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Viewpoint: Visibility the backbone of supply chain platforms

COVID has given industry a new perspective

Supply chain visibility has become one of the most pressing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

On Monday, Tive, project44 and KODIS announced the formation of the Open Visibility Network, a collaborative supply chain visibility program. Both Tive and project44 have recently announced funding rounds. It is not surprising that they are putting newly available capital to work.

One of the themes we have explored in this column in the past is the idea that we are entering an age of supply chain platforms. For example, FreightWaves ran Commentary: FedEx/Microsoft partnership points to era of supply chain platforms on June 10, 2020.

Over the course of 2020, as the world has wrestled with COVID-19 and supply chain professionals have risen to the challenge of solving one problem after another, I have been privy to conversations with senior supply chain executives at multinational companies, businesspeople managing small and midsize businesses who are suddenly facing supply chain problems they have never had to deal with in the past, as well founders of early stage supply chain technology startups building software innovations to solve problems in supply chain and operations.

Consistently the issue of supply chain visibility rears its head as the most pressing need. The sentiment expressed by executives and business owners may be paraphrased in these words: I need to know where my goods are before I can make other decisions about my supply chain and operations. This is then usually followed by complaints about the lack of a reliable end-to-end supply chain visibility product that “just works.”

This is the problem that Krenar Komoni, CEO and founder of Tive; Jett McCandless, CEO and founder of project44; and Michael Kokal, president of KODIS, are setting out to solve.

They state in the announcement that, “The Open Visibility Network partner program is the first step in connecting shippers, logistics service providers (LSPs), brokers, and customers through collaborative data sharing. The Open Visibility Network adds in-transit visibility beyond what’s available today.”

The key to success for the Open Visibility Network is going to be data.

I have written about some of the issues around data in this column in the past; for example, FreightWaves ran Commentary: What role will data standards organizations play in a world powered by artificial intelligence? On June 18, 2019. But the problem is more complex than I described in that column.

From the announcement, one realizes that there are many handoffs of information that take place in the supply chain as goods travel from the manufacturers around the world to the end customer. But there are even more handoffs that take place as raw materials travel from parts and raw materials suppliers to manufacturers. For visibility to work seamlessly, data needs to be easily and reliably transferable and translatable whenever a handoff takes place in the supply chain.

This may seem like an easy problem to solve, but so far it is not one that has been solved at scale. During the six months in 2020 that I dedicated to artificial intelligence and machine learning in the #AIinSupplyChain series in this column, the obstacles posed by a lack of good data was a recurring theme.

That is why when Rick Zullo asked me for a contribution to Viewpoints: 11 supply chain predictions for 2021, which ran in FreightWaves on Monday, I told him I expect to see more companies making big investments in visibility, and data. Those investments will pave the way for more supply chain platforms and supply chain ecosystems.

As recently as two years ago, supply chain visibility was an afterthought. COVID-19 has made it a priority for big and small companies alike.

If you are a team working on innovations that you believe have the potential to significantly refashion global supply chains, we’d love to tell your story in FreightWaves. I am easy to reach on LinkedIn and Twitter. Alternatively, you can reach out to any member of the editorial team at FreightWaves at [email protected].

Brian Aoaeh

Brian Laung Aoaeh writes about the reinvention of global supply chains, from the perspective of an early-stage technology venture capitalist. He is the co-founder of REFASHIOND Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund that is being built to invest in startups creating innovations to refashion global supply chain networks. He is also the co-founder of The Worldwide Supply Chain Federation (The New York Supply Chain Meetup). His background covers the gamut from scientific research, data and statistical analysis, corporate development and investing for a single-family office, and then building an early stage venture fund from scratch - immediately prior to REFASHIOND. Brian holds an MBA in General Management, with a specialization in Financial Instruments and Markets, from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics & Physics from Connecticut College. Brian is a charter holding member of the CFA Institute. He is also an adjunct professor of operations management in the Department of Technology Management and Innovation at the New York University School of Engineering.