As procurement markets have become more accessible, a lot of the burden of remaining competitiveness has fallen to the unsung heroes of the supply chain: managers. They are expected to improve costs of fulfillment wherever they can through adjustments and new paths, which means that learning and implementing supply chain technology must be a continually evolving skill in your portfolio.
Some of the most unexpected help comes from data visualization. It may get a lot of credit for wowing the audience in executive presentations or helping tell a story in pitches, but it's actually just as powerful behind the scenes, when applied as guidance to supply chain decisions.
It Helps With Comprehensive Shipping Decisions
Typically saddled with a very busy schedule, a supply chain manager doesn't always have the time to pore over multiple rows and columns of shipping data—freight, minimum shipment numbers, time constraints and so on. However, a decision still needs to be made to determine which distribution center is the most appropriate choice on a given order.
Computer algorithms are helpful, but tend to resist incorporation of the 'tweaks' and changes that are a necessary part of order processing. According to a presentation by Legacy Supply Chain Services, data visualization can provide a simplified, at-a-glance reference chart for scenarios like selection of least-cost sourcing distribution centers near a destination point. If this selection is attempted without visualization, it becomes a complicated balancing act of comparing and contrasting number-filled cells and trying to make sense of what they represent.
It's a More Efficient Way to Communicate Data
Nana S. Banerjee explains in Analytics Magazine that data visualization actually helps the human brain access and process information more rapidly. For supply chain managers that may be dealing with hundreds or even thousands of orders a day, time is of the essence when it comes to efficiency. If numerical thresholds or targets are presented in an "easy to digest" format that uses colors, orientation or shape ratios to communicate on or off-target results, course-correction becomes considerably easier to implement in the moment.
Compared to traditional spreadsheets or charts, data visualization cuts out the lengthy time typically needed to determine options, enabling decision-makers to jump straight to a solution.
It Helps Your Team Embrace Teamwork
Supply chain executives and managers are placed and compensated for their comprehension of complicated data and their ability to use it to an advantage. The support staff—warehouse workers, office employees and even transportation specialists—may not be as well-versed in that same data.
Kerwin Everson of RMG Networks Blog highlights data visualization as an excellent equalizer when it comes to supply chain technology data. By repackaging targets as a visual goal, those responsible for achieving it don't necessarily have to grasp the underlying formulas to understand where the business currently stands and where it needs to be. In this case, bringing an entire warehouse up to speed can be as simple as posting an updated graphic, which acts as a sort of translator for expressing important data points across a company.
With a wealth of data visualization tools, software and methodologies at their disposal, supply chain managers that bring this technique into their workforce have very little, if any, extra work to do to make it visually viable. As more and more data flows across supply chain technology systems, flexible and scalable filters for processing it are gaining importance, and data visualization is earning a reputation as a very user-friendly approach.
While the mighty spreadsheet will likely always enjoy a place of honor in the modern fulfillment cycle, the increasing pressure for efficiency is making its at-a-glance derivative, data visualization, an attractive business lure indeed.