Digital supply chains only as strong as the weakest link

Jim McNiel
posted by Jim McNiel
25 November 2015

A supply chain is a wonderful visual term.  We know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and in the case of today’s sophisticated digital supply chains there are numerous links to worry about.

If any aspect of the chain becomes unresponsive the whole system can grind to a halt. This may result in the failure to print bills of lading, manifests, and other key documents. Forklifts stop lifting, lorries stop rolling, and commerce slows to a crawl: a key reason chief procurement officers and supply management leaders are realising that strong, trust-based supplier relationships are key to supply chain success.

One of the chief challenges in managing a modern supply chain and procurement network is dealing with the complexities inherent in what must be a diverse heterogeneous assortment of digital services. Your supplier is on SAP and SQL, you are an Oracle house; they use HP and you use Dell and Cisco; they use Citrix and you have Red Hat and VMWare. One thing you do have in common is network traffic. Regardless of the custom apps built to take and procure your orders, fill pallets, and print labels, the one common element in all of these environments is network traffic, and more specifically packet data.

If you are interested in ensuring every link in the chain is as strong as the next, you must be able to understand what stresses or loads each link is under. This can only be done though proper instrumentation and this can only be consistent in a disparate and inconsistent supply chain with instrumentation done at the network traffic level.

According to Forrester Research, when something goes wrong in a system 90 per cent of the time used to repair and verify the fix is actually spent in discovering what the true root cause of the trouble is. This is called Mean-Time–To-Know (MTTK).  In the case of a multi-vendor supply chain, MTTK can be very high for the simple reason that there are multiple parties, systems, networks, and carriers involved and they are all using a broad array of diagnostic tools to identify problem areas. The fact is that most of these tools are purposely built to look at one link in the chain and do not have the ability to see the big picture. When key components  of your supply chain are instrumented using network probes you have the ability to gain one version of the truth and understand almost instantly what part or parts of the chain are failing. This can result in reducing MTTK by 80 per cent, substantially improving your uptime and bottom line.

Some professionals look to solve problems by embedding code in their custom applications to diagnose and identify issues, and this works fine for those specific applications. What this does not do is explain the health and well-being of the complete chain.

So if you are interested in avoiding a significant halt in your supply chain, work with your partners to standardise on network performance management tools that can provide all of the links of the chain with a consistent and accurate understanding of how the entire system is working and the ability to alert you, and your partners, before something breaks the chain and seriously bites into your bottom line.

Jim McNiel is chief marketing officer at NetScout

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