Strategic Supply Chain Planning 2021 | Beyond COVID

Companies are looking at diversifying their supply sources. Whether this means on-shoring, near-shoring or simply adding alternative regions to the existing base. This is not a quick proposition. Suppliers have to be located, certified and tested. Order patterns have to be established and inventory policies implemented. All of this takes data, analysts and time. Perhaps the most difficult part, managing change in your supply chain planning.

Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor or retailer you have to be able to support more direct consumer channels than you may have traditionally. This will involve better collaboration, inventory management and alternative fulfillment and transportation options. Again, this requires data, analysts and change management.

The companies that will lead the pack are the ones that recognize the permanency of the COVID changes on the horizon and establish long-term supply chain strategies to mitigate risk and guarantee products and service to the end customer.

Planning for Supply Chain Flex is Paramount

An exponential boom in e-commerce sales rapidly created significant congestion for last mile deliveries. The effect spilled across the entire supply chain. At distribution and fulfillment centers some shippers saw their small packages go unshipped due to volume caps implemented by parcel carriers. Elsewhere, LTL carriers facing heightened shipment volumes at their terminals delivered fluctuating service levels.

As a result, many companies examined how they complete final deliveries to their clients, a process that retail giants like Amazon have nearly mastered. More and more companies are shifting toward expedited service from either existing brick-and-mortar facilities or an adjusted network of distribution centers. Smaller, urban fulfillment centers added in certain areas can help skirt site-specific volume limits. More options make you less susceptible to geography-based capacity constraints.

But you must understand how those changes in network design affect cost and service performance. 

Through its ability to evolve a massive local network, Amazon proved to be among the most reliable carriers during the disruptions of 2020. Not everyone has the deep pockets to establish an Amazon-like network with large distribution centers and cross-dock strategies. 

However, you can determine where you can compete with that sprawling service network – and where you cannot. SKU rationalization, margin analysis of different channels and overall network design analysis can help businesses of any size understand where growth is occurring and where it is not. From there you can align your supply chain planning based on the demand patterns your business is experiencing.

Look Upstream to Determine Opportunity

With everything happening in the supply chain environment, it is important to get outside of your business and examine your network upstream to your suppliers. This provides insight in several important areas. 

Over the past 20 years companies have worked to reduce and remove inventory where possible, achieving the absolute least cost in the process. Today, you must balance inventory, determine which inventory is right, and even decide the right customers to serve. Understanding your processes, as well as those of your partners is integral to transportation cost management.

When your retail partner asks you to drop ship product to their customers, can you segment your inventory into the different physical channels to both serve those individual orders and continue filling regular store-level inventory needs?

How should your inventory model change as you move toward insourcing or reshoring? With longer lead times and growing landed costs emerging from foreign vendors, local suppliers allow you to manage a smaller inventory or direct ship to customers and, ultimately lower overall cost. Do you have the contingencies in place across your network of vendor partners to deploy local or regional sourcing in the event of ongoing disruption in Asia?

By stepping outside your own walls and understanding processes upstream and downstream – as well as their alternatives – you become a stronger partner, especially if you can offer your suppliers visibility into your own demand. Ultimately, that level of collaboration helps your partners plan better, improving efficiency and service to you in the process.

By helping customers understand their total value stream and deploying a lean-minded supply chain strategy consultation, we help them visualize how changes to their network can improve cost and service across their transportation environment.

Capacity for Change can Limit Improvement

Achieving flexibility in your supply chain requires both an ability to recognize when processes are not performing and a willingness to apply change. If you don’t change, nothing changes, and it became especially clear in 2020 that a lot of companies don’t know how to implement that change. 

Leadership has to want to change and improve, and it is important to understand that if you are not constantly problem-solving then you are going backwards. Smaller companies understand this especially well, but larger companies are often separated into silos and metrics conflict with day-to-day activity.

Are you willing to let your partners save you from yourself? If leadership is not willing to accept analysis and insight that supports change, then activity rarely changes until crisis occurs. And when that crisis occurs, without analysis to support process improvement, you may not be able to determine the right practices to change.

Performing that analysis is no easy task. A lot of smaller companies don’t have the skillsets or capacity to complete that data-driven look. Likewise, medium and large companies may dedicate people to monitor performance in different supply chain areas. They may not have the groups of people capable of not only understanding how to complete the analysis, but also problem solve. 

That is where Transportation Insight helps. We not only have the capacity to complete analysis of SKU-level performance, network design and alternative, contingency supply chain strategies. Importantly, we also teach your teams how problem solve, a skill that you can then pass along to others in the organization.   

Once we deploy a problem-solving mindset alongside analysis of your supply chain data, we can create a map of the transportation activities across your network and determine options for alleviating problem points that drive up your cost. By pairing those continuous improvement efforts with renewed network flexibility that eliminates the risk of disruption, Transportation Insight positions you for improved cost control and enhanced opportunities for growth. 

For more insight that will help support your supply chain strategy in 2021, download our latest industry forecast. Read the First Quarter ChainLink 2021 for a multi-modal look at the transportation trends that will affect your business in the year ahead.

E-commerce Supply Chain 2020: Digital Deck the Halls

The challenges this year will be as long a family’s shopping list:

  • The traditional holiday peak converges with elevated online demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. E-commerce sales will match or surpass brick-and-mortar. Consumers have multiple ordering channels to tap. E-commerce supply chain fulfillment and delivery operations need to respond to this decentralized − and unprecedented − demand-pull.
  • Many supply chains remain out of kilter, one of the pandemic’s many legacies. U.S. inventories are at their lowest levels in five years, according to several analysts. Stock-outs have been common throughout most of 2020. U.S. imports are spiking. However, those goods may not reach store shelves or distribution centers in time to satisfy peak consumption needs.

  • Parcel networks have been overwhelmed by demand since March. This has led to inconsistent delivery performance across the board. National and regional parcel carriers have maxed out their fulfillment and distribution infrastructures. Late deliveries mean that consumers will be forced to accept holiday service levels that are beneath their expectations. If there is good news, it’s that e-commerce consumers are aware of the problems and will be more tolerant of slower delivery. What they demand, and should expect, is access to real-time information about any service issues.
  • Consumers may order goods earlier than usual, allowing the supply chain to spread out delivery timetables to create a “load-leveling” effect. That would be positive news, but it should not automatically be counted upon. Amazon’s shift of its “Prime Day” program from July to mid-October could pull forward a fair amount of holiday activity.

  • Warehouse space is severely constrained. Amazon said several months ago it will need 50 percent more space to keep up with its projected holiday demand. Retailers with brick-and-mortar exposure need to position stores as “forward fulfillment” nodes. This allows orders to be pulled from store inventory and delivered over relatively short distances. Store networks will also support what is expected to be major demand spikes for in-store and curbside pickups of online orders. Pure-play e-tailers without store networks will need to get creative.
  • FedEx and UPS are levying meaningful peak surcharges on volumes from their largest customers. The U.S. Postal Service imposed the first peak surcharge in its history. Carriers say the fees are needed to offset their higher costs to serve. That is true, up to a point. Demands on delivery networks will be unprecedented, and carriers are pricing their services accordingly. Companies will have to consider this in their free shipping strategies to maintain profitability.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Is it too late for shippers and retailers to get their holiday house in order?

Not necessarily, but it will take fast action and deep planning. The challenges, as we’ve laid out, are immense. One key is to get ahead of the “demand curve.” When shippers gain visibility into end demand, they can prepare and execute a plan that enhances customer satisfaction and does so profitably. After all, meeting customer demands while losing money in the process is the hollowest of victories.

Managing the upstream channel is just as critical. Calibrating inventory flows with replenishment needs is a year-round challenge, and especially so during peak. The challenge is magnified this year with the headwind of COVID-19. Retailers need a clear line of sight into supplier production so they can forecast their inventory replenishment. In normal times, lack of visibility can lead to costly over-ordering to ensure adequate buffer stock. This season, however, over-ordering may be an adequate response, given how and where the inventory is positioned. 

During CSCMP’s EDGE 2020 Virtual Conference, Target Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Logistics Officer Arthur Valdez advised to “not be afraid to overreact.” That may sound counter-intuitive, but it can be an appropriate step during this peak. Target will be investing heavily in transportation services with a focus on improving delivery timing, Valdez said. Again, that appears to run against the grain as transport is considered a cost center. Yet it will be less costly than failing to execute deliveries because capacity is not available. A seasoned logistics partner can map out a strategy to leverage a customer’s existing assets, as well as to bring in outside capabilities that profitably meets customer demands.

This is especially important as shippers encounter an increasingly complex surcharge environment constructed by FedEx, UPS and, to a smaller degree, USPS and regional carriers.  High-volume FedEx and UPS customers could be looking at surcharges as high as $4 to $5 per piece. These are by far the most expensive surcharges we have ever seen. They can spell the difference between peak season success and failure, even if everything else breaks right. Any shipper expecting to tender significant traffic to either or both must be able to navigate those surcharges all within the framework of their logistics execution.

Amid the coming storm, it may be hard for folks to get a good fix on demand profiles beyond the holidays. But it pays to do so. For example, we may see another e-commerce surge early next year as fears of a combined COVID-seasonal flu cycle keep more consumers homebound. Already, we are seeing 2021 budget plans being adjusted to account for the lingering effect of COVID-19. We also expect similar peak season patterns for the next 3-5 years even after a coronavirus vaccine is approved and distributed. A strong logistics partner not only can help you get through 2020. It can prepare you for 2021, 2022, and beyond.

BOPIS: What Does It Mean for Shippers?

Linearity is on the way out. So is the shipper’s control of the supply chain. E-commerce has spawned the “omni-channel fulfillment” model where orders, distribution and deliveries occur from anywhere, anyone, and at any time. The traditional supply-push scenario with shippers calling the shots is giving way to a demand-pull approach with consumers in control of the transaction.

The “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” (BOPIS) concept has become a key part of the asymmetrical, demand-pull world we live and work in. Who ever imagined a consumer ordering an item on an electronic device, having a retailer immediately pick and pack the product at one of multiple locations, and having it ready for the consumer’s arrival at a pre-arranged time, typically within a few hours and sometimes under an hour? 

Experience Depends on BOPIS Excellence

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving BOPIS toward mainstream adoption. Contactless interactions remain the order of the day – especially during the holiday season as health-conscious consumers continue to minimize time spent shopping in confined spaces. But BOPIS and other alternate fulfillment practices will outlast the pandemic. They will become permanent additions to the logistics landscape.

To execute an effective BOPIS strategy, shippers must understand retailers’ two overarching objectives: 

  • Ensure a seamless customer experience regardless of the order touchpoint.
  • Maintain adequate in-store inventory while expanding digital buying opportunities.

It is essential for retailers to have the right goods always available, and at the right place at the right time for the consumer. The “right time” could involve shipping to a residence or to another physical location. It could mean an in-person brick-and-mortar sale. It could mean BOPIS, or its first cousin, “Buy Online Pick Up at Curbside” (BOPAC). It could be a drop-shipping model where the shipper delivers directly to the store, thus minimizing the need to hold inventory in a space-constrained facility.

Striking the correct balance between in-store and digital inventory is just as critical. In-store customers are typically more loyal and buy more per visit than online customers. Retailers are loath to broaden their digital channels if doing so threatens to siphon off in-store activity.

Allowing both scenarios to thrive requires elevating visibility and analytics tools to new heights. A clear line of sight across the ecosystem allows shippers to align production with the retailer’s current replenishment needs. Analytics like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence also provide shippers with vital clues about consumers’ future buying habits so they and their retailer partners can stay a step ahead.

Technology is only as productive as the knowledge of the people managing it. Seasoned third-party logistics specialists understand how to design and implement a consistently successful BOPIS program that leverages cost-effective automation. They have worked extensively with all stakeholders, and can quickly adjust the go-to-market processes to optimize outcomes and avoid costly missteps.

Final Delivery Drives Loyalty or Brand Damage

Online fulfillment is a fast-paced, often-unforgiving business. You are only as good as your last delivery. The margin for error narrows still further in a BOPIS transaction. Failing to execute an order after the consumer was assured the product was in stock and went out of their way to retrieve it is a breach of the “trust covenant” between the stakeholders. A BOPIS-related stock-out can seriously damage both brands, especially if a negative review spreads on social media.

The good news for shippers is that mastering this intense pivot point should result in enduring brand loyalty from consumer and retailer alike. Consumers prize convenience, and will favor retailers who make the BOPIS experience as easy as “pulling up and popping the trunk.” This goodwill extends to the products they pick up and take home.

Retailers, meanwhile, know how complicated it is to make life easy for today’s consumer.  Shippers who consistently execute will become sticky to the retailer. Product quality is obviously important. However, consumers often cannot discern between the nuances of multiple products of similar craftsmanship. What they do know, and will remember, is how, when and where they received their product. Or why they didn’t. That is how your brand will be remembered. In today’s world, logistics, more than any part of a shipper’s business, is becoming the competitive differentiator.

Navigate the New “Never Normal”

Planned properly, the BOPIS fulfillment model is a valuable tool in the highly competitive e-commerce space. 

The devil is in the execution.

Transportation Insight specializes in designing and executing supply chain strategy adjustments that empower you to provide the final mile delivery options required to wow end customers.

We created “The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal” to offer insight into the many variables involved in meeting consumers’ evolving demands for service. Read it today to understand the strategies that we can help you leverage to enhance customer service, grow market share and increase competitive advantage.

Budget Planning 2021: 9 Supply Chain Things to Know

The booming e-commerce marketplace opens access to new segments of consumers seeking direct delivery on a growing list of staples previously procured through brick-and-mortar channels. Meanwhile, end users seeking personal protective equipment, sanitizers, cleaning supplies and other products required for contagion response will create new revenue streams for organizations nimble enough to shift supply chains and adjust processes to meet fluctuating demand.

Responding in this environment, executives who prioritize supply chain strategy will be best positioned to not only meet and exceed customer expectations, but also control costs that jeopardize bottom line profit.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020 here are some looming trends I expect to emerge, as well as recommendations for how a supply chain master can continue to control business performance, even through the disruptions that are bound to happen in 2021.

4 Supply Chain Predictions Influencing 2021 Planning

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, ongoing marketplace awareness informs a few predictions that will determine priorities for 2021.

  • The recovery will be a saw tooth, with an upward trend. There will be ups and downs as economic activity re-emerges, particularly in regions that experience fluctuating levels of COVID-19 outbreak and control. Companies have to really protect themselves for that and plan alternative ways to serve their customers and compensate for workforce disruption. As Gartner points out, the path to recovery will be unique for every organization as they respond, recover and renew.

  • Companies that deal in non-essential goods will struggle, and they need to be the most agile. Consumer spending will continue to shift, largely toward e-commerce channels. There’s going to be fluctuating demand for hand sanitizers, cleaning products and personal protective equipment. A lot of companies can maintain workforce in the manufacturing realm by pivoting to secondary products that support pandemic response and recovery. Expect demand spikes, particularly related to the back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons. Organizations impeded by shipping limitations, will depend on a nimble supply chain to access available shipping channels.
  • Boards and executives will expect robust contingency planning to deal with disruptions. Contingency planning is one of the most critical pieces that informs everything else about how you respond to another likely disruption, whether it be a COVID relapse, an unexpected stop in production or depletion of raw materials.
  • Companies that invest in process and technology during this time will see the best long-term growth. These companies will be in the best position to take advantage of consolidation in their respective industries.

Five Recommendations for 2021 Planning

Organizations creating budget plans for 2021 should consider these recommendations to maintain customer service levels while controlling costs.

  • Treat the 2021 budget as a range and be prepared to adjust as conditions on the ground evolve. In many ways budgeting will be a guessing game, and companies need to put together a plan based on contingencies. When revenue doesn’t meet expectations, have a plan for cost-cutting measures to implement. If earnings swing the other way, identify investments to make. Executive leaders must commit to evolving cost management so that scarce resources and funds consistently flow to the most valuable business outcomes.

  • Leverage supply chain resources to determine corporate impact (cost, service, risk) of plans produced by the other departments (sales, procurement etc.). Experts working in supply chain possess analytical capabilities and a global picture of an organization’s total business. This supports acute awareness of the control levers that affect cost and service. When you put supply chain masters in the role of trusted advisor, they are in the best position to help those executives and leadership boards navigate tumultuous waters.
  • Take a partnership approach with all relationships. The supply chain is dependent on everyone succeeding. Often, by working with an expert supply chain partner you can access end-to-end transparency that facilitates more opportunities across your network. That visibility allows you to be a better partner to your domestic and foreign vendors. With good clear communication around sales information, time-in-shipping data and other key performance indicators, you can help predict when you will need to reorder supplies and track trends that can help drive production guidelines. This supports a workflow that keeps your shelves stocked with the right items, and customers happy with the efficiencies of their orders.
  • Aggressively evaluate the entire supply chain and take an open-minded approach to the long-term structure. Ensure the supply chain strategy aligns with corporate strategy – and leverage analysis and expertise to inform that strategy. This is especially important as e-commerce demands continue to drive increased expectations for flexibility in customers’ end delivery options. You may be getting product shipped out the door – but are you making any money on it?
  • Low water exposes a lot of rocks. Take the opportunity to evaluate internal processes and systems. Balancing resiliency and efficiency, supply chain leaders can secure their networks. A recent Gartner survey revealed that only 21 percent of respondents believe their supply chain is resilient enough to provide “good visibility and the agility to shift sourcing, manufacturing and distribution activities around fairly rapidly.”

A global pandemic changed priorities for many supply chain leaders, elevating the agility of their network alongside the balance of service and cost. As Gartner points out, more than half of its survey respondents expect their supply networks to be “highly resilient” within two to three years. 

Master your 2021 Budget Planning

The first half of 2020 provided painful lessons for many organizations, some of which still face jeopardy. The businesses that quickly adapted to dramatic marketplace changes have often done so through an effective strategy for risk management. 

Future success relies on your ability to assess potential risks that exist in your network and create alternative ways to plan demand response. Contingency planning today, especially in light of network weaknesses revealed in the past six months, will position your business to not only weather the storm but also seize growth opportunities.

While you are in the midst of managing your business, a supply chain master can provide the risk assessment and strategic planning required to establish a flexible responsive network. With that, you will always satisfy customers in the most cost-effective way.

Plan, Adjust, Communicate with Data Visibility

Shippers with good visibility into all aspects of their supply chain – including suppliers for multiple tiers – can build resilience and agility to lessen the impact of disruptions like global pandemic, natural disaster or political upheaval.

Data visibility, however, is just one piece of the puzzle. Your ability to act on that visibility is the key.

Drive Network Improvement with Data Visibility

Supply chain leaders around the globe are basing immediate action on real-time supply chain information – often captured through emerging supply chain technologies.

According to a recent Oxford Economics survey of 1,000 supply chain leaders, 49 percent – the top 12 percent of respondents – can capture real-time data insights and act on them immediately. Of those surveyed, 51 percent use Artificial Intelligence and predictive analytics to capture information. Although more than 75 percent of respondents recognize the importance of visibility into sustainability practices of their organization and suppliers, few have visibility into either.

While those leaders may realize new efficiencies in tactical execution, truly developing a strategic plan for procuring services and serving customers, requires more than a customized transportation management system.

Visibility End in Mind: Plan, Adjust, Communicate

You can know where to find the load, the inventory or the vendor, but you need technology, tools and talent to execute three steps integral to monetizing that information into cost savings or enterprise growth:

  1. Supply chain visibility is vital to initial network design, as well as contingency planning that may be required during an era of disruption.
  2. Supported by a contingency plan or evidence-based analysis, visibility empowers tactical operators and executive leadership to adjust their strategy to mitigate risk or seize an opportunity.
  3. Close the loop by communicating those adjustments to customers and supply chain partners, and enhance experiences while controlling costs across your supply chain.

Ultimately, visibility into your end-to-end supply chain helps you understand how to pull different levers across your network and increase the return on investment of the whole supply chain.

Real-Time Data vs. Real-Time Access

There’s a big difference in real-time data and real-time access, the latter can be far more valuable because allowing data to solidify can increase accuracy. The most important real-time data is track and trace. Although from the standpoint of being actionable, there is likely limited actions that can be taken to impact it other than communication.

There’s a balancing act between the information you have and the amount of lag time required for the information to be validated and integrated across the reporting. The length of time the data needs to “soak” depends how you intend to use it. You want to be able to correct performance before it gets out of hand, but at the same time you don’t want to make decisions based on incomplete data.

For instance, bidding on an LTL shipment in the TMS, you don’t want your financial reporting to reflect cost until the carrier has invoiced with any additional accessorials applied. Real-time access to your latest data gives you the power to identify trends so you can validate or eliminate services for improved cost control.

Mastering Data Visibility

Deep, multi-layered visibility is a fundamental ingredient in elevating your supply chain to its optimal performance. Solutions for achieving that visibility are widely available, but none deliver greater supply chain mastery than Transportation Insight.

We build personalized solutions that give you visibility to rate savings, optimization opportunities and behavioral changes across the organization that reduce cost and can fund your initial start-up in the process. Executing in those areas, our team leverages transportation technology tools to improve the flow of data to drive ongoing process improvement that generates waste reduction, improves equipment utilization and protects profit margins.

Master visibility across your supply chain with our free resource “Mastering Your Supply Chain: Layers of Visibility.”  Download it today to access the information you need to improve service and achieve monetary savings.

7 FAQs Answered with Supply Chain Visibility

“They have better visibility into the structure of their supply chains. Instead of scrambling at the last minute, they have a lot of information at their fingertips within minutes of a potential disruption. They know exactly which suppliers, sites, parts and products are at risk, which allows them to put themselves first in line to secure constrained inventory and capacity at alternate sites,” concludes Arizona State University professor of supply chain management Thomas Y. Choi.

Peeling into the physical layers (where is my shipment?) and virtual layers (which customer/SKU combinations are profitable?) of supply chain visibility, business leaders can uncover data evidence to drive network decision-making. Combined, information gathered through both layers of visibility answers questions that improve cost control and service to customers.

Where and when?

At its most basic, supply chain visibility gives you physical location of a product in the supply chain. This can include where an inbound shipment is, where you have inventory, or when a shipment will arrive at a customer. When you have this type of visibility, you can make decisions around production scheduling, facility/customer alignment and proactive communication to customers for delivery expectations. Visibility allows the awareness needed to provide the highest level of customer service while maintaining cost control.

Where are the suppliers?

Understanding your suppliers’ geographic location is critical not only to executing a robust network design but also in mitigating risk. Understanding the production and shipping locations of your suppliers during a period of disruption allows you to execute contingency plans developed during modeling exercises.

For instance, when an overseas disruption affects a foreign supplier, maintaining a geographical awareness of primary supply chain partners is vital. Combine location information with advanced understanding of alternative sources and you can facilitate a rapid crisis response that protects customer experience and prevents other breaks in the supply chain.

Where are the customers?

Your customers and their demand drives everything about your supply chain. From the locations of your distribution centers to the shipping options available to meet customer service requirements, having a detailed understanding of the concentration of demand means you can work backwards to develop efficient and reliable options to keep them happy.

Take for example an emerging market in a different region of the country. Customer expectations for delivery are very high. Not providing a high level of service is not an option. Options exist to leverage expedited freight but may make the price point too high or erode the margin on the product. A partner warehouse may be a good option to position inventory to meet service levels without investing in owned brick and mortar.

Where is the inventory?

Your physical assets connect the vendor and customer locations. These assets allow you to position inventory to mitigate risk while providing the service customers expect. Having complete visibility to where and how much inventory you have is critical to making smart sourcing decisions:

  • From which location can I fulfill the order?
  • Is it cheaper to consolidate or split the order?
  • Can I drop ship?

Understanding all of the inventory options available enables you to leverage your vast web of connections throughout your supply and customer base to delight your customers.

Can I access all my data?

Your supply chain generates a tremendous amount of data. Accessing all of it is not easy, especially when you are working across multiple vendors, customer segments, product categories or transportation modes. Consolidating your information across disparate systems and sources is the first step toward gleaning actionable improvement opportunities from your supply chain data. The more access to information you have, the more it can impact your bottom line.

An expert partner with significant technology capabilities can compile disparate data in an accessible repository and provide it in personalized dashboards, as well as apply experience-inspired analysis. Accessing that analysis in the same platform as operational data and tactical execution activities is critical to supporting quick, evidence-based decision-making.

What is cost to serve?

For each product and customer, executive leadership needs to understand cost to serve, which reflects all the activities and costs incurred as movement and conversation occurs from vendors through your network out to the customer. Cost to serve metrics provide actionable information by enabling visibility into the profitability of individual customers and products, and finding a fulfillment configuration that balances service and margin.

By utilizing actionable data derived from historical shipment information and running what-if scenarios with regional data and characteristics, you can develop the most responsive and efficient supply chain that meets customer demand for the best cost.

Why is my cost going up/down?

Leveraging robust score cards can provide insight into the factors that are driving your financial performance. Not all drivers are completely controllable. You cannot make your customer order from a different location or change what they want to buy. There is an old adage “you cannot change how other people act, only how you react to them.” The same holds true for the supply chain.  Develop plans to react to supplier performance and customer behavior to set up your company for success.

It is absolutely critical to have an unbiased party developing and interpreting the scorecards and information produced. You want objective viewpoints that highlight all options available to contend with dynamics in the marketplace. Not only do you want a view into your data but also what is going on within the market. In the new environment, it is more critical than ever to leverage every bit of available information across the marketplace.

Combine Layers for Master Vision

Physical visibility to shipment, service and costs can be accessed through very basic solutions that exist in the marketplace, some at low or no initial cost. Customization often requires additional investment, and visibility is black and white based on data made available by vendors, clients or carriers. A basic Transportation Management System provides tactical visibility to all of the connections in the supply chain, and it can enable cost savings.

Virtual visibility to all the activities that drive cost, service and reliability allows you to delve into the “what” and “why” around supply chain performance systematically and regularly. This requires investment in people, process and technology. The return on that investment: an enhanced ability to react to supply chain changes that impact performance. You also improve service to partners and customers.

Visibility does not just happen, and it is not free. Corporate alignment from the top down is required to achieve a complete solution. You want knowledgeable resources with broad experience to help guide you.

We created Mastering Your Supply Chain: Layers of Visibility to give you greater clarity into your end-to-end network. Read it today and uncover information you need to drive competitive advantage.

The Relativity of the Supply Web


This fundamental truth applies to many aspects of our lives, including how we run our business. It’s a question that logistics managers and technology teams will have to consider when they think about their transformation from a single-direction supply chain to a multi-direction supply web. Does your team have the time to build out a technology suite of value? Or does partnership allow us to save time to focus on what’s best, and drive long-lasting change.

It may come as no surprise that the time you save through partnership may be the most valuable investment of all.

Technology: The Core of Supply Web Change

For manufacturers and distributors, the question on transforming into the supply web comes down to technology. If your current systems don’t provide a deep look into how your supply chain operates, then you could be losing out on data that could provide insight and identify opportunities.

Your team isn’t the only ones struggling with these questions. A recent Gartner survey identified the overwhelming majority of supply chain executives said digital business software and advanced analytics/big data is key to their future business plan, making them a top priority for the remainder of 2020 and beyond.

While this is one of the top priorities for supply chain leaders in the future, the problem lies in building the solution. Creating a custom, in-house solution requires dedicated time and resources from your supply chain, shipping, and technology teams. Taking them away from their tasks means lost man-hours in fulfilling customer demands, which can result in an immediate loss your team cannot recuperate because the time to serve them is gone.

Meanwhile, customers expect their providers to have the technology to identify the most efficient and expedited processes to fulfill orders. If you don’t have that capability, they will go to the next source that does. Can you afford to lose orders because of a lack of supply chain transparency?

Finding Agility and Transparency Through Partnership

Agility in the supply chain is all about being able to react quickly to customer behaviors. Because e-commerce and direct ordering increases are part of our “new normal,” customers demand their packages get to their destinations faster and with full transparency.

There are two ways to achieve this audience demand. The first way is to work with partners who already have the supply chain technology you need to succeed leading to being a better partner to your component and supply chain partners through data sharing and expectation setting.

Your company is already good at providing your core products and services to your audience. Time and money should not be spent building systems that already exist – they should be spent serving your customers and helping them succeed. This is why you need an analytics and business intelligence partner who understands your business, and has both the technology and know-how across supply chains to develop the data and options you need to execute.

This is where a partner like Transportation Insight comes into play. With proven tools that give you the supply chain transparency you need to transition into a supply web, your team can get access to big data analytics and business intelligence tools sooner rather than later. This gives you end-to-end transparency which can help you identify new synergies within your web, including fewer internal touches before shipping, and the potential to drop-ship directly from suppliers.

With this information, your team can be a better partner to your domestic and foreign suppliers. With sales information, time-in-shipping data, and other key performance indicators, you can help predict when you will need to reorder supplies, track trends which can help drive production guidelines, and ultimately create a workflow that keeps your shelves stocked with the right items, and customers happy with the efficiencies of their orders.

Tying It All Together

As the supply chain transforms into the supply web, driving a durable information network will give you the agility and intelligence you need to meet your customer demands. By utilizing a partner to tie it all together, your team can get the insight and transparency you need to make the best decisions for business.

Now and into the future, Transportation Insight is here to help your business grow at the speed of commerce. Schedule a consultation today to learn how we have the tools and skills needed to save time and save money.

Business Objectives Determine Supply Chain Visibility Needs

However, in the wake of a global pandemic where both short- and long-term effects are still emerging, there’s limited value in a rear-view look. This is especially true as North America emerges from a stay-at-home state. Organizations need a rear-view look, as well as in-depth awareness of current activity and the financial implications. Add contingency scenarios to requirements for companies pursuing supply chains that can support the emerging “whack-a-mole” recovery where product demand and service requirements vary widely for customers across different geographies, depending on ebbs and increases in COVID-19 infection and business closure.

COVID-19 brought greater attention to the value of end-to-end supply chain visibility. Solutions for achieving that visibility are widely available, but not all solutions are equal. And not all visibility is the same. Your business objectives determine the level of visibility you need to make the best decisions.

What is Supply Chain Visibility?

Supply chain visibility means different things to different people. It covers everything from the physical “Where is my shipment?” to the virtual, like “Which customer/SKU combinations are profitable?” Depending on your role in an organization, you may be more concerned with the operational aspects of visibility or the more strategic. Either way, you need the information you need when you need it.

Beyond physical and virtual visibility separation, there’s the difference between real-time data and real-time access to data. When it comes to data, there is a lot of it, and it is coming from a growing diversity of sources – often separated within your organization by operational and functional silos.

An expanding list of technology-driven solutions offer varying degrees of visibility, and you can gain improved supply chain clarity through internal efforts and external partners. In weighing these options, it is important to consider:

  • Which solution is best for your business objectives?
  • How do you leverage information in business decisions?
  • What investments provides the greatest return?

Supply chain visibility can be complicated. It doesn’t have to be.

Peeling back layers of visibility, you gain an understanding of the information you need to plan and execute your day-to-day activities as well as adjust your strategy; react to changes that impact performance; and enhance your service to partners and customers.

Visibility, Mapping Key Disruption Planning and Continuity

The U.S. Armed Forces are a role model for logistics, and planning is critical to the military’s risk management focus. To quote General Dwight Eisenhower “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Companies have to be in a continuous planning mode, as we move through the recovery to account for these shifts in demand.

Effective planning, like military leadership during crisis, relies on visibility to a single source of information. When you have to go to multiple places to piece a story together, it takes time, and time can be costly.

Organizations that map their end-to-end supply chain create one foundational information source that can support business operations through disruption. As noted by Dr. Yossi Sheffi, director Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics, this requires supply chain mapping that goes beyond identifying company suppliers. It requires physical locations of supplier plants and warehouses. “For large and complex enterprise with thousands of suppliers around the globe, mapping is a massive exercise that cannot be done on the fly,” he says.

Likewise, mapping cannot be accomplished without awareness to all activities across your supply chain.

Mastering Supply Chain Visibility

Deep, multi-layered visibility is a fundamental ingredient in elevating your supply chain to its optimal performance. We created Mastering Your Supply Chain: The Layers of Visibility to help you uncover ways that your supply chain information can have a transformational impact on your bottom-line performance and your customer service.

Inside differentiate visibility options in the marketplace to help you identify solutions that best fit your needs. Read it today to learn more about how individualized technology solutions give you visibility to rate savings, optimization opportunities and behavioral changes across the organization that reduce cost.

Engineering and Analyzing the Supply Web

As an example, sourcing from multiple producers across your web can add inbound shipping costs on all modes: ocean freight, multi-modal inbound delivery and outbound shipping. If your company decides to offer direct fulfillment as a service, can you identify how much additional shipping and handling costs affect your bottom line?

Moving to a supply web model is not an overnight experience. Rather, it is a process that involves understanding how all the pieces work together, how they can drive improved revenue and how to best share information and work hand-in-hand with your partners.

Becoming the Conductor of the Supply Web

When you consider managing the supply web, think of the work an orchestra conductor must do before a symphony performance. At the center, the conductor leads multiple parts that must work together to create art. Although each individual section can create beautiful music on its own, one slip from the brass, strings or percussion and the sound of the entire symphony is broken. Only by building up each part’s strengths as a collective whole can the conductor get everything performing in harmony.

In the context of the supply web, logistics leaders are the conductors, bringing multiple pieces together to create symbiosis across each part. This requires analysis on multiple metrics, including profitability by SKU category, customer types and service levels.

Without a knowledge of how granular cost components affect the supply web, you can’t achieve cost savings in both order and promotion management. Good shippers put multiple pieces together to get their supply webs operating in line, including linking order data with carrier billing data, and tracking SKU-level and order-dimensional profitability. Understanding each metric can help your supply web perform on cost targets and with more efficiency – exactly like a well-tuned orchestra ready to perform.

Engineering for Data-Forward Supply Webs

The transformation from a single-source, lowest-cost supply chain into a supply web presents the prime opportunity to start gathering previously inaccessible data from your supply network. By building in the capability to accurately determine production, storage and shipping costs at granular levels that support cause and effect analysis, your company is prepared to identify cost factors that ultimately affect performance.

This is a two-step procedure, requiring deep insights on both shipment sizes, as well as carrier analysis.

Regular investigation of network costs can help you recognize where increases are occurring, and why they are cutting into SKU-category profit. Gaining visibility and taking a deep look into each cost category gives you a deep understanding of where your costs are, and how to control them.

Furthermore, understanding costs today can help you navigate around operational peaks and valleys. With regular research into your procurement and shipping habits, you can maintain costs and drive additional value.

Bringing the Supply Web Together

Simply put: operating in a supply web model gives you visibility into your operations like never before. Operational redundancies, a deeper understanding of SKU-level profitability, the ability to adapt with changes in consumer behavior and demand, and ultimately managing costs through continued improvement gives you the opportunity to compete at a higher level. When they all operate in harmony, the supply web offers a prime opportunity to drive your business forward and use logistics as an overall competitive advantage.

Transportation Insight can help you evolve from the supply chain into the supply web, using our logistics mapping skill sets and LEAN methodology. Contact us today to start your transformation.

Building Lasting Data Partnerships in the Supply Web

While the term quickly caught on and became a conceptual breakthrough, it contained one inherent flaw. The term suggests components move in sequence from source to destination. Technology and availability have evolved and changed over the last 38 years, presenting options that were never available before.

Oliver expanded on the supply chain idea in 2013, writing “When Will Supply Chain Management Grow Up?” for Strategy + Business. His conclusion is a sound argument for evolving into the supply web: “Constraints continue to be broken by supply chain innovators, but new constraints always emerge, presenting opportunities for the next generation of innovators.”

If your company is still focused on a single lowest-cost supply chain supplier and transport partner, it’s time to broaden your horizons. Understanding why the supply web is a natural evolution of supply chain management can help you become a better partner with suppliers and customers, and ultimately prepare your organization to meet consumer demand.

Harnessing Success Through Partnership

One of the incredible advantages of the supply web is in the data that provides. Utilizing a larger logistics network for sourcing and distributing to customers gives you a much broader view of not only industry trends and demands, but also how your partners’ networks can support your service strategy.

Excellent partners not only have insight into their networks but share the insights with other supply web nodes to the benefit of all. With both incoming and outgoing freight, shippers who lean into the supply web can leverage the appropriate node to fulfill demand with a balance of service, risk and cost.

This is only achieved by collecting data across your supply web, starting with your sourcing partners and sharing your own. By understanding production cycles and setting expectations, and supporting better decisions by your product providers, you can drive topline revenue to new heights.

The Supply Web From the Data Lens

Data collection and information sharing is critical to successfully managing the supply web. Each of your partners possesses data that can help identify patterns, analyze time in transit, and ultimately create workflows that improve efficiency at all stops.

Let’s consider the following scenario: a distributor sends a widget to several customers and end retailers throughout the year. Although it’s in demand throughout the year, most orders for this widget come during the autumn months. The distributor obtains the widget from three sources – two overseas and one in the northern hemisphere.

This is where data understanding is critical to success. With two overseas suppliers and one closer to home, the company always has a reliable source for widgets – especially during peak season – and it can obtain them from at least two partners when one is down due to holidays or planned work stoppages. Keeping lines of communication open with each supplier helps the company plan for inbound transportation and labor needs.

The inbound data can then be shared with customers and strategic partners to set expectations and manage order volume. In turn, customers will be happier because the improved communication of options supports their own planning. This data can also be used to identify efficiencies that aren’t based on fixed nodes. For instance: if a customer receives an order for the widget and is geographically closer to your facility, the data findings can help determine if drop-shipping to the end customer is a better option than shipping to a partner, before going out to that same consumer.

Using Data to Make the Supply Web a Competitive Advantage

At the end of the day, data is your most powerful currency. If you can identify patterns in the supply web and align them with the best logistics network, you can create a better experience for the end customer. The best companies utilize the information from supply web operations to ensure inventory is in the best places to serve customers.

Are you utilizing the supply web to its full potential? Between supply network models, flow mapping and LEAN principles, your company can drive success at all touch points within your network. Our supply web masters can help you drive success and create efficiencies that you never knew existed. Contact us today.