How to Build a Connected Supply Chain

Do you have a connected supply chain?

A connected supply chain ensures that all disparate systems, technologies, and networks involved are linked. They need to properly communicate with each other to ensure visibility and effectiveness end-to-end across the supply chain.

This is the end goal for many organizations that want to optimize their operations. Introducing automation technologies can aid connected supply chains by ensuring cohesion between systems while increasing efficiency by limiting manual tasks in the end-to-end process. Additionally, process automation can help ensure resilience and agility of supply chains in the face of potential disruption. 

But not all organizations have the satisfaction of a connected supply chain. In fact, many incumbent businesses are hindered by the gaps in their operations.


The problem… disconnected systems are blocking your path to a resilient supply chain 

Supply chains currently rely on an array of disconnected technologies. This creates a lack of visibility and performance data in supply chain operations. In addition, companies often rely on legacy ERP systems that are simply too slow and costly to change. 

At best these systems are optimized for efficiency rather than agility – and at worst they are not meeting either goal. In responding to recent disruption, many organizations have been forced to make decisions that have damaged the profitability of their business because they were not prepared with alternate suppliers and agile systems.

Margi Van Gogh, Head of Supply Chain and Transport for the World Economic Forum said recently: “Visibility, traceability, and interoperability are essential to connected, agile and more resilient supply systems now and well beyond the immediate COVID-19 crisis.”


The solution… Use business processes to see the big picture 

Modernizing the supply chain is a huge task, and you can’t just rip and replace your existing technology investments. But you don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to supply chain transformation, you can enhance the core technologies you already have. 

The best place to start is by mapping your business processes to gain the visibility you need to optimize operations. You cannot optimize what is not well understood. 

So, for your supply chain to become automated and intelligent, first it needs to be documented in a process model. This approach will guide your transformation efforts by highlighting which processes to automate first.

Your process models can then be used to simulate different scenarios and to create an automated process application. That agile application then provides performance data indicating where your bottlenecks are, allowing you to alter your operations or add capacity.

Leading Argentinian Oil & Gas company, Tecpetrol have transformed the way they work since introducing process mapping to their business. They had an ad hoc approach to business process management and documentation for their 750 oil wells. They needed to understand their current way of doing business to replicate success and ensure compliance and efficiency across the business.

Tecpetrol have now modeled and documented over 300 different processes across 10 departments. All processes are standardized with information centralized on a single platform. They are now using these process maps as a baseline for improvement, and to identify bottlenecks and areas for potential optimization. 

“Our priority has moved from documenting and modeling to promoting a culture of continuous improvement. Bizagi became a tool to communicate processes, improve and reengineer,” said Teceptrol’s Process Management Project Engineer, Manuel Caride.


The next step… orchestrate your supply chain with a low-code automation platform 

Now that you can see where all your processes and how they function, it’s time to make sure they are properly orchestrated to ensure efficiency. One way of doing this is by creating low-code process applications that integrate existing systems and add a layer of operational agility on top of their ERP and related technologies.

By making end-to-end orchestration the ultimate goal, you can work towards a properly connected supply chain, based on systems and technologies that all communicate with each other automatically, without the need for manual intervention. It’s these manual gaps that often cause delays and errors.

In fact, 37% of respondents in a recent Bizagi study said that they had used unapproved tools or technology, also known as shadow IT, because company-provided resources hindered productivity. While it’s great that users are looking for their own solutions, guard rails are necessary to ensure compliance and standardized ways of working.

Adopting a low-code platform enables trained business users to create applications that will ease their day-to-day workload in a system that is governed by IT, increasing visibility and collaboration and mitigating risks.

These low-code platforms allow users to explore new opportunities, while properly integrating systems and applications such as an ERP for secure access to master data and RPA bots to automate previously manual tasks. Intelligent technologies such as AI and Machine Learning can also be orchestrated to make informed decisions that will aid operations.


Orchestrate with third parties

A truly connected supply chain not only involves orchestrating your systems, but also facilitating a proper flow of information with any other companies you do business with. This includes vendors, suppliers, distributors, and retailers. 

With omnichannel and multinational supply chains on the rise, third-party connections are more important than ever. An orchestrated approach not only to helps you to be competitive in your market, and maintain relationships with these businesses, but also to protect your data and ensure you deliver on SLAs with your customers. In fact, 82% of large companies were not confident or unsure if they have identified all the third-party risks their organization is exposed to. 

The average company’s network is accessed by 89 vendors each week, so the vendor management process is the perfect example of the importance of how a low-code automation platform can support the supply chain. By providing a secure and centralized access point for vendors, which then communicates directly with your organization’s ERP, you can automate the process from selection to long-term performance monitoring for improved efficiency and better supplier relationships. 


Deutsche Post DHL Group turned to process automation to optimize its Vendor Master Data Management (MDM) portal. This process previously relied on time-intensive manual collection and validation of data to fill the gaps between system breaks. 

A portal was created as a centralized access point for 320,000 employees and over a thousand vendors. It uses business rules to automatically validate data upon entry to minimize repetitive review steps. Supplier details were also automatically replicated in the ePurchasing system to save further manual effort.

Automation eases the process by authenticating external users, checking data for errors, submitting forms, requesting approvals, and duplicating data in the ePurchasing solution. Bizagi ensures that the process is fully compliant and also eliminates the need for an API to connect to their ERP, orchestrating with SAP and automatically handing data over to RPA bots for interpretation.

“Bizagi is the tool which holds together everything end-to-end and is the go-to portal for our service providers who log into Bizagi to process a case,” said Timo Neff, Team Lead, Automation Designers & Architects at DP DHL Group. 


Find out more…

For more information on how to tackle any challenges you may be facing, download The Strategic Guide to Supply Chain Automation for Manufacturing & Retail. 

The comprehensive guide provides three easy-to-follow steps on how to build more resilient supply chain operations. These strategies can make digital transformation approachable and deliver meaningful progress in a short space of time. 

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