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Picture This: Why Supply Chain Visualization is Key – Part 2 Creating Supply Chain Visualizations

By Alan Pinkert  October 29, 2015

In yesterday’s post, we established the importance of data visualization. Now, what can you do to visualize supply chain data?  First and foremost: give yourself a leg up, and start using tools that allow you to craft great visual messages more easily.  The best data visualizations don’t come from the default chart setting in your favorite spreadsheet program and generic tools like PowerPoint and Visio don’t understand that the line you’re connecting between two squares is a product flow.

Here are a few ways that LLamasoft’s supply chain designers use data visualization to strengthen understanding, reveal hidden patterns, and simplify complexity:

1) Map your supply chain

It’s shocking that as recently as 2013, “the visualization of network information on a map” can be described as a revolutionary supply chain analytics technique.  Mapping technologies are increasingly more accessible, and businesses that aren’t using them to visualize their supply chain are missing out on important information.

A basic map of the locations and connections in your supply chain network is a great way to begin.  Simply seeing the geographic clustering of customer locations alone can reveal actionable insights about sourcing decisions.  But employing more advanced techniques can tell a much richer story.  One such technique is the service area map, shown below from Supply Chain Guru:

Service area maps show the minimum time to serve geographic regions from each distribution center.  The one depicted above shows customers (blue circles) weighted by demand and uses real turn-by-turn road data, for a visualization that shows both high-volume customers and the actual service bands that contain them.


2) Combining data with network diagrams can simplify complex processes

Supply chains are comprised of networks of complex relationships.  Network diagrams are everywhere in supply chain management, because they’re such a natural fit to make sense of these interwoven links.  But too often, they’re only used conceptually: representing high-level understandings of flows or processes. Using them against actual order, shipment, or process data can yield interesting results.


The above visualization, created from Supply Chain Guru’s visual modeler, shows a potential risk for service interruption or bottlenecks by revealing nodes that have no redundancies.  A pen-and-paper (or PowerPoint-based) conceptual representation might have lumped together all the ports in this network, hiding that information.  Using real data to generate network diagrams can make a big difference.

3) Use dashboards to compare scenarios

When presenting transformative supply chain changes, businesses need to compare their options.  As a supply chain designer, it’s common to graph data for a single focus per comparison, such as total cost, and walk through each focus separately.  But that single focus may limit your ability to tell the whole story.  Combining related information in the right way can spark a more creative and innovative discussion.  Try creating a dashboard to show multiple dimensions for each scenario at once:


The above visualization, from SupplyChainGuru.com, shows three different what-if scenarios on the Y axis, and three different dimensions on the X axis.  You could use this to drive a conversation on the financial impacts of each option, in a way that only showing one of these comparisons can’t match.

A word of warning: Dashboards may look beautiful, but they need to be carefully and intentionally designed.  Be wary of going overboard with too many visuals, or charts with more flash than function.    When creating a dashboard, be sure that you know your audience, and that you clearly and concisely present information they would find relevant.

Click here to learn more about supply chain visualization and mapping technologies with LLamasoft.

Additional Notes

  • Think your supply chain is too complex to be visualized? I dare you to take a look at Visual Complexity.  The collected images and interactives depict beautiful, informational representations of complex networks.