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5 Ways to Map Your Supply Chain (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 7

If you have already read this post here's the link to Part 2.

Running a business, big or small, can be challenging when it comes to keeping track of your supply chain. Traditional visualization tools such as spreadsheets or slides tend to be manual, tedious, and more importantly, do not solve the lack of visibility. Geographical data representation is not possible in tools such as spreadsheets.

 Meet Power BI, Microsoft's business intelligence tool. Since its release in 2015, it has been continuously updated and is now the leading Business Intelligence tool. Among its features, it has a market for community visualizations, and graph templates created by external users which complement the default ones in Power BI. Maps are one of the most popular visualizations within the community market. Among their variety of applications, they can be used to provide visibility of the Supply Chain.

Welcome to the opening chapter of our '5 Ways to Map Your Supply Chain' blog post series. Throughout this series, we will delve into practical examples of visualizations that provide clear insights in a user-friendly manner, all utilizing Power BI Map Visualizations.


 Let's get started!


For the current exercise, imagine we're running a company with distribution centers across the United States. Each center should satisfy the demand of a specific region in the United States. Additionally, our hypothetical company deals with global suppliers from Asia or Europe, adding complexity to our logistics. Power BI will help us to have visibility of the following three aspects:

  1. Locating Suppliers: Where are our suppliers located globally, and are they effectively delivering products?

  2. Identifying Demand Locations: Within the United States, where is our demand most concentrated, and are our distribution centers strategically positioned?

  3. Optimizing Distribution Center Efficiency: How effectively are our distribution centers meeting demand, and what measures can be taken to enhance efficiency?


Option 1: Trace Your Suppliers Through Route Maps

Importing products has its benefits, for instance, a cheaper workforce, a wider range of products and, most importantly, more affordable prices. Yet, inadequate visibility into the supplier's journey may result in increased transportation expenses or disruptions to customer orders, among other issues. Today, our focus will be on visualizing the journey of suppliers from their origin country to our distribution centers at the destination.

Route maps offer a friendly visualization of your product's journey from suppliers to your distribution centers. With just latitude and longitude you can visualize the path followed by a supplier. Imagine having this information in real time! You could track your product daily while it is in the middle of the ocean.


Look at the following map! It is an example of two supplier’s complete routes from origin to destination.

visualizing USA TO AUS maritime routes with PowerBI U

Figure 1: Route 1, visualizing maritime routes with PowerBI

When comparing the transit routes of these suppliers, it becomes evident that one takes a longer and less efficient route, maybe another delivery is scheduled in Australia. For our company, this could lead to increased and unnecessary travel costs. 

Let’s take a detailed look at the other’s supplier route:

visualizing USA TO AUS maritime routes with PowerBI U

Figure 2: Visualizing maritime routes with Power BI

Option 2: Locate Your Demand Using Heat Maps

Strategically placing distribution centers based on demand is crucial. To find the states with the most demand, a different type of map can be applied. A heat map is a simple yet powerful visualization that displays a certain metric through color gradients. In this case, our metric is the product demand across the country. For instance, look at the heat map displaying demand in the United States. Notice how demand is particularly high in the lower right region, near Texas.

Heatmap of the demand by USA region using Power BI

Figure 3: Heatmap of the demand by region using Power BI


Now, let's compare the heat map with the location of our distribution centers.


Distribution centers in the USA

Figure 4: Distribution centers in the USA


No distribution center is in Texas, the state with the most demand. Perhaps a new site could be built in Texas? Could we close other distribution centers and build one closer to our most important state? Those are questions you could ask when analyzing the visualization.


Option 3: Analyze Deliveries Through Flow Maps

Now we have insights into how demand is located concerning our distribution centers. But are the deliveries being made accordingly?

Once products arrive at distribution centers, the next step is delivery to the final customer. Ideally, each distribution center should serve the demand closest to it. However, without a visual aid, analyzing this behavior can be challenging. Flow maps provide a clear visualization of destinations for each distribution center. They create a network starting from an origin location to each destination associated with that origin. In our case, our origins correspond to the distribution centers and the destinations of the customer's location. Look at the following map!


Origin-Destination map USA

Figure 5: Origin-Destination map


At first glance, each distribution center seems to be satisfying the demand nearby. Upon close analysis, certain deliveries can be optimized by redistributing them to other distribution centers.

Take another look, we have now highlighted the California distribution center!

Origin-Destination map with a focus on California's distribution center.

Figure 6: Origin-Destination map with a focus on California's distribution center.


Why is the distribution center fulfilling customer orders from such a distant location?

Can we implement strategies to optimize delivery routes?

Following the earlier suggestion, should we consider constructing a new distribution center to meet this demand?

These inquiries stem from a brief exploratory analysis. Just imagine having access to this information on a daily basis!

Power BI simplifies supply chain management, offering insight into supplier routes, demand locations, and the efficiency of distribution centers. Its user-friendly approach makes navigating complex supply chain details easy. Route Maps, Heat Maps and Flow Maps are just a scratch on the surface of many visualizations available in Power BI. This marks only the beginning of our exploration into supply chain mapping with Power BI.


Stay tuned for simpler yet powerful techniques to enhance operations and make informed decisions.

Discover the interactive capabilities of Microsoft Power BI's supply chain visualization below. Experience firsthand how it dynamically represents supply chain data, and interact with the map to unlock valuable insights from our example. Explore its features to experience its power firsthand!



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