Maximizing Supply Chain Control Towers

by Nate Alley, Sr. Supply Chain Consultant

Are supply chain control towers worth it?


Some limit the scope of how they define control towers, seeing them as a, “central hub with the required technology, organization and processes to capture and use supply chain data.” At Plaster Group, we see them as so much more. Beyond just a connected platform, control towers are also the people and policies that enable the system to work effectively.

How do you maximize the value of control tower investment and turn your supply chain into a competitive advantage? Leapfrogging to the next level of maturity begins with breaking many of the old rules that traditionally governed IT systems and following four steps that are integral to success.

1. Share Data Between Partners

It may seem antithetical to some, but innovative control tower strategies recognize that data collaboration – even between competitors – leads to win-win scenarios.

For instance, right now our team is designing a global control tower managing the family-planning products supply chain across 50 countries for humanitarian agencies. By leveraging e2Open, a platform originally built to facilitate electronic data exchange between the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, we can help shave supply costs through better integration and sharing of data and insights. And yet…without data sharing across these agencies, these incredible efficiencies would not be possible.

Of course, bureaucratic and legal hurdles can stand in the way of data sharing. However, with strong leadership and clear communication of expected organizational benefits these hurdles can be overcome to commence data sharing and achieve significant supply chain improvements.

2. Foster Interoperability

Gone are the days of a single standard for integration or connectivity. After all, consider just how difficult HIBC and GS1 operating with their own barcodes in the healthcare space makes it for partners to talk with one another. Increasing partner landscape complexity has made interoperability across control tower system design and architecture that much more important.

Simple interoperability starts with a robust and flexible approach to master data management. Every partner wants to communicate in their native language, meaning data architects need to find simple ways to cross reference master data across a network to support users’ desires for complete supply chain visibility.

This is one reason control towers are marketing themselves as connected hubs. One Network boasts 60,000 businesses onboarded to its Real Time Value Network TM. Meanwhile, E2Open markets itself as, the one place in the cloud to run your supply chain” with 60,000 trading partners.

These 60,000 trading partners represent existing connectivity, making it possible to leverage that connectivity, and the data stored within it, to reduce onboarding costs and decrease the cycle time to begin realizing value. It also lets us bypass the initial awkward introductory and trust-building aspects of connectivity between partners.

3. Establish Supply Chain Partner Expectations

As new data sources and partners join your control tower, it is important to have a sustainable way to recognize change and respond to it. After all, failing to do so can make your control tower an ineffective and inefficient place to coordinate partners as complexity grows.

As new partners join a network, it is important to set expectations on how they will operate. Instituting some form of engagement management can be a sufficient and ideal mechanism to identify and react to new introductions. For instance, this could be as straightforward as deploying a RACI model to clearly set the rules of the road. When a RACI model changes substantially from one partner to the next, it may be a signal that a shift has occurred, and processes and policies need to be reevaluated.

Keeping your eye on new partner developments, and being open to evolving expectations, will go a long way to maintaining your control tower’s value.

4. People Make Your Control Tower A Success

People still drive most decisions being made with control tower data. After all, it’s the people across your partners that connect and process data to drive insights on supply chain. This is why effective people management in your supply chain will increase the speed with which your control tower affect supply chain improvements.

Having established processes, roles, and change management plans are critical for aligning your people and optimizing your control tower. Consider these three key elements just within a change management plan alone that are critical for keeping your supply chain running smoothly:

  • Communication Plan: The combination of stakeholders, methods of communication, and communication messages compiled to target users with the information they need to be successful…in a way that is easy for them to consume.
  • Training Plan: The comprehensive training methods and dedicated resources to ensure users are not just trained for the first day in a control tower, but also ready for day 365 when expectations are greater.
  • Change Advocates: These are the individuals empowered to both promote change in a business and help protect staff from poor implementation by advocating for the business’ needs and acting as a channel between affected staff and senior managers.

While this structure may vary a bit across different organizations, having an established structure in place will mitigate the typical challenges that come with poor people planning and training.

Final Thoughts

Keeping these four pillars at the core of your control tower development will go a long way to building a hub that drives supply chain value. They are critical for allowing your team to streamline connectivity across partners and use data more effectively, helping you overcome the natural complexity that otherwise arises with so many “cooks in the kitchen.”