Reflections From Manifest 2024: What Does Supply Chain Visibility Mean to You?

Five Speakers on stage
By Amy Morgan, Vice President and Head of Trade Compliance, Altana
5m read

The 2024 Manifest conference in Las Vegas covered a wide spectrum of supply chain innovations. And while there were so many big themes addressed, the buzzword that echoed through every session and exhibitor booth was: visibility. From conversation to conversation, it was clear that we now have a plethora of data at our fingertips, and countless tools to turn it into actionable insights. Yet, the context of "visibility" or "transparency" morphed from one conversation to the next, reflecting the multifaceted nature of this concept and its critical importance across global commerce today.

The Many Faces of Supply Chain Visibility

Supply chain visibility, in its essence, refers to the ability of a company to track and trace every component of its supply chain in real time. However, peel back the layers and you'll find that visibility means different things to different stakeholders. For a warehouse manager, it might mean monitoring inventory levels through RFID tags. For a logistics coordinator, visibility could refer to real time tracking of shipments across global routes. And for a sustainability manager, it could mean ensuring that ethical sourcing practices are visible and verifiable at every step. And it doesn’t stop there; visibility over the course of the week also included risk visibility, financial visibility, compliance visibility, quality, production, demand, and more.

This diversity in definition underscores a crucial point: supply chain visibility is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it's a complex, dynamic capability that must be tailored to the specific needs and challenges of each stakeholder. The varying interpretations of visibility highlight the industry's collective yearning for control, efficiency, and accountability in a landscape that's becoming increasingly intricate and interconnected.

Spotlight on Multi-Tier Value Chain Visibility

It became clear during the cross-border shipping panel session, with Yikun Shao, head of NA supply chain at Alibaba, Alex Yancher, co-founder and CEO at Passport, Daniel Covarrubias, director at the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development, and Altana CEO Evan Smith, we need to elevate the visibility conversation away from generic supply chain visibility in isolation to exploring the broader, more complex concept of "multi-tier value chain visibility" and its importance today. Evan discussed how this advanced form of visibility extends beyond the immediate suppliers to encompass the entire network of production, including the nth-tier suppliers and partners.

Five Speakers on stage

Multi-tier value chain visibility is essential for enterprise supply chain leaders to develop the agility needed to ensure preparation for the next disruption and comply with increasing regulatory pressures. It is about understanding not just who a company’s direct suppliers are, but also who supplies to their suppliers, and so on. This comprehensive view has never been more important or necessary across every aspect of the the supply chain:

  • Supply chain resilience and agility - Having real-time visibility across all tiers enables quick responses to disruptions. It also helps identify dependencies and vulnerabilities so companies can choose to diversify their supplier base and reduce the risk of disruption.
  • Risk management - In today's global economy, disruptions in one corner of the world can ripple through the entire chain. Multi-tier visibility allows companies to anticipate and mitigate these risks more effectively by identifying vulnerabilities deep within their networks. It also fosters stakeholder collaboration, facilitating shared risk management practices.
  • Compliance - Each stage of the value chain provides information necessary to determine compliance with relevant laws and regulations, informs where special attention should be paid, and simplifies compliance reporting reducing the risk of penalties or legal issues. New regulations, such as the UFLPA in the US and due diligence regulations in the EU, are now mandating this visibility.
  • Sustainability - Multi-tier visibility is key to measuring and monitoring sustainability practices for all suppliers at every level of production ensuring alignment with sustainability goals and regulatory requirements. 
  • Operational Efficiency - Understanding the intricacies of the multi-tier supply chain can reveal opportunities for optimization and efficiency improvements, from reducing lead times to identifying alternative sourcing strategies to reducing costs.

The Path Forward

Multi-tier value chain visibility has historically been challenging due to data accuracy, sovereignty, privacy, and intellectual property protections. In fact, no one entity has all the data necessary and it requires bringing together data from multiple sources to create one common operating picture. Today, advancements in artificial intelligence, including a federated AI model,  allow us to overcome those challenges. In today’s world where supply chains are not just linear sequences but complex networks, visibility across all tiers is not just advantageous—it's essential.

As we reflect on the insights and takeaways from Manifest, it's evident that the future of supply chain management lies in transparency and visibility. The journey towards achieving this, especially at the multi-tier level, will be new and challenging, and will require a new approach, including embracing technologies like artificial intelligence and the Altana Atlas. However, it's a journey that the industry must embark on, armed with the knowledge that the ultimate destination—a resilient, efficient, and sustainable supply chain—is well worth the effort.