Who wouldn’t recognize this photo as one of the defining pictures of this year? In March 2021, the Suez Canal was blocked for six days after the grounding of Ever Given, a 20,000 TEU container ship. The 400-metre-long (1,300 ft) vessel was buffeted by strong winds and ended up wedged across the waterway with its bow and stern stuck in the canal banks, blocking all traffic until it could be freed.
This prevented an estimated US$9.6 billion worth of trade, approximately fifty ships per day travelled through the canal, about 12% of total global trade at the time.
“Every day the canal is closed… container ships and tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and goods are not being exported from Europe to the Far East.”
Well, fast forward to Nov-2021 and talking to supply chain leaders in retail, manufacturing, medical devices, coffee… every one seems to be grappling with supply chain issues generally and specifically, with visibility of inventory, raw materials, logistics & transportation and overall organization.
- Supply chain market research shows that most companies (69%) do not have complete visibility of their supply chains
- 64% of retailers were challenged to adapt their supply chain for eCommerce due to COVID-19.
Consider this graphic (courtesy Supply Chain Insights LLC), showing that despite 74% of the respondent investing in the visibility projects. So surely there is no lack of support for these initiatives. Yet, , 46% of supply chain professionals still rely on excel spreadsheets for their operations.
Why is that?
One of the main underlying reasons is their supply chain visibility projects are still stuck in the technology delivery pipelines.
Like the Suez Canal, the technology infrastructure for supply chain is built on decades old monolithic architectures of ERP, SCM, data warehouses etc, which are not designed for the parameters driven, frequent and high velocity insights needed for modern supply chain operations. Getting visibility and insights from these systems is still stuck in batch mode of data provisioning.
Technology teams are working hard to get this visibility via API’s (think of API as modern, lightweight insights provisioning capabilities to run data driven operations), this gets stuck with delivery capacity, typically getting added to product backlog with 6-9 months of delivery timelines.
How are the leaders executing in the similar circumstances? Well, they are taking this disruption as an opportunity to rebuild the broken supply chain systems into simultaneously tightly & loosely-coupled networks, with API infrastructure acting as the glue for these domains.
They are API-fying their supply chain platforms with cloud based API management technologies, coupled with analytics and automation capabilities that are embedded there. Using the no-code approach for consuming the insights provided by these API’s cuts the delivery time by >60%. Power Platform tools from Microsoft and other providers go a long way in provisioning the insights as well as automating the actions based on them.
Another challenge is that for lot of the older systems, its not very easy to find time / skills and documentation to redo them on modern cloud technologies. A viable mechanism is API-fying not only raw data (in tables, views etc) but also modeled data like reports, queries, ALV, CDS and BAPI’s, so that existing business logic, rules and security mechanisms like authorization are adhered to and generated output is provisioned as insight, automation and integration via the API mechanism.
Also, consider using the new SaaS models where operational backend systems are connected to highly scalable and low latency cloud-based platforms which provision the connectivity, pre-built visualization & automation on a cloud scaling platform, which can be activated within days.
The rapid API-fication of supply chain capabilities will not only bring deeper an broader visibility but also make the ecosystem play for planning, buying / making, delivering and servicing much more feasible. Eg, rather than depending on in-house transportation or traditional providers like Fedex, UPS etc, consider leveraging hyper-delivery providers like Roadies, Deliv etc with your API infrastructure and deliver better experiences where it matters the most: to the consumer of your product.
These simple, yet powerful mechanisms provide ways thru which large enterprise scale supply chain initiatives stuck due to lack of data can get the acceleration needed to deliver on time.
If you have more experiences to help resolve the current supply chain visibility crunch, please share.