Why firms should avoid 'dark operations'

posted by Kit Kyte
22 November 2021

From petrol pumps to Christmas presents, the supply chain is under the spotlight like never before.

So why are supply chain operations still so mysterious?

The spotlight is not penetrating beneath the surface, so the day-to-day detail of supply chain activity is much harder to scrutinise.

The challenge for leaders is that they are managing a vast ecosystem of people and processes, spread across multiple locations and time zones. In many cases, reporting methods are outdated, creating knowledge gaps that leave organisations vulnerable to risk and unable to see opportunities for innovation. It’s a phenomenon that can be described as ‘dark operations’.

And the problems caused by dark operations have been ruthlessly exposed by recent events. The Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with severe staff shortages and Brexit complications, have put unprecedented pressure on supply chains.

Outdated practices that stand in the way of information sharing at the necessary scale and pace of today’s operations will need to be replaced with a new mindset that focuses on continuous improvement.

Resilience and agility are the two qualities that will characterise successful supply chains in the future.

To achieve that, leaders will need the ability to identify and address areas of weakness. They will need closer engagement with the deskless workers who are so crucial to effective operations. They will need to coordinate resources efficiently by liberating people from administrative tasks that don’t add value. They will need accurate data to prove standards and SLAs are being met consistently in order to strengthen the confidence of customers, regulators and employees.

Supply chains cannot afford to operate in the dark. To be sustainable, there has to be a reliable flow of data to drive better decisions on improving efficiency, speed and transparency. Research by Gartner backs this up. Analysts report that too many organisations in the supply chain are operating with insufficient information.

The future will be different. Digital adoption is set to rise. By 2025, 23% of supply chain leaders expect to have a digital ecosystem in place, up from 1% today, according to research from Gartner.

Analytics are improving but supply chain leaders are not getting a complete picture. There’s data from goods, machinery and vehicles but nothing from the deskless workforces at the heart of supply chain operations. Measuring footfall, location and task completion rates will enrich the data the supply chain is already getting, driving more meaningful insight into demand patterns and availability.

Applying data analytics to the workforce will uncover hidden inefficiencies – duplicated tasks, paperwork that takes hours out of every day, lost or misdirected stock, employee churn that diverts productive hours into onboarding and training, obligations that are dropped during shift handovers. At the moment, it’s happening beyond the view of most managers.

Resilience is no longer a tactical response to the pandemic but a strategic imperative. Weaknesses have been exposed but the answer is not to replace people with technology, it is to support those people and augment their work with digital enablement. It’s about providing the tools to drive faster results.

Supply chain leaders will be looking to augment their workforces with digital capabilities, ensuring they can adapt more quickly to global economic forces and other forms of disruption.

In practice, you’ll see frontline people equipped with mobile apps that serve as digital assistants – guiding and capturing their activity in real-time, enabling collaboration and generating much-needed management insight. 

In the future, the spotlight won’t feel quite as uncomfortable.

☛ Kit Kyte is CEO of Checkit

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