Even though there’s still no consensus on the definition and scope of supply chain control towers, the concept continues to arouse interest among business executives, who rightly believe that a control tower should allow them to take full control of the entire supply chain. This is in stark contrast to the somewhat disappointing results from most current deployments out there. I’d like to make a suggestion about what the standard should be.
What’s the problem? In a Supply Chain Dive opinion article published in 2020, Gartner’s Christian Titze offered his critique on the subject, saying that “control towers are like the artificial intelligence of supply chain: everyone wants to have it, but nobody quite knows how it works.”
This seems to be the perfect breeding ground for a confused market with many half-baked solutions going live, offering little more than a data warehouse with BI reporting. In the best-case scenarios, these reports signal critical deviations occurring in the supply chain, pinpointing the causes. In the worst cases, they signal either too much or nothing at all. What most of them fail to do is provide actionable information.
We all know how complex supply chains are, with all their interwoven levels of decision making. It’s one thing to discover that there’s a fire going on somewhere, it’s a completely different thing to know what you can do to fight it without causing too many undesirable side effects. I believe we should therefore establish a standard for supply chain control towers.
A control tower should offer four essential functional stages:
In the past decade, multiple low-maturity initiatives have paved the way for a sea change in control tower approaches. We should first recognize the need for a telescopic digital twin as a solid foundation. The message has already reached hyperscale providers like Google and Amazon who are starting to develop a supply chain offering with the promise of real-time supply chain visibility. This would bring good progress at stages 1 and 2 (Detect and Diagnose), but control tower users should additionally be given access to smart planning functionalities. They could then develop viable scenarios and automated responses (stage 3) in their pursuit of continuous improvement (stage 4).
Because that’s what business leaders really mean when they’re begging for full control over their entire supply chain.
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BiographyWith more than 15 years of supply chain experience, Jan has built in-depth know-how across the board from a solution a well as cross-industry perspective. His team is part of the Product Design organization at OMP.