There’s no time like the present — unless you run a supply chain. Shepherding products, parts, food, clothing and other wares across a supply chain in today’s digital-powered world requires visibility and the ability to predict the immediate future.

As we’ve written about previously, companies need real-time information and advanced insights to foresee and properly react to oncoming and potential production delays, shortages, market volatility and any other kinks in the supply chain. When supported by cognitive analytics, machine learning and AI capabilities, a supply chain control tower — a connected hub that monitors and manages the entire process — enables real-time visibility into key business metrics, drives decisions informed by insights and optimizes costs across the supply chain.

A cognitive supply chain allows companies to see the process from end to end. With every supply chain stakeholder contributing data and reviewing the same insights, the entire enterprise can understand root causes of real issues and what-if scenarios — and plan for them accordingly and immediately.

Playing the short and long games

While technology has helped companies create and deliver products more efficiently, it’s also increased the pressure to meet heightened customer expectations. B2B and B2C customers use digital tools to buy products and track the status of deliveries in real time. Consumers will take their business elsewhere if their delivery demands aren’t met. Price, quality and delivery are all conditions precedent to successful and sustained supply chain performance.

Enhancing and streamlining the supply chain should be the chief priority of organizations that want to meet customer demands while keeping costs under control. Yet many companies still can’t get the insight they need because their data is siloed and unstructured. They’re going to have to figure it out — and quickly — because the traditional supply chain is rapidly yielding to the digital model.

A supply chain control tower backed by an advanced analytics platform meets this pressing challenge. It collects and coalesces supply chain information and analyzes the structured data for deep insights that stakeholders might otherwise miss. The insights gleaned help to eliminate misinformation and close information gaps that lead to over- or under reactions and product excess or shortages. Companies can react to issues quickly, but they won’t do so blindly; their insights are rooted in the certainty of objective control tower data.

Cognitive insights also let companies bend time and address supply chain matters that require foresight for the long game of procurement, the aftermarket and service after sales. For example, industrial sector companies (highly instrumented, asset-intensive) often need help keeping the proper supply chain elements in place so that they can guarantee that their products will have a shelf life of at least 10 years. Similarly, aeronautics and aviation companies need to see the entire supply chain runway when making critical decisions about repairing or replacing commercial jets and their components. If they misjudge, planes sit on the tarmac — and airlines lose revenue.

Across the manufacturing spectrum, companies are struggling to understand demand signals in their supply chains because they can’t see far enough downstream and don’t understand the processes of their supply chain partners.

Analytics-driven, cloud-supported insight

A control tower rooted in analytics enhances visibility, improves demand sensing and forecasting accuracy, and optimizes inventory across the supply chain. Predictive insights will spot market unrest in Asia, for example, and glean how a parts production slowdown there a month down the line will crimp deliveries to a supplier in a specific U.S. region.

By analyzing external data points — such as regulation data, social media feeds and weather forecasts — in addition to internal data, a control tower facilitates insight and leaves time to make decisions on factors that shape production and sales product flows, such as design iterations, the reuse of parts, obsolescence management, transportation and workforce hours. And thanks to cloud and container technologies, shaping a new cognitive supply chain isn’t as difficult as keeping a traditional one together.

Digital tools are making the world smaller. An analytics and AI-driven supply chain control can help companies see it all at once. With a long horizon in front of them, companies can properly analyze the many dimensions of the process and stay ahead in a digital game.

Learn how IBM can help you modernize your supply chain.

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