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How cloud technology can transform supply chain performance

Brooks Bentz | June 11, 2013
The international supply chain is here to stay. That means working with multiple partners, many of whom have hundreds of partners themselves and some of whom lack the expertise or funding to connect to supply chain management systems. Cloud platforms could change that, according to Accenture.

One core challenge is the basic ability to keep an eye on a product as it moves through these extended supply chains. A phone call or email to a domestic carrier used to give you an answer in minutes or hours, since it was frequently the only service provider for a specific shipment. That's often no longer the case. An international shipment may well have eight or more trading partners, all with a role to play: Manufacturers, origin draymen, consolidators, ocean carriers, customs brokers, pier draymen, stack train operators, destination draymen and freight payment companies.

International supply chains involve complex relationships with multiple trading partners.(Source: Accenture.)
Supply chain visibility has been a holy grail for more than 20 years, but it was an elusive goal, until recently, due in large part to the technological limitations stemming from trying to connect large numbers of disparate trading partners. That landscape has now changed significantly.

Despite efforts to build technology that would enable visibility, reliance on the one-to-many connectivity requirements remain a primary difficulty for many. A shipper may need to connect to hundreds, or even thousands, of trading partners (as shown above). That's a challenge: Many trading partners are small, unsophisticated companies that lack the capabilities or inclination to be connected. If you can't connect with virtually all of your trading partners, there are holes in the supply chain. This can make the data and reporting suspect and, ultimately, unusable.

This is also a challenge for service providers. In the extended scenario, every carrier would individually connect with each of its major customers and trading partners, each with its own specific requirements. This adds a large burden in terms of communication as well as maintaining up-to-date information on what could be hundreds of customer portals or other communication connections.

Can Cloud Connect Supply Chain Partners?
The answer to these challenges may be a cloud-based, multi-tenant platform. It also could be envisioned as a social-media community of customers and service providers, which is analogous to the concept of a social-media community for transportation and logistics.

Shippers, receivers and service providers all join the cloud-based community and readily connect to each other. You can go online and "friend" (now a verb) my chosen air carrier, railroad, truck line or ocean carrier. Just as easily, the service providers can friend its customers and clients. The virtue in this is you tap into an existing network and enjoy the full benefits of that immediately.

For the provider, you only need to put core information out there once-news announcements, changes, contacts, scheduling, public pricing, service options and so on. When you update your schedules, service or anything else, you only do it one time. All trading partners can see the same information at the same time. This is the cloud-future that's available to us now.


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