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How Workstream Collaboration Tools Facilitate Exception Handling

October 30, 2019

Supply chain companies should expect the unexpected — and plan to tackle disruptions with the flexibility and visibility of workstream collaboration. 

Supply chain stakeholders know that hiccups and catastrophes occur all the time. These hiccups — for example, a scheduled delivery that goes missing — can easily throw a wrench in operations. If handled poorly, these occasional mishaps can directly affect customers and hurt a company’s bottom line. Exceptions to the normal sequence of events may be common, but the fact that they are unpredictable means they present a unique challenge. 

Companies need real-time visibility across the supply chain so that exceptions can be handled as quickly as possible, or even anticipated beforehand based on related factors. But that kind of foresight isn’t possible for companies with siloed data, rigid processes, and limited digital investment. Companies across industries that deal with exception handling need a workspace that offers flexibility and visibility. It takes purpose-built collaboration tools to ensure that stakeholders up and down the supply chain can stay one step ahead of these disruptions. 

 

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What is Exception Handling?

Exception handling is essentially the process used to address non-routine issues that arise during a typical workflow. These issues may be entirely unforeseen (like a warehouse fire), or fairly predictable (like seasonal weather events), but they represent situations that fall outside the “ideal,” preconfigured strategy for achieving objectives. When exceptions to the routine occur, many companies only have the means to react in an ad hoc manner. They may have some processes in place for exceptions that occur frequently, but they still can only make reactionary moves, leaving them one or two steps behind the situation. 

In this day and age, companies should expect the unexpected. Exceptions like these will continue to occur — in fact, the current supply chain ecosystem contains more volatility than ever. Companies can’t afford the downtime associated with a nonlinear sequence of events. As disruptions continue to increase due to globalization, contracting and outsourcing, and changing consumer expectations, it’s clear that planning ahead with exception management can make all the difference.

As companies begin to seek digital solutions for this state of affairs, the key will be to invest in tech that enables seamless collaboration built around supply chain visibility. Without this, it will be impossible to head off emerging situations or respond to disruptions in real time. 

 

How to Achieve Proactive Exception Management

It’s time to do better than ad hoc, reactive exception handling. Too many teams are stuck trying to skirt disaster with paper-based or otherwise pieced-together manual processes. In this traditional approach, logistical exceptions are managed mainly through personnel effort. Working from predefined protocols can be powerful for productivity, but these processes will fall apart in the event of an unanticipated incident. 

Modern supply chains need a proactive approach to maintain a competitive advantage, and workstream collaboration tools offer a solution. Workstream collaboration transforms visibility by incorporating data sources into the workflow — ensuring a comprehensive picture of assets, processes, and changes. Data can even flow from existing management software and data warehouses. This improved and unified workspace can provide accurate insight into the current status of order processing, inventory, transportation, and other logistical tasks. 

While traditional logistics is all about following protocols, successfully managing exceptions requires immediate insight into disruptions. When a supply chain problem needs to be solved, lags in decision-making quickly get expensive and may even exacerbate the situation. Workstream collaboration tools help break down data silos and get information into the right hands more quickly for a faster and more informed response. 

It’s also key that this workstream technology is truly collaborative, which calls for better communication. Supply chain partners and internal teams alike need a shared channel for ongoing conversation, layered on top of the workflow itself. When last-minute issues come to light, information can then be shared, discussed, and more quickly acted upon. Workstream collaboration tools make this kind of dynamic, pinpointed response possible. 

 

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The Right Tools for Managing by Exception

Any industry that deals with exception handling can benefit from a workspace built for flexibility and visibility. To successfully manage by exception, you need a digital tool that can handle large amounts of real-time data to resolve issues or catch them before they occur. When choosing a workstream collaboration tool that can handle last-minute logistical complexities, look for the following:

  • Centralized data management: Data silos can leave key information on the periphery until it’s too late. The supply chain needs real-time, unified data in order to connect the dots on emerging situations. Insights from historic data should be seamlessly merged with information on present-day conditions to give users a full picture of day-to-day operations as well as exceptions.
  • Actionable alerts and notifications: Well-designed digital tools with an array of data inputs should be able to deliver actionable alerts on those inputs if relevant changes occur. Effective notifications encourage instant visibility and faster response, providing employees with actionable directives that genuinely move tasks and projects forward. 
  • Shared communication: Exceptions can easily impact partners up and down the supply chain. Suppliers, shippers, customers, and manufacturers all have a lot at stake when it comes to exception handling. Relevant incidents and delays should be visible to relevant parties, and a communication channel should encourage in-context discussion that is productive rather than distracting.

Supply chain companies that want to successfully manage by exception need to prioritize flexibility and visibility in their digital technologies. That means investing in workstream collaboration tools that offer the above capabilities and more.