The price of a human error in the supply chain is high and is measured in extra spending or customer loss—and enterprises know that well. Businesses want to increase the visibility of their processes, make data-driven decisions, and reach sustainable business value. How to achieve all of these benefits at once? A supply chain control tower is the answer. Think of your SCCT as a control tower in the airport—it gathers information about inbound flights and weather conditions to coordinate the movement of hundreds of aircraft. The same with a supply chain control tower—this system collects data from all available sources to devise a well-informed plan for your supply chain management. You won’t even have to worry about putting it into action since an advanced SCCT will effectively execute the scenario on its own.

So, let’s take a closer look at the concept of the control tower in the supply chain and its advantages. What benefits do enterprises gain from the custom development of a control tower for supply chain? What are the key components of supply chain control tower architecture? How exactly does the system support automated decision-making and address issues in real time? Scroll down to find out. 

What is a supply chain control tower and how does it work?

As their supply chains grow, enterprises implement a myriad of new workflows that are hard to observe and manage. At this stage, businesses need an all-encompassing instrument to gain full visibility and control over these processes. Here’s when a supply chain control tower comes in handy.

The supply chain control tower (SCCT) is a unified and personalized ecosystem of information, technologies, processes, and people aimed at making data-driven decisions regarding the company’s resources and workflows. In other words, the SCCT is a think tank that automatically determines the best strategy for the operation of the whole system. In this case, “the best” is not subjective—it stands for reaching maximum business aims in the shortest timespan and with minimum risks.

Supply chain control tower architectureSo, how exactly can the SAP supply chain control tower automate your decision-making and help you become proactive? By utilizing IoT and robotics, the SCCT receives real-time data from all parts of the supply chain ecosystem and ensures end-to-end visibility of business operations. As you integrate and advance the system, it becomes smarter. With a technologically mature control tower, supply chain providers get a bird's-eye view of their workflows and data-driven recommendations. The SCCT uses the available information to simulate all possible situations and determines the scenarios that will lead to the best or the worst business outcomes. This allows organizations to identify the risks, classify them, and find optimal ways to decrease their impact on business. With a proactive approach, you save costs on dealing with the results of unexpected events or reputation loss.

The control tower is powered by a joint effort of the company’s teams that  “teach” the SCCT. They also choose the criteria according to which the system would evaluate different events and make the prognoses. These processes are non-stop, they run all the time while the ecosystem’s functioning, which increases the accuracy of the assessment. As a result, vendors can ensure the highest accuracy of forecasting and make the system’s recommendations as relevant as possible. 

However, to guarantee the system’s efficiency, you should look for a tech vendor with proven expertise in ML algorithms. As of January 2023, Clutch lists over 2,100 Machine Learning services firms that offer tech consulting and custom development. One of such companies is N-iX—our AI and Data Science specialists as well as MLOps experts are well-versed in the implementation, continuous training, and monitoring of scalable Machine Learning systems. 

The SCCT handles many critical tasks for transportation providers, such as listing the lacking goods, building optimized routes to minimize shipping costs, shipment tracking, and more. Since technologically mature systems cover the whole logistics cycle and run these processes with minimum or without human intervention, the advanced supply chain control tower is no longer a single-feature visibility tool—it becomes an end-to-end service.  

More on the topic: Innovation in logistics: how to succeed with it

How to implement a supply chain control tower and what are the advantages?

Accenture research shows that with a control tower, supply chain executives feel more confident in their brand image—72% of them believe that adopting an SCCT is essential for their customer experience growth. Indeed, once your reliable engineering vendor conducts a Product Discovery, designs a supply chain control architecture,  and integrates the SCCT, you gain full visibility of your ecosystem and centralized access to data. Moreover, technologically mature dynamic platforms help businesses automate their process management.

Key business benefits of a supply chain control tower

These benefits have a cumulative effect and lead to steady technological growth. Their value increases as the control tower gradually reaches four levels of SCCT technological maturity:

  1. Visibility. At the first level, we create a single unified data field that allows businesses to get target information regarding any segment of their supply chain system. At this stage, enterprises get a 360° view of all events that occur in the ecosystem. The SCCT gathers the data from information flows and displays it on dashboards. Moreover, at this level of SCCT technological maturity, you can define the business milestones and other important situations to observe while achieving your business objectives.  
  2. Alerts. Starting with the second level, the SCCT is smart enough to operate with a focus on your business goals. Once you achieve maximum visibility in your ecosystem, your control tower is ready to manage the processes and events based on the previously chosen criteria. So, at the second level of maturity, the SCCT will not only gather the information but provide users with recommendations on process optimization. The team receives data-driven advice and action plans in the form of alerts (e.g., notifications) that are assigned to a specific person. At the second level of SCCP technological maturity, enterprises can get additional business value such as:
  • Built-in quality control;
  • Forecasting of the processes cost;
  • The flexibility of reestablished processes;
  • Tracking of the flows in real-time.
  1. Decision support. Getting to the third level already unlocks the automation of decision-making in process management. Though technically, the person still has the last word, the SAP supply chain control tower automatically simulates the best and the worst scenarios and presents them to the decision maker. With this data, you can choose the best scenario and avoid risks which results in saved costs.
  2. Autonomy. At the highest level of automatization, a human decision-maker is eliminated from the process. Instead, a fully autonomous SCCT takes actions according to the best possible scenario. These commands engage both people and other systems, for instance, robotic systems. 

Keep reading: How to choose the best supply chain software development company: An ultimate guide

The transition between the technological maturity levels, especially from the third to the fourth, might be challenging and time-consuming. N-iX tech professionals will guide you through your digital transformation journey quickly and smoothly. Our engineering experts adhere to the principles of MBD/MBT in system modeling. This means that N-iX specialists view the processes from a high-level perspective, so we can quickly share responsibilities between corporations. 

Let’s look at how the SCCT capabilities are developing throughout these four stages on the example of a control tower for logistics:

  1. Initially, the control tower gathers and dynamically updates information to create an optimized route in regards to safety, costs, weather conditions, etc. As a result, the SCCT significantly decreases risks related to extra fuel expenses, natural events, and infrastructure outages.
  2. At the second level, the supply chain control tower becomes more autonomous, helping providers minimize human intervention. With the SCCT, drivers don’t have to communicate with the suppliers directly—they automatically receive requests for goods that are in shortage. This allows providers to avoid errors at warehouses and financial departments.
  3. The decision support level presupposes that the SCCT not only evaluates but automatically prepares one of the scenarios for realization. If at previous levels, the decision-maker was still a human, here the algorithm replaces the physical entity. The control tower can automatically use the expert system to decide on all activities. For instance, the SCCT provides directives to the driver automatically. And so will it automatically upload the map to a navigator as well as purchase fuel. All the driver has to do is follow the navigator and drive his truck according to the plan.
  4. At the fourth level, the transportation decisions are not only ready for realization but actually realized in the physical world. In other words, a driver successfully carries out a scenario recommended by an SAP control tower and delivers the right number of goods in time.

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What are the technologies and expertise that power a control tower in supply chain?

The supply chain control tower is not just a set of dashboards. You want it to gather and process every bit of data from your ecosystem, weigh the impact of each possible scenario, and have your SCCT interact with the physical world. Therefore, a reliable engineering partner designing your supply chain control tower architecture should have technological expertise in a wide range of practices, including: 

  1. Enterprise-level Continuous Integration. Real-time processing and flexible updating are the key concepts of (for example) the SAP supply chain control tower. It really is a big deal to painlessly implement an SCCT into your existing ecosystem. So, look for an engineering partner that could integrate the industrial-level software on the go. The key criterion here is their ability to link up new information channels right during the decision-making process. N-iX has the best CI practices in place, meaning that we can ensure timely software updates or plan hardware replacements in a way that won’t impact the company’s operations.
  2. Impact analysis. A road to nowhere sounds like an already failed journey. Before you or your system makes critical business decisions, you have to know the consequences and their worth. Vendors with deep expertise in impact analysis can build an effective supply chain control tower based on the methods of risk evaluation. This has a direct effect on business values since enterprises are now able to evaluate the impacts of the smallest action on their whole organization.
  3. Advanced analytics. Every decision of a control tower in the supply chain is based on data analysis. The SCCT processes signals, groups them, and identifies the interdependencies between different events that occur in the system. So, look for an engineering enterprise with proven expertise in AI, Deep Learning, neural networks, as well as mathematical predictability. For instance, here at N-iX, we have a strong unit of 200+ tech professionals with expertise in Data Analytics and the development of Deep Learning systems. 
  4. Scenario simulation stands for modeling the system’s behavior, defining the best scenario for actions, and realizing it in life. This expertise comes in handy when we want to trace the role of signals in supply chain workflows. In other words, with a scenario simulation feature in place, enterprises can monitor how the group of signals turns into events, events become alerts, and what is the final impact of the scenario on business values.
  5. Artificial Intelligence. Robust AI expertise is a must if we speak about smart SCCT implementation. In this case, a self-taught Artificial Intelligence component helps the system to make choices based on the success of its previous decisions. Hence, the system is able to analyze its experiences in running different scenarios and implement the winning plot into life. Here, at N-iX, we have been leveraging Artificial Intelligence to deploy advanced recommendation systems, Deep Learning solutions, and ML platforms to optimize the operations for manufacturing and transportation domains. By implementing complex AI and ML solutions, we helped our clients to automate manual work and promptly detect malfunctions in the ecosystems.
  6. Robotics and IoT. Sensors, smart security systems, automated doors—all of these are appliances of the Internet of Things and robotics that are essential parts of the SCCT. By utilizing these technologies, a supply chain control tower can interact with the physical world—either collect information or perform data-driven actions.

Related: IoT in supply chain: Success stories and tips

Why should you choose N-iX experts to help you streamline and manage your supply chain processes?

  • N-iX is a reliable engineering company with 20 years of experience in delivering tech consulting and software development services to logistics and supply chain enterprises;
  • The company’s team consists of 2,000 certified experts that are well-versed in IoT, industrial robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, the implementation of neural networks, and other services;
  • Our engineering portfolio spans the development of robust and scalable desktop, web, and mobile apps, as well as building optimized and adaptable systems with automated control;
  • We have a long history of delivering scalable Cloud solutions based on Azure and AWS and are certified Cloud partners with Microsoft, Google, and AWS;
  • N-iX has vast experience in introducing CI/CD, integration according to SAFe 5.1 and International Standard for Software Process Assessment (SPACE), as well as modeling of processes and systems based on MBD/MBT;
  • The vendor complies with the regulations and industry standards, including GDPR, PCI/DSS, ISO27001, ISO9001, and ISO 27001:2013.

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N-iX Staff
Dmytro Humennyi
Ph.D. in robotics and automatic control, associate professor. Project Manager

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