Evolving Supply Chain Control Towers
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⇨ Supply chain control towers are becoming a standard module in leading supply chain planning solutions. This specific module is marketed very prominently and, in some cases, is often marketed as the capability required to run fully autonomous supply chains in the future.
⇨ Still, in its current state, these modules do not have what is needed to build autonomous supply chains. Supply chain control towers today are very planning-heavy, whereas to run autonomous supply chains, you need to integrate the tactical supply chain aspects deeply into these modules.
⇨ This is where the need for the evolution of supply chain control towers comes into play.
Supply chain control towers are becoming a standard module in leading supply chain planning solutions. This specific module is marketed very prominently and, in some cases, is often marketed as THE capability required to run fully autonomous supply chains in the future. If you are familiar with the features within the control tower functionality of any leading supply chain planning solution, you know that they are currently not close to what is needed to run a fully autonomous supply chain. In this article, we will discuss the kind of integration a supply chain control tower, one that can help control, plan, and run a fully autonomous supply chain, needs.
To start with, let us visit some of the features that a typical control tower module within planning solutions has. Some of the features embedded within control tower functionality in supply chain planning solutions are:
- Data sharing across the supply chain network with both internal and external partners
- Real-time dashboards with the capability of advanced analytics and alert-driven event management
- Ability to plan multiple scenarios
- Leveraging data from multiple systems, like ERP systems from SAP, to build representation or near real-time representation of your supply chain. This is often marketed as a supply chain twin within control towers.
As you can see from most of the functionalities listed above, a supply chain control tower is a very powerful module. Still, in its current state, these modules do not have what is needed to build autonomous supply chains. Supply chain control towers today are very planning-heavy, whereas to run autonomous supply chains, you need to integrate the tactical supply chain aspects deeply into these modules. And this is where the need for the evolution of supply chain control towers comes into play.
As mentioned previously in the listing of features of a supply chain control tower, among many other capabilities, control towers today also help you build a representation of your supply chain by leveraging data from multiple business systems like ERP systems and other business applications. However, as you can imagine, to run a fully autonomous supply chain, you must also consider tactical systems. And a very good example of a tactical system would be warehouse fulfillment or robotic systems.
While it is critical to plan inventory, get inventory visibility, and ensure that inventory or products flow through the supply chain seamlessly, all of which can be made possible with current supply chain control towers, the granular flow of inventory within the four walls of a warehouse are a critical aspect of a fully autonomous supply chain.
When we talk about lights-out warehouses and manufacturing locations, we are talking about this heavy reliance on the systems that will take care of the tactical operations within warehouses and manufacturing locations. These are the smart factories or smart warehouses that we talk about. While smart factories are relatively more mature, smart warehouses are more complicated or more challenging to build in some industries, considering the complex portfolio of processes and the sheer volume and the sheer nature of warehousing operations. The key to building a supply chain control tower that can take care of end-to-end supply chains, from tactical to operational to strategic aspects, means that it also must integrate seamlessly with these execution systems. The illustration below shows examples of the three layers that need to be integrated tightly.
If you now think about the autonomous supply chains again, it becomes apparent that you must integrate all three layers shown in the illustration. A fully autonomous supply chain is not just about automating planning, visibility, control, and alerts at strategic layers but also ensuring the same aspects at a tactical level. Will your control tower alert you if a trailer that is being loaded has been sitting at an outbound door for a while? Will it alert you if the units processed per hour in one of your warehouses is alarmingly low? Or alert you if the throughput of one of your conveyor belts is significantly lower than the typical volume? A true control tower functionality in the future must also have these aspects embedded. This will be a must-have requirement to help realize the nearly autonomous supply chain vision that we currently have.