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Improving supply-side visibility can have a positive effect on your bottom line

In today's competitive marketplace, global distributors must keep their on-hand inventory as low as possible to keep operations lean and profit margins high. However, this also means that when supply chain disruptions occur, they can cause a greater business impact, including chargebacks or even lost sales. Some of these potential disruptions include: transportation and supply issues, components in the wrong location, inclement weather and other unforeseeable shipment delays.

While some disruptions are unavoidable, it's important to be consistently aware of supplier updates so you can set backup plans in motion and inform trading partners of any expected delays. Even when your supply chain is running smoothly and shipments are arriving as expected — you need to receive supplier updates like: when products are being shipped, container codes and weight, seal numbers, shipper information, and expected delivery dates — to make sure your distribution center is prepared for incoming shipments, and, knowing that you'll have adequate inventory available to fulfill customer orders.

But even in this age of readily-available information, many global distributors are struggling to maintain adequate visibility into their supply-side operations. If distributors have supply-side tracking in place at all, chances are good that their teams are contacting suppliers via phone or email, requesting shipment updates and then manually keying the data back into the ERP system. This method can be problematic for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, it takes time away from internal teams to create the container & shipment records, then call or email suppliers, and then re-enter this data back into the system. Team members may also be dealing with time-zone and language barriers when communicating with overseas suppliers.

Secondly, when shipment data is communicated via phone or email before actually being entered, there's always a greater potential for misunderstandings or errors, which can lead to even bigger problems. For instance, if a tracking number or arrival date is mistyped, this can cause major confusion when a shipment arrives unexpectedly at your warehouse. Or, if you've promised orders based on shipping information that was entered incorrectly, you risk missing your delivery date and losing the sale. Plus, if something were to change after the latest supplier update, there may be a lag in how fast new updates reach internal teams if there isn't a sufficient process and contact procedure in place — so the updates received can't always be relied upon as being "real-time."

So, how can distributors get better visibility on their supplier data and keep inventory levels optimized? Ideally, managers should consider implementing a solid communication process and means for direct collaboration between suppliers and their internal teams. One example would be to implement a direct communication method where suppliers provide records and updates directly to the ERP system, eliminating the need for internal teams to retrieve the info from suppliers. This can help save time, reduce data entry errors, minimize chargebacks and improve retailer relationships.

For any importing and distribution business, visibility over the entire supply chain is critical to long-term success. And there are efficiencies to be gained throughout the entire supply chain — efficiencies that impact the bottom line, including the supply side. While greater visibility into suppliers has been a reoccurring challenge, it doesn't have to be that way.

Looking for a way to improve supply-side visibility? Apprise® Supplier Portal is fully integrated into Apprise® ERP, enabling your suppliers to provide real-time production and shipping updates through a secure, web-based portal. Contact a Product Specialist to learn more about how our Supplier Portal and other integrated supply chain features can help save time, reduce errors and improve business visibility.

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