Business intelligence and analytics can help decision-makers better manage their organization’s supply chain by visualizing data to be actionable and directly accessible. This can be elevated by self-service capabilities from platforms and tools such as Power BI that enable business and nontechnical users to create their own reports, run their own queries, or analyze the meaning and context behind data.
For many leaders and decision-makers, interactive data visualization and analytics continue to be a theme for technologies that are vital in keeping the supply chain going. However, there’s the constant challenge of transforming troves of data into useful, actionable insights that, in turn, fuel timely and accurate decision-making. Visualizing data, too, helps build resilience by adding more context into the impact of disruptions that an organization’s supply chain might confront down the line.
Power BI is one of the platforms that can help convert seemingly unrelated sources of data into coherent and interactive visualizations that can be used to manage the supply chain. While tools that provide reports such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and materials requirement planning (MRP) software can provide snapshots of activities in the supply chain, using them alone is no longer enough.
Tracking critical success factors or measuring key performance indicators (KPIs), for example, can be done more meaningfully when complemented with the right analytics tool or technology. An ERP or MRP system, for instance, can remove data silos between different business functions, while an analytics tool can consolidate dispersed data to uncover insights. This is especially true in global, digital supply chains where large datasets reside in diverse and fragmented sources and whose business value depends on their integration.
How Power BI can be used in supply chain management
When implemented properly, Power BI offers a versatile solution to visualize the supply chain’s operations and performance while also having the flexibility to integrate it with existing tools and external apps or online services, which encompasses:
Collecting and processing data.
When generating reports or creating visualizations, underlying information is accessed and processed from a data source. Depending on the type of data source — such as online services like Google Analytics or QuickBooks, cloud databases like those in Azure, or an Excel file on a local computer — Power BI Desktop can be used to connect to the data source, import the data, and query and load it.
Accessing real-time data.
Power BI makes it easy to consolidate various kinds of data from different parts of the organization and display them in a single visualization or dashboard. Even if the user doesn’t have direct connection to a data source, they can still access and use them to generate reports or visualizations. Users don’t have to go through the time-consuming, back-and-forth process of requesting access to data. If real-time information is needed, a Power BI gateway might be needed to be able to refresh data. If data is on cloud-based tools and services such as SharePoint or Azure SQL Database, reports or visualizations refresh automatically if there are updates.
Customizing reports and visualizations.
Not all metrics and KPIs need to be tracked or visualized in a dashboard. Designing and building a warehouse KPI dashboard, for instance, depends on the business need and the audience. It also depends on whether it needs to be an analytical, operational, strategic, or tactical dashboard. Users might even need different reports to home in on different aspects of warehouse operations — from measuring inbound productivity, tracking outbound performance, or measuring putaway efficiency. Power BI dashboards can be customized to meet different business requirements. Its filter functionality and drag-and-drop feature, for example, can be used to configure what data to display, visualize, or analyze, giving users the specificity they need without having to painstakingly generate new dashboards or reports.
Gaining actionable insights.
Power BI has prescriptive and predictive capabilities that help improve business decision-making. These capabilities can involve knowing the buying trends and behaviors of customers, tracking project schedules, monitoring the competition, benchmarking the performance of a retail store or a warehouse, estimating the lead time of deliveries, and identifying when to launch outreach or promotional activities, to name a few. Users can use Data Analysis Expressions (DAX) in Power BI, for instance, to analyze, compare, and forecast information such as product demand, costs, revenues, transactions, or inventories across different timeframes or categories.
Having vast amounts of data to analyze is good, but it’s more important to know how they can be meaningfully linked to the supply chain’s critical success factors. Power BI has the metrics feature that enables users to define and visualize KPIs as well as configure the ways they can interact on the dashboard. This especially applies to organizations that want to track their supply chain across multiple, dispersed vendors or partners that use different data sources, platforms, or ecosystems.
Visualizing data from multiple and different data sources.
Power BI enables data to be visualized even when the format of data sources is different, such as non-SQL databases, CSV files, or Excel workbooks that various platforms typically provide (e.g., SAP, Oracle ERP). This is particularly helpful if different business functions within the supply chain use different tools for data management. Power BI supports importing data from multiple sources before it’s loaded into a dashboard, giving users more interactivity with their data.
Use cases of Power BI in supply chain management
The importance of data and analytics in supply chains is well-known. In fact, 91% of surveyed decision-makers said they are actively investing in capabilities that can analyze large amounts of data and automate business processes. Data and analytics gives warehouse managers the ability to find areas in warehouse operations that can be improved.
It’s all well and good for companies to have access to their data in one convenient place, but what can they do with all that information? How can they effectively use it to improve the warehouse’s efficiency? This is where a warehouse KPI dashboard can also help. It can track the movement of goods, schedule workloads, and monitor the performance of machineries and equipment, to name a few — all in a single pane that warehouse managers can view wherever and whenever they are.
These can be complemented by business intelligence and advanced analytics capabilities, which can help analyze data to, among others:
Estimate the capacity needed for operations.
Identify risks, such knowing temperature-sensitive products or separating expiring or obsolete items.
Plan a better course of action, such as taking alternative routes during high-traffic periods.
Compare the procurement costs and quality of products from vendors and suppliers.
Using analytics to optimize key areas in warehouse
Here are some use cases for using Power BI to manage the supply chain:
Tracking movement in logistics
Analyzing logistics data (e.g., forecasting products needed for specific warehouses, knowing the status of shipped products) can be done by using Power BI’s inactive model relationships in the date and fact tables. This enables data to be filtered by customer, product, or region, so the movement of specific inventory through time can be seen. It can even help estimate the costs of shipping it.
Monitoring sales or orders
A Power BI sales dashboard can extract data from a customer relationship management (CRM) system and present it in a more palatable format. Data from invoice and order lines, for instance, can be used to analyze if sales are growing or decreasing.
Checking vendor compliance
For example, an on-time, in-full (OTIF) report can be generated by using the data transformation feature in Power BI to datasets related to time (i.e., requested and actual delivery dates) and quantity (i.e., ordered and delivered quantity) and using some formulas to calculate OTIF.
Planning and scheduling production
A Gantt chart developed in Power BI adds interactivity to managing projects and optimizing the utilization of resources required for production. A Power BI Gantt chart can also be complemented by add-ins such as dynamic labels that allows complex information to be presented or highlighted without the intricacy of creating DAX measures.
There are several techniques to track and report inventory. Power BI can take sales data across different financial periods and measure them against current stocks in warehouses, using relevant DAX calculations to see if the warehouses are stocked well enough to adjust to current and future demand. Report slicers, too, can be used to filter inventory by category, lines of business, and geography, which is useful for analyzing commonly used filters in the report.
Measuring quality assurance
Power BI can be used to analyze supplier quality by measuring defects against the downtime that they caused. This can be broken down to different timeframes and categories such as defect type, vendor, facility, or material, but this will depend on the data.
Indeed, Power BI can empower employees, managers, and decision-makers with self-service data intelligence that they can embed in their operations and customer touchpoints, enabling day-to-day and long-term decisions that better manage their organization’s supply chain.
Power BI is more than just a data visualization tool. Users can build on its AI-enabled analytics, while data modeling tools are available before data is loaded into dashboards or reports. It can be deployed to the cloud or on-premises, and it can be an intuitive platform for organizations that already use Microsoft Office and Azure solutions where it can be easily integrated.
Lingaro is a Microsoft Gold Partner, with certified developers, engineers, and solution architects who work with supply chain leaders and decision-makers in using Power BI to embark on their journey toward digital transformation. Our success stories include helping a Fortune 500 company generate annual savings of US $2.6 million by developing intuitive and interactive Power BI dashboards as well as enabling a global brand to open business opportunities — estimated at US $3.5 million — in just one and a half years by improving their use of data.
Lingaro’s supply chain analytics practice delivers business intelligence solutions that strengthen digital supply chains — from inventory management, demand forecasting, warehouse operations, transportation, and manufacturing to sustainability. To get a glimpse of Lingaro’s industry-recognized expertise in Power BI, take a look at some of the demos we created — from customer survey analysis and executive reporting dashboard to Power BI objects.
Hat tip to Mateusz Panek for some of the insights in this article.