essence, a multiparty visibility hub that interconnects and interoperates with the information systems of all of the involved parties.
These entities take a long while to set up and depending on the technologies involved, require constant adjustment.
At best, they can provide a central point for understanding the general location and status of the supply chain activity. They may also be able to provide the ability to drill down into a specific system for more detail. However, for the full concept to be realized, any information about any activity in the chain needs to be made available instantly to the appropriate parties across the supply chain.
Technology is moving towards achieving this goal, but it is as much an operational and cultural challenge for the interested parties as it is a technical one – but one that must be addressed before the rewards of such a concept can be realized.