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The Ultimate Guide to
Supply Chain Transparency

How to Improve Supply Chain Transparency with Real-Time Visibility

Supply chain transparency is a very modern ask.

For most of human history, goods or materials were sent from one point and received at the other, with neither supplier nor recipient having any insight into the journey. Modern communication has changed that, and connectivity has supercharged the idea of supply visibility.

As with many developments, recency leads to ubiquity, and ubiquity turns to demand. Receivers, suppliers, and end users all demand  transparency into your supply chain, for economic and moral reasons. Shippers and logistics companies can guarantee that transparency by utilizing real-time visibility.

Real-time visibility into your supply chain is how you deliver on the promise of supply chain transparency.

What is Supply Chain Transparency?

What’s happening to goods when they are on a cargo ship moving out of the Port of Los Angeles? Are temperatures being monitored on the train? How long are electronics sitting in the sun waiting to be loaded into an intermodal before transferring to trucks? What does traffic look like heading into the last mile before delivery?

As mentioned above, until very recently the answer to those questions would be the shrugging emoji. There was no way to know. And with no way to really understand what was happening, there was no way to let other stakeholders know the state of their goods.

Supply chain transparency is when you have an answer to those questions and have the ability to transmit answers.

Broken down simply, the answer to “what is supply chain transparency?” is:

  1. When a business knows the exact conditions of goods, supplies, and transportation equipment and machinery at every stage of its supply chain, and
  2. Communicates that information to all stakeholders, both internally and externally.

It’s not good enough just to have visibility into your supply chain. You also have to be willing to share that knowledge.

The Importance of a Transparent Supply Chain

If you have a supply chain, you know that information matters. The nature of today’s on-time economic models demands that the system works like a well-oiled machine.

You might have franchises waiting for their deliveries.

You might have manufacturers who raw materials to meet their production schedule.

You could have stores who are ready to get you on their shelves…and ready to put the other guy’s products on their shelves if you’re not there.

No matter what, there are people waiting for their goods to be delivered so they can make or sell something, or both. Having supply chain transparency, with real-time data, allows you to see where there are problems developing and come up with real time solutions, as well as long-term alterations to your processes.

One other audience highlights the importance of supply chain transparency: the end consumer. While real-time data might not be the most important thing to them, more and more consumers want to make sure that the goods they buy are ethically sourced at every step of the global supply chain. And that’s backed up by statistics.

Supply Chain Transparency Statistics

When it comes to social and environmental matters, end users demand supply chain information. And they make their preferences known with their dollar.

In other words, consumers choose companies with ethical supply chains. And that means better business.

Check out our Supply Chain & Logistics Trends, Insights & Data research for more data on what is being tracked and live maps of global ports and traffic patterns.

Why Does Transparency Matter?

In the end, supply chain transparency matters because it is the right thing to do and it helps business. It allows shippers to understand where choke points are occurring, allowing them to adjust in the long-term. It smooths over short-term problems by allowing you to react in real time. And it increases customer loyalty by ensuring that their end products are ethically-delivered across the supply chain.

Transparency in the supply chain is the goal. Supply chain visibility is how you get there.

Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency

There’s a difference between supply chain visibility and transparency. The latter is the end result of the former. They are complementary, but you can’t have one without the other.

Supply Chain Visibility vs. Transparency

Supply chain visibility is the ability to see — and see inside — your entire supply chain. Total visibility is end-to-end, real-time visibility. This gives you predictive ETAs and real-time status for shipments, both in transit and in the yard.

In short, visibility gives you all the information you need to know and cooperate effectively.

Supply chain transparency is what you do with that visibility. If you keep it to yourself, it isn’t transparent. If you keep the information siloed, so one department has one piece and another department has another, that’s not transparency. If you don’t let customers or receivers know when their goods are going to be arriving, that’s not even close to transparency.

Visibility gives you the tools to open up your entire supply chain. Supply chain visibility is the gateway to transparency.

Supply Chain Traceability and Transparency

Supply chain traceability is a fairly new term that goes a step past visibility. Traceability is the ability to ascertain the origin of inputs, supplier sourcing practices, and processes throughout the supply chain.

For example, if your company is using minerals to make the component of a product, traceability helps you determine where they were mined, by what company, and under what conditions. You are able to ensure that at every step of your supply chain, you are acting in the ethical manner that your customers, regulators, and your own company code of conduct demands.

Traceability is how you become more transparent for audiences outside your company — and for concerned people within your company. Supply chain traceability helps you at every stage of the sales process, from pleasing your customers to assuring the end users that everything is ethically sound.

How Supply Chain Visibility Improves Transparency

It is impossible to achieve transparency without supply chain visibility. Unless you are able to pinpoint locations, conditions, and obstacles toward safe delivery, you can’t collect and disseminate that information to the people who need to know it. Visibility is the precondition of supply chain transparency.

Supply Chain Transparency Solutions

It’s a mistake to think that transparency is merely a downstream consumer benefit. Having transparency is how you create a resilient global supply chain. You will be able to identify obstacles and avoid doing business in a way that can cause reputational or regulatory harm. You will be stronger and more efficient both in the immediate and the long-term.

In order to do that, you need to gain network visibility.

Gain Network Visibility to Improve Transparency in Your Supply Chain

A network visibility platform is the best way to gain true insight into your supply chain. This kind of visibility helps you see everything so you can optimize everywhere. These visibility platforms employ data sharing to gain insight into best practices, trends, and potential issues. It gives you visibility into what is happening everywhere along the supply chain, so that when ships start backing up at the port, you are immediately aware.

This involves data sharing, which is another interesting aspect of transparency. No one wants one company to share all their shipping information with a competitor — “Here are our books; knock yourself out!” is rarely said in business — but to be shared on a unified platform.

This kind of timely data helps move the entire industry forward. It increases what we can call “soft transparency” by increasing consumer trust across the board. When pieces of the supply chain work together, there are fewer logjams and heightened efficiency.

Stay Up to Date With Current Trends

One of the best ways to move toward supply chain transparency is to make sure your chain is running on all cylinders. That involves a lot of technical lift, like enabling a network visibility platform, but it also means knowing everything that is happening in the supply chain.

War, natural disasters, new technology, and new regulations all have impacts on the supply chain. If you and your team stay up to date on trends with a trusted, unbiased source, you can start to plug your real-time data into the big picture.

Transparent Supply Chain Examples from FourKites Clients

Transparency in the supply chain isn’t an accident. It’s a product of vision, foresight, and hard work. And as this supply chain visibility case study shows, the results are noticeable.

Visibility Helps Raybul Act With Agility

Raybul, a Belgian trucking firm, competes with huge transport companies every day. Its 1000 loads a week through Western Europe make it a real player, but the competition tends to dominate. That’s why Raybul has working smarter in its DNA.

Raybul deployed the FourKites platform for its work with AB InBev, the Belgian brewing giant. The onboarding process was speedy, and Raybul was able to begin deployment immediately. The results were just as immediate.

ABI knows where its shipments are at any time, and are notified of any delays. Because of this transparency, ABI can act proactively and can respond to any obstacles. This makes Raybul’s client happy. ABI depends on making stakeholders happy. If a store has a delayed shipment, that shelf space has to go elsewhere. Raybul’s use of FourKites lets ABI make immediate adjustments to ensure their products are being enjoyed across Western Europe.

Raybul isn’t the biggest firm. But they can offer their clients agility, because they use a visibility platform, and their own commitment to client satisfaction, to create a culture of true transparency.

Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency Go Hand in Hand

Supply chain visibility is a tool. Supply chain transparency is an ethos. If you have a commitment to transparency, then visibility helps you understand the totality of your supply chain, break down silos in your company, and give your customers the best chance to succeed.

Visibility is how you monitor what happens along the chain. Transparency is how you act on that information. Having a network visibility solution gives you more than a tool: it gives you a path toward true supply chain transparency.

Get Started with Supply Chain Visibility from FourKites

The road to stronger supply chain management starts with FourKites’ global supply chain visibility software. Contact our team to learn more.