Supply chain visibility

How data help align services with customer demand

When ordering items or purchasing tickets online, you know the drill. Click “order now” and within minutes, you receive an email confirming your purchase. Next you are alerted that your order has shipped, and you’re given a tracking number to follow its progress from distribution center to your mailbox. The process is efficient, transparent and customer-focused.

Supply chain visibility works the same way for shippers. SCV is the capability to monitor shipments from departure through destination, using data gleaned from a network of shared information across services and organizations. It provides accurate, timely information and transparency through the entire cycle to both shipper and receiver, and facilitates the movement of goods and the flow of relevant information. This end-to-end visibility allows the shipper to develop strategies that increase efficiency and fulfill customer expectations.

The shipping industry is fraught with delays and disruptions. Heavy traffic, road repair and closures, accidents and weather can wreak havoc on a driver’s itinerary. SCV helps mitigate these issues by providing information that allows for detailed routing and back-up planning before the shipment even hits the road.

Departure-to-destination visibility enables agility, allowing shipper and receiver to flex up or down in response to unexpected disruptions. Information is accessible in real time, allowing stakeholders to proactively adjust plans, rather than scramble after receiving bad news. It provides foresight (“I will … ”), which is always better than hindsight (“I should have … ”).

SCV can increase the velocity of a shipment, as well. If a customer has an unexpected urgent need when the shipment is mid-transit, the mode of delivery can change from standard to expedited. Supply chain visibility enables you to quickly align your services with your customer’s demand.

Data are the key component of successful management of any operation. Supply chain visibility provides data that improve services and manage costs. Rather than hoping a shipment arrives on time, businesses can rely on solid, verifiable, real-time information to ensure timely delivery.

Most companies that haven’t embraced supply chain visibility are reluctant to do so because of the significant investment in technology. Business intelligence software, hardware, servers and staff training cost money that most leaders would rather spend in other areas. In this case, third-party logistics can be extremely beneficial — they have the technology, and the investment is a regular cost of doing business.

Clients who value the services of a 3PL realize great savings in money, time and effort. For example, a consumer goods company that ships foodstuffs to grocery stores must adhere to a strict “on time in full” (OTIF) required delivery date, or pay substantial fines. With SCV, the customer has verifiable data to prove the shipment arrived promptly. A telecommunications equipment manufacturer must know when machinery is delivered, because installation crews will be standing by, getting paid whether the equipment is there or not. At oil and natural gas development sites, equipment is delivered on flatbed trucks to rural fields, where riggers and cranes must be standing by to offload. Without supply chain visibility, these clients would be wasting money and losing valuable time.

Michael Jarrett is founder and president of Jarrett Logistics Systems and PackShip USA. Both of Jarrett’s companies have won numerous awards, including the Weatherhead 100, Cascade Capital Growth Award, Inc. 500/5000, The Entrepreneurial Edge Award and NEO Success Award.