Visualizing, Controlling, & Proactively Orchestrating Supply Chain Workflows: Part Two

Part one of this blog series focused on some common challenges service supply chains face because of disconnected workflows. From missing spare parts to late deliveries, we can blame most of the day-to-day issues that plague your service network on a lack of communication across your technologies (and the people who use them). In this article, we share actionable steps to foster more continuity from workflow to workflow.

As a baseline, it’s essential to establish a methodical approach to consolidating your transaction data. Your team and partners must understand the nature and timing of your optimal workflows, the transactions within the workflows, and how they interact. Data source integrity is key to ensure there’s “one-truth” for all information. With transactional timing and cycle time information, proactive alerts can be configured to manage the transactions.

Here are the key steps to help you accomplish more connection, clarity, and integrity:

  1. Identify the few core supply chain workflows and map them out. As you look across your service network, you can probably see a handful of workflows that your team spends the most time managing. Some of these processes are simple but span several internal functional groups or external trading partners. These workflows are ideal for seeing improvements when achieving endtoend visibility.Once you have identified a few to get started with, gather key stakeholders, and review the current process. If the process is already documented, interview stakeholders and validate how the documented process operates in practice. If it is not documented, gather the team around a whiteboard and draw it out. Be sure to include time study and performance metrics.
  2. Design improvements to the workflows. After the team reviews the as-is processes, this is the best time to implement improvements. There may be a few opportunities to eliminate waste and change responsibilities. Most of the time, improvements to stale processes are obvious and should be implemented before connecting the data to any workflow visualizations. With improvements to the processes should come higher performance expectations.
  3. Identify key milestones in every workflow and the planned lead time between each. Throughout each process, people put in work to complete the activity, potentially tallying up to over one hundred actions (systematic or manual). It’s important to focus on the few key milestones that really characterize the work.Once you’ve identified the key milestones, calculate the process times between them. This will be used to measure the workflows in real time. If the process takes longer than planned, you can use warnings and alerts to draw attention to the delays.
  4. Identify the transactions that represent each milestone and the best data source for that transactional data. Then, isolate the transactional data that helps trigger each of the next steps in the workflows. Narrow down the level of granularity you can support – is it the status of the whole order, the order lines or the exact serial number? This granularity should be supported by all systems in scope. Understand how to gather data and how to indicate the milestone has been met. Identifying the source of truth and restricting the business rules around what data and how the data is managed to trigger the next workflow steps is paramount. It’s crucial in this step to ensure that the data needed to calculate the performance of the process is captured.
  5. Connect the data to your order workflow management tool. At this point, you’ve identified the key steps in the workflows, the data sources, and the performance expectations of the workflows. After this, you should gather the data and synchronize the data refresh rates. Will data files be available in real-time or throughout daily intervals? For example, your third-party warehouse provider may offer transaction information for outbound orders every 15 minutes and for receiving transactions every hour. After you’ve synchronized your data with the proper refresh rate, use a visualization platform to present the data for users. This is where the business users guide development. Creating visualizations that are useful to them will increase adoption, which will drive operational improvement.
  6. Set up alerts and metrics. Finally, use the data to determine where there’s risk in your workflows. Alerts can be set up to warn key players that a transaction in the workflow isn’t performing as expected. This can be done by using the expected process times of the workflow step compared to the actual time of the workflow step. If the actual is greater (or expected to be greater) than planned, set up alerts that bring the appropriate level of attention to the issue. Alerts can be a flag on the visualization, an email notification, or aggregated in an alert list.

Once a process is complete, you can review the performance of the entire workflow and explore opportunities for improvement. Since each milestone and the trigger to move to the next step in each workflow is well known, the failures for each step can be automatically detected. Greater visualizations will not only show the performance outcome of the processes but should also have the first level of root cause identification automatically categorized.

How to Select an Order Workflow Execution Management Tool

Order Workflow management optimization requires an engine that can truly consolidate all supply chain workflows. But many commercial tools and systems lack the necessary capabilities to successfully integrate and orchestrate all workflows into a single interface. The cost and time to develop these tools is prohibitive.

Current tools and systems may have:

  • Defined processes, but not the digitalization to facilitate automation
  • Decision-making data stored in systems, but not the ability to integrate those systems
  • Digitized processes, but no automated alerts based on deviations from the expected flow
  • Automated alerts, but not any automated prioritization or the traceability to follow up
  • Metrics reporting, but not the ability to use them to interrogate the process

The right workflow management engine enables you to create truly connected supply chains across every workflow, transaction, and trading partner, and provides every player in the network with the real-time visibility to drive dynamic and proactive agility. It empowers supply chain players to understand every connection point in the service network, move to a more proactive position, and synchronize every transaction.

Understand every connection point in the network. By using an effective order workflow execution management tool, you can enable network-wide transactional and workflow connections that:

  • Allow for non-intrusive and IT-friendly connections across transactional systems, data, and workflows throughout the network
  • Connect systems, functions, and trading partners to enable two-way visibility and coordination
  • Enable unified visibility across the network using a single interface

When you truly connect all points in the service network, players across this network can obtain clear visibility into the status of all orders, transactions, and workflow activities.

Move to a more proactive position. Opt for an order workflow execution management engine that allows you to effectively monitor and manage transactions across partners, customers, and suppliers by:

  • Providing comprehensive, real-time tracking of transactions, activities, performance metrics, deviation alerts, and updates across the network
  • Allowing for predictive alerts of emerging supply chain events and issues with data-driven intelligence into their potential impact
  • Enabling real-time monitoring and control of supply chain performance for responsive tactical executions

Comprehensive transactional visibility across the network allows every function within the supply chain to shift from a state of reactivity to a state of proactivity.

Synchronize every transaction. The right order workflow execution management engine allows you to enable workflow coordination, automation, and acceleration so you can:

  • Take actions and track execution for deep and transparent control at the transaction level
  • Drive efficient execution with digital automation, enhanced decision support, intelligent alerts, and streamlined transaction management
  • Accelerate business outcomes with a stable and controlled supply chain that delivers exceptional customer experience

With a collaborative platform for agile order workflow management, you can successfully proactively orchestrate every transaction across the supply chain.

Final Remarks

By orchestrating supply chain workflows from a single interface as recommended in Gartner’s article “Predicts 2019: Future of Supply Chain Operations,” you can “enable better and faster decision making by placing emphasis on enhancing operational intelligence through use of advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) to remove operational barriers and provide visibility into and across operations, and to improve responsiveness.”

As the markets continue to evolve, new Service Supply Chain challenges will inevitably emerge. But with all pieces of the service network puzzle integrated and orchestrated into a single interface, supply chain leaders can intelligently adapt to any business climate and sustain positive relationships with all stakeholders.

Ready to take action? Contact us today!


Todd Fogal
Sr. Manager Supply Chain Transformation
Todd joined Baxter Planning in 2021 as part of the Entercoms acquisition. For the past four years Todd has been a Supply Chain Transformation leader responsible for leveraging technology and expertise to help supply chains truly transform their operations and network. Todd brings 30 years of Supply Chain experience at Xerox. While at Xerox, Todd held senior leadership supply chain positions in planning, forecasting, operations, and strategic change management. Todd has extensive experience transforming supply chains to optimize service level, inventory, and cost. Todd has an MBA from Xavier University, is a Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and was named a Pro to Know by Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine in 2022. Todd is based out of Rochester, NY.