End-to-end supply-chain visibility is tough enough to achieve in the best of times. But the coronavirus pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem, says Bart De Muynck, vice president analyst at Gartner.
It’s no surprise that visibility solutions have been among the most popular technology acquisitions over the past few years. Now, disruptions caused by the pandemic are making such applications even more attractive.
The intensified need for close tracking of product in the supply chain began with the shutdown of factories in China, where the COVID-19 virus first emerged. Now, as production comes back up to speed, companies are scrambling for a means of monitoring the inbound flow of product, to figure out how it can be received, stored and shipped at a time when demand for all but the most critical items has virtually ceased.
It’s anyone’s guess when the U.S. economy will get back on its feet. But that doesn’t eliminate the need to assess where inventory resides in the system, whether en route or in warehouses.
There’s the additional challenge of keeping distribution centers running, at a time when many workers are being required to stay home, or have been laid off indefinitely due to the falling off of economic activity nationwide.
The current crisis serves to highlight problems with visibility that supply chains were experiencing even before it began, says De Muynck. Companies might have been able to follow the progress of goods between ship and port, or port and inland transportation mode. But when it comes to tracking product from origin to consumer — the dream of “end-to-end” visibility — “they really didn’t have that before,” he says.
Technology can help, De Muynck says, but its full value won’t be achievable in the immediate future.