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Managing the Supply Chain with Business Intelligence Dashboards

February 7, 2015 • Business Intelligence

S_ChainSupply chain work can be pretty mundane. It just doesn’t offer the thrill of landing the big sale, rolling out the new advertising campaign, or coming up with a great new product design. Managing the supply chain is about keeping things running smoothly and continuously. Like operating a car, the fewer surprises, the better. Safety comes in predictability.

Much like the dashboard in a car, supply chain offers a great opportunity for dashboards that monitor status. The analogy with operating a car breaks down when you get into details and history, but the idea of monitoring a well-run supply chain by using a dashboard to monitor activity still holds.

Targeting 

Of the many departments that use dashboards, supply chain management is one that is perfectly in tune with the idea of continuous monitoring. Keeping product and materials moving along requires constant tweaking. Metrics used to track supply chain performance lend themselves well to graphical display. Supply chain managers look at exceptions and seek to solve minor issues before they become major problems.

Companies need to create their own metrics for supply chain performance. These metrics need to be slightly predictive. Graphs and tables must be published and updated with new information continuously to ensure smooth operations. Thresholds for alerts need to be set.

Supply chain workers are used to seeing data in reports and spreadsheets. They have been turning massive amounts of inventory, quality, and delivery data into graphs and charts by using spreadsheets for several decades. Even companies that use supply chain management software typically take data into spreadsheets to create specific reporting that’s not included in the general report selection of the specialized software.

The first step of any dashboard project for supply chain is to make the existing report metrics part of the new system. Doing so ensures that hard-working supply chain managers continue to do their job and keep material moving from vendor to facility to customer.

Metrics

Each company has a slightly different philosophy and methodology for minimizing inventory while maintaining product levels. There are common metrics across different industries, such as vendor on-time performance, order fill rate, and inventory turns, but the real heart of a dashboard for supply chain is metrics specific to the company and the philosophy used.

Companies should not be afraid to create new metrics, but they need to do so slowly. Most reporting and dashboard software contains analytical functionality not being used now. The temptation to do things completely differently using cool new features is difficult to resist, but it does need to be resisted. The dashboard project will fail if it supply chain managers don’t accept it as trustworthy and applicable to their jobs. The quickest way to get people to avoid or outright reject the dashboards is to make them irrelevant. Experimentation too soon creates an impression that the dashboard project is directionless.

Delivery

Supply chain managers tend to be office workers. They travel a bit but are not road warriors like salespeople or conference exhibitors like marketing people. These other departments absolutely need mobile device access to dashboards and often need it in small-screen format for smartphones. Supply chain dashboards need more real estate to be able to show trends and comparisons. Take advantage of the larger screens that supply chain managers usually use to be able to show the historical context of data.

Deviations from plan or targets are big warning signs in the supply chain. Dashboards need to be set up to highlight all changes or material issues that deviate from specified levels or time commitments. This often needs to be paired with e-mail or text alerts to make sure minor issues are known before they become big, big problems.

Next Steps

When the history is in the dashboard, the company sees how the supply chain is operating. The next step is predictive analytics to show where things are going.

First things first, though: companies need good reporting tools and good dashboard views to help the supply chain managers keep things flowing.

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