+44 (0)1604 968 820 Speak to an expert

Supply chain mapping is a process that allows your company to get a comprehensive view of the entire supply chain. It involves creating a visual representation of the flow of materials, information, and finances as they move from supplier to manufacturer right through to the consumer. This mapping process enables businesses to pinpoint the exact source of products, understand product flow, and track critical materials through their journey across global networks.

Understanding your supply chain is crucial. Effective supply chain mapping helps mitigate risks, such as concentration risk from single suppliers, compliance issues like modern slavery or child labour, and disruptions from external factors.

The valuable insights gained from mapping your supply chain can drive strategic improvements in your operations. These enhancements may include optimising inventory levels, boosting supply chain visibility and transparency, or reducing lead times, ultimately leading to increased efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Understanding Supply Chain Mapping

Supply chain mapping provides a detailed overview of the processes and entities involved in the production and delivery of products within a company’s supply chain. It is a strategic tool that enables visibility and better management of the supply network.

Foundations of Supply Chain Mapping

Supply chain mapping begins with the visual representation of your entire supply chain, including every supplier and process involved, from raw materials to finished products reaching the customer. The mapping process is strategic, involving data collection from every node of the supply network. This allows companies to obtain real-time data and gain a comprehensive view of their supply chain operations.

  • Process Identification: List out each step in your flow, from product sourcing to delivery.
  • Data Compilation: Gather relevant information on suppliers, lead times, and distribution centres.
  • Visualisation Tools: Utilise technology to create a global map of your supply chain. You can use free whiteboards to support this.

The Benefits of Mapping Your Supply Chain

Creating a supply chain map offers major benefits for managing your company’s supply chain efficiently. This includes: 

  1. Risk Management

By identifying potential risks at each node, businesses can devise strategies to mitigate risk. Example: If a first-tier supplier has issues with working conditions, measures can be taken to ensure compliance with human rights and ethical considerations. 

  1. Operational Efficiency 

Businesses can identify opportunities to optimise business processes and manage risk, resulting in time savings and cost reductions.

  1. Supply Chain Resilience 

Enhances the ability to respond to supply chain disruptions with fast, data-driven decisions.

  1. Competitive Advantage

Companies with full visibility of their supply network can adapt to changes in international trade and maintain steady cash flow, gaining an edge over competitors.

Key Elements of Supply Chain Maps

When you start mapping your supply chain, it’s essential to understand the key elements that provide a clear and comprehensive view of your entire supply network. These components help you better manage risks and identify potential weaknesses in your supply chain.

Visualisation Techniques

A visual representation of your entire supply chain allows you to see the relationships and flows of products, information, and finances from start to end.

These visualisation techniques can vary from simple flow diagrams to complex digital models. For instance:

  • Flow Diagrams: Represent the movement of raw materials to the delivery of final products.
  • Geographical Maps: Show the global spread of your suppliers, factories, and distribution centres.
  • Gantt Charts: Useful for displaying lead times and synchronising the sequence of operations.

Supply Chain Entities and Functions

The core of your supply chain map consists of the involved parties and their roles, which are essential for a strong supply chain strategy. These include:

  • Suppliers: Your providers of raw materials or services, often categorised by tiers such as first tier suppliers or other suppliers.
  • Manufacturers: The entities that produce your goods.
  • Distributors: Companies that handle the distribution of your products to various markets.
  • Customers: The end users or businesses purchasing the product for consumption.

For each entity, the functions they perform are equally essential to document. Functions provide insight into business processes like procurement, manufacturing, and delivery, all the way to the customer experience

In detailing these, you can identify risk management strategies to help mitigate risk, assess supply chain transparency, and improve supply chain visibility.

Risk Management in Supply Chain Mapping

Effective risk management through supply chain mapping allows businesses to understand and prepare for potential disruptions and bottlenecks in their operations.

Identifying Risks and Bottlenecks

When mapping your supply chain, one crucial step is to identify potential risks and bottlenecks that could disrupt the flow of raw materials or finished goods. This involves an examination of every stage looking for any sign of vulnerability – such as concentration risk.

It’s essential that you gather supplier data from every touchpoint.

  • Examining Lead Times: Note the time taken for materials to move from one supplier to another and ultimately reach your distribution centres.
  • Assessing Supplier Information: Collect details on first tier suppliers, and other suppliers, to understand their reliability, working conditions, and potential for issues.
  • Seeking Transparency: Aim for full visibility of your supply chains, including the source of critical materials and the flow of products.

Developing Contingency Plans

Once you’ve identified potential vulnerabilities, the next step is to develop contingency plans. These plans should include strategies to manage risk and maintain business processes in the event of disruptions.

  • Creating Backup Systems: Establish alternate supplier relationships or buffer stocks of critical materials to guard against unexpected shortages.
  • Utilising Real-Time Data: Implement systems to capture real-time data from your entire supply chain, allowing quicker response to shifts in demand and supply.
  • Ensuring Compliance: Regularly review contract terms and product certifications, such as ISO certification, as part of your due diligence.

Enhancing Supply Chain Transparency

Supply chain transparency is essential for companies to effectively monitor their entire supply network. Achieving transparency involves not only visibility but also the ability to accurately communicate and report to stakeholders, thoroughly audit suppliers, and ensure compliance with regulations.

Communication and Reporting

Effective communication and accurate reporting are foundational elements of a transparent supply chain. As you map your supply chain, ensure clear lines of communication at each stage, from raw materials to distribution centres. Reporting is integral to transparency, and involves the regular sharing of relevant information with all stakeholders. Key components include:

  • Data Collection – Collect supplier data on lead times, product flow, and working conditions.
  • Real-time Data – Implement systems that provide real-time data to track supply chain management.
  • Centralised Repository – Create a centralised platform where all supplier information is stored and easily accessible.

Efficient communication channels and reporting practices can save time and identify opportunities for improvement in your supply chain.

Supplier Audits and Compliance

Conducting supplier audits and ensuring compliance are essential to uphold the integrity of your supply chain. Through due diligence, you can identify potential risks and ensure that suppliers adhere to contractual terms, such as product certification requirements. Key practices include:

  • Regulatory Compliance – Stay updated on international trade laws and ensure your supply chain meets necessary legal standards.
  • Due Diligence – Perform comprehensive checks on suppliers for issues such as modern slavery and child labour to manage risk and protect human rights.
  • Auditing Process – Regularly audit first tier suppliers and extend the same invitation to other suppliers in the supply chain to promote best practices.

Strategies for Resilient Supply Chains

In today’s complex market, building resilient supply chains is crucial. Here are some practical steps you can take, using technology and supplier relationships, to maintain efficiency and reduce risk in your operations.

Leveraging Technology and Automation

The use of automation software within the supply chain mapping process significantly increases both resilience and efficiency. Key technologies include:

  • Real-time Data Collection – Utilising sensors and tracking systems to monitor product flow and supplier performance provides full visibility of the entire supply chain. This real-time data can pinpoint potential vulnerabilities and allow prompt corrective action.
  • Centralised Repository – By maintaining supplier information, inventory levels, lead times, and risk management records in a single location, you gain a comprehensive view of your company’s supply chain, saving time when decisions need to be made swiftly.

Supplier Relationship Management

Strong supplier relationships are essential for resilient supply chains. Key strategies include:

  • Risk Assessment and Due Diligence: Ensure that your company’s supply chain transparency aligns with international standards such as ISO certification.
  • Contract Management: Clearly defined contract terms with first-tier suppliers and an understanding of their relationships with other suppliers help you manage risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we cover commonly asked questions to understand supply chain mapping and its implications for your business.

What are the primary objectives of supply chain mapping?

The primary objectives of supply chain mapping involve gaining full visibility into your supply chain, improving supply chain transparency, and identifying potential risks. This enables you to oversee the entire chain, from raw materials to distribution centres, and make informed decisions regarding your supply network.

How can supply chain mapping improve operational efficiency?

By mapping your supply chain, you can pinpoint inefficiencies within business processes and identify opportunities for streamlining. This might include optimising lead times, improving communication with suppliers, or enhancing the customer experience through a faster product flow.

Which technology tools are most effective for supply chain mapping?

Tech tools that provide real-time data and centralised repository features are particularly effective in supply chain mapping. They help in creating a comprehensive view of your entire supply chain, integrating information such as supplier data, distribution routes, and inventory levels.

Why is supply chain mapping important?

Supply chain mapping is crucial because it provides transparency, improves efficiency, and helps you better understand your costs. By mapping your supply chain, you can effectively deal with challenges such as supplier shortages or lost orders, ensuring your business remains resilient and competitive in today’s market.

How J&J can improve your supply chain mapping

At J&J, we’re committed to investing in forward-thinking and future-oriented processes. That’s why we have automated parcel sorters and our inventory management software, ControlPort™ available at our customer’s disposal. 
By choosing us as your eCommerce fulfilment partner, we can help you expand and streamline your business, including by mapping your supply chain. If you’re interested in working with us, contact us today at +44 (0)333 200 9951 or [email protected] to find out more about how we can assist you.

About the Author

Related news & insights

In the eCommerce industry, inbound and outbound logistics refer to the process of receiving and sending goods respectively. If you own or work for an eCommerce company, you’ll have likely heard these terms thrown around quite a bit, and have…

Every business, whether they’re selling goods or services, needs distribution logistics. It’s how we get our goods and services into the hands of consumers once they’re ready to be ordered. A robust distribution logistics strategy is essential for getting your…

Acquiring new customers costs time and money. Whether you’re running online ads, paying a marketing agency, creating email campaigns or investing in a lead-generation website, customer acquisition can be a large investment. A profitable business needs to ensure that they…

Third-party logistics (3PL) refers to the outsourcing of logistics activities to external service providers. In today’s business landscape, benefits of 3PL cannot be overstated. It enables companies to focus on their core competencies while leveraging the expertize and resources of…

What is an agile supply chain? An agile supply chain is a supply chain management technique that allows businesses to be more flexible, responsive, and adaptive when it comes to meeting customer needs and demands. The eCommerce industry in particular…

Definition of warehouse logistics Warehouse logistics refers to the operational processes within a warehouse, encompassing fulfillment, inventory management, health and safety, resource management, inventory positioning, and more. Warehouse logistics involves planning, managing, and co-ordinating each element of the warehouse to…

When we think of a parcel, most of us probably think about the exterior packaging. Is it sturdy? Is it easy to open? Is it sustainable? Does it look great? People who don’t work in eCommerce probably don’t think about…

It’s never been easier to capture data. All of the best eCommerce platforms on the market today capture a wealth of useful data in the background, but the sad truth is that not enough businesses capitalize on the data they…

As soon as a customer makes a purchase, the last mile process begins. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes between them tapping ‘buy now’ and their order arriving at their door, but it’s the retailer’s job to create…