Supply chains today cannot ignore data visualization

Data visualization is crucial to running an efficient and effective business today, and supply chains are one area that is expected to reap the most rewards using the technology


We are surrounded by ways to collect data these days. But unless we are putting it to work solving a specific problem, all it really adds up to is a bunch of digital clutter. If you manage a supply chain business, you owe it to your organization to learn everything you can about data visualization and its benefits. Here is a crash course on what data visualizations can do for you.

Recover lost value

Companies that collect data and then make it digestible and actionable through visualization tools, like interactive heat maps and infographics, stand to recover, potentially, millions of dollars in unnecessary waste throughout their supply chain. It can also help supply chain companies that are searching for partners, mergers and other business opportunities to present a compelling case outlining what they bring to the table and what they do differently.

Broadly, 'data viz' and data mapping help pinpoint items of interest such as:

Bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and sources of congestion

Taking a map of your regional or national operations – and your partners' operations – and overlaying data about material handling times and product throughput will reveal which facilities (and potentially even which individual processes and practices) are eating into your efficiency and profitability. The result of mapping data like this could be any number of things, including hiring more staff or investing in improved equipment.

Poorly placed distribution centers

A similar mapping exercise could help you discover underserved or delay-prone areas throughout your territory and plan ground breaking on new facilities. Mapping the right data could also help you make the decision to engage in (or ramp up) strategic drop-shipping throughout your territory to help cut down on delays.

There is also the matter of less-than-truckload (LTL) deliveries, which represent lost efficiency and compromised profits for supply chain companies. Taking a map of your service territory and adding data about truck capacities will help reveal opportunities to consolidate shipments or even make the case for developing a relationship with a redistribution company to do it for you.

Badly drawn delivery routes and inefficient or reckless drivers

There's also the question of mapping extremely local data. Picture a city-by-city heat map which visualizes how long your deliveries are taking, how many turns your drivers are making and how long your goods are spending in traffic. Are there any cities, towns, or even individual streets which present unacceptable delays?

If your supply chain engages in the distribution of perishable or time-sensitive goods, mapping data like this is even more vital and valuable. According to BCG estimates, for food products alone, supply chains across the globe lose out on $120bn during handling and storage and another $210bn from distribution and retail due to spoilage. Business intelligence, including data visualization, can help distribution, packaging and delivery companies everywhere eliminate some of their share of this problem.

Competitor data and trends in international trade

One of the potential bottlenecks you may be interested in addressing if you engage in international trade is the question of what happens to goods as they pass through international borders. Gathering data from your home turf is great, but proactively gathering data from territories you hope to expand into could bring your business to the next level.

Consider Caterpillar and NVIDIA — two very different companies — whose travails during the US-China "trade war" are considered by many to be a bellwether for economic opportunity in APAC region. Caterpillar makes over half of its revenue from overseas markets and so, historically, has NVIDIA.

Companies like these also rely on expedient passage of finished and unfinished goods between international borders. Similar firms hoping to broaden their reach can use competitor data maps to discover which markets are ripe (and cost-effective) for expansion and which are not. This kind of mapping helps to visualize things like shipping costs and times, delays during customs procedures and essential demographic data about emerging or struggling markets. All of these are important for expansion in general, and for making smart business decisions in complicated political climates.

Data visualization is here to stay

Between now and 2021, according to Orbis Research forecasts, the commercial telematics market – data visualization services and tools, in other words – could grow by more than 20% every year. Given the opportunities we have seen here, that is not a surprise. Data mapping is relevant for every industry that relies on the efficient movement of finished and unfinished goods across their service area and across the globe.

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