Global Supply Chain

The Difference between Visibility and Visualization

Grant Sernick

Head of Sales & Marketing, 3rdwave

Visualization – beyond Visibility in Global Supply Chain Performance

To appreciate the power of visualization in the supply chain, it is important to discuss and understand the current state of visibility, its inherent value and shortcomings, what visualization is, how it enhances the management of the global supply chain, and how it delivers exceptional cross-organizational benefits.Pictures are much more impactful than words. Words need to be strung together to express a thought. Pictures, on the other hand, allow the user to interpret what they see from their perspective and draw inferences. That is a huge difference. Drawing an analogy: visibility is to words what visualization is to pictures. Visibility is about seeing what is happening at a point in time. From a global transportation or trade compliance perspective, visibility provides an understanding of where a product/SKU is at any point-in-time in its import or export life-cycle. With respect to global transportation and trade compliance, visibility goes a long way to provide the user with understanding where the product/SKU is within the global supply chain. It does little to provide context or insight as to what happened before or what might happen next.Visualization, on the other hand, enables the user to form a mental image of the supply chain so that a much richer picture is created. Visualization is the aggregation of all the visibility points across the global supply chain presented in textured graphical presentations.Because visualization is so much more impactful than visibility, it exposes a more nuanced and comprehensive view of the supply chain, ensuring that issues are proactively anticipated or are resolved more quickly once they occur.

Visibility is its own challenge

All organizations operate in a multi-tiered informational world. Organizations often have multiple internal systems and depend on suppliers or 3rd party service providers to provide visibility into the specific status of a product from purchase order or receipt. To draw a comprehensive view, in a best case scenario, organizations might have a Lead Logistics Provider (LLP) aggregating all this information for them so they can see the status of POs and the shipment details at one site, at a specific point in time. However, most organizations don’t have LLPs. They therefore rely on:

  • their suppliers to provide visibility into the status of a purchase order;
  • their carriers or freight forwarders to provide visibility into the status of their in-transit shipments;
  • their customs brokers to provide visibility into the status of entries at customs;
  • their drayage companies to provide visibility into the delivery of their shipments
  • their warehouses to advise them when a shipment is received; or,
  • their customers to advise them on the details of the receipt of the delivery.

Visibility is only achieved once they go to other sites to see what is happening at any given point in time. There is no internal capability to aggregate all the information from across their suppliers and service providers and create a holistic picture of their global supply chain. For most, visibility is fragmented, and visualization is impossible.

Visualization is easier than you think.

Visualization of the global supply chain is based on two fundamentals: 1) the aggregation of global data elements into a singular data repository, and 2) reporting capabilities that allow the presentation of data in a contextual graphical output. It sounds daunting, but visualization is quite simple with the correct tools.

2 Examples of the Power of Visualization

Example 1 - Shipment Execution VisualizationLet’s assume you have a dynamic visual of your import supply chain that automatically and continuously positions a shipment along the import continuum. By having this singular visual any authorized actor can see exactly where a shipment is, its full history, and draw inferences on what to expect in the future. Now, let’s imagine how this one visual might affect different actors across the organization:Internal ActorsAffectPurchasingThe ability to see the status of shipments against a PO and its downstream effect on inventory and salesReplenishmentThe ability to see the status of shipments against a PO and its downstream effect on inventory and salesTransportationThe ability to see the position of a shipment in real-time and plan for its arrival and delivery based on demand or distribution needs. The ability to capture tracking messages and provide updates on-demand as required.Trade ComplianceThe ability to see the expected arrival of a shipment to the port of entry and proactively prepare the entry for customs and PGAsSalesThe ability to see in real-time the expected arrival of a shipment and understand its impact on sales fulfillment and proactively manage customers.MarketingThe ability to see in real-time the arrival of product and its impact on promotional activity and coordinate with sales to manage customers expectations.WarehousingThe ability to see in real-time the arrival delivery status of a shipment and its contents and proactively manage warehouse resources to meet put-away and shipment requirements.FinanceThe ability to see in real-time the position of a shipment by supplier or service provider and derive its impact on financial obligations and cash-flow.Example 2 - Product Lifecycle VisualizationLet’s assume your system can create a picture of a product, in real-time, as it moves through its global supply chain lifecycle - from purchase to receipt. As the product moves from the supplier to the carrier to the point of delivery, the system draws a visual of the supply chain –

  • showing the associated PO,
  • the equipment in which the product is shipped throughout its transit,
  • the status at the port (carrier and customs status),
  • the drayage pickup and delivery, and
  • the warehouse lot receipt detail.

Now, let’s also assume that any authorized actor has access to the system. They can now visualize the product in the supply chain and can drill down into the product at any stage of its lifecycle, and get the underlying information that is necessary to support their unique needs and requirements.

Visibility vs Visualization

The difference between visibility and visualization is like the difference between a black and white photo and a fully colored movie. Visibility gives you a general idea of the status of a product at a specific point in time. While it has certain details, it is lacking in others. Visualization provides full context of the product over time and creates the environment to extrapolate decisions and initiate actions.Visibility is an important evolutionary step in managing global supply chains. It is significant. Without visibility, an organization is truly flying blind, unable to understand the supply chain at a specific moment in time. It provides important information which enables users to gain some understanding of the status of a product and helps them formulate conclusions.Visualization, however, provides a picture of what is happening at any moment, and it contextualizes the information so that a fully detailed picture is painted. With this detailed picture, users are able to understand what is happening in the supply chain, and make more informed decisions. With the help of advanced algorithms and business intelligence (BI), global supply chain solutions deliver exceptional visualization of the entire global supply chain from both a predictive and historical perspective. When visualization is enhanced with reporting, alerting, analysis and decision support, the solution is dramatically more powerful than simple visibility. About 3rdwave:

3rdwave simplifies global trade through automation. 3rdwave is a GTM platform that delivers total global supply chain visibility, minimizes manual data entry, streamlines business process, and provides contextual information enabling its users to make informed decisions to reduce global supply chain risk. It's a cloud-based platform that requires minimal IT resources for quick implementation. 3rdwave ensures that companies meet the highest levels of GTM execution and Trade Compliance conformance.

Ned Blinick is Chief Product Officer of He has been involved in global trade for too many decades and he loves making the global supply chain simpler for everyone. If you would like to engage with Ned he would really enjoy the opportunity of communicating with you or your boss. He can be reached at (416) 510 8800 ext 234 or at