Supply Chain Data Visibility to Plan, Adjust, Communicate

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

Supply chain data visibility is accessible through business intelligence technology like Insight Fusion.

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.

Supply Chain Visibility Needs Determined by Business Objectives

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 chain visibility 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.

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.

Data Analysis: What is Your Data Trying to Tell You?

Unfortunately, many organizations still operate in siloed environments with data collected and housed in fragments across different departments, such as location-based procurement teams. Organizations that expand their data management and data analysis capabilities often do so without verifying the accuracy and depth of the data. There may be a mismatch between what products have been sold, what’s been shipped, and what’s been returned. What’s in the database may not reflect the reality on the inventory shelves. Or product data may have incorrect dimensions, leading to false assumptions about warehouse space and shipping weights.

The results of initiatives such as inventory optimization and carrier compliance could be skewed from low-quality data, leading to decisions that could reduce efficiency in your supply chain.

Are you making decisions driven by inaccurate data?

Analysis Drives Decisions, Start with Better Data

Good decisions start with clean, accurate data. Data input via manual processes or information that may require on-the-spot decision-making tends to have lower accuracy than data collected through technology. Back-end systems that are incompatible may require redundant inputs, leading to duplication and mistake

As the flood of data grows, it’s vital to close the loop – collection is not enough. The information must be converted to actionable insights to deliver value across the supply chain. Clean data is simply information that reflects a high degree of confidence in its accuracy, stored in the correct, usable format.

Confirm Accuracy, End Goal before Analysis

Identify end uses. Decide which challenges you want the data to help solve to decide which data to collect.

Implement standards. Develop standards for collecting and manage data such as formats and keywords.

Focus on the most relevant information. Understand the inputs that are most critical to your business

Convert to actionable insights. Focus on data for KPIs and decision-making.

With accurate, thorough data, your organization can uncover hidden opportunities to optimize your processes. Optimization software and simulation tools can reveal options that drive structural changes to deliver the highest level of value to the customer. With increasing customer expectations for improved visibility into product locations and expected delivery times, data accuracy has never been more essential.

Objective Data View Accelerates Performance

Keep in mind that data accuracy is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires systems and policies in place over the long term. Work with an Enterprise Logistics Provider with deep technical expertise in data analysis and cleaning processes to improve current data and set up improved processes going forward. A trusted third party can help develop an objective view of your data landscape, including visibility down to the SKU level to generate strategic insights and shape demand forecasting. 

For more insights into your data accuracy journey, read our resource guide: AI, Blockchain, Machine Learning: Is Your Data Ready?

5 Ways to Build an E-Commerce Delivery Engine that Wins

Facing stiff competition from web-based suppliers, e-commerce providers and even traditional companies, retailers must enhance the customer experience by offering variety in delivery options − and all without impacting the cost to the consumer.

In most cases, achieving this balance starts with a modern e-commerce engine that’s supported by a robust transportation and fulfillment approach.

E-commerce delivery is increasingly important to retailers seeking to serve the digital marketplace.

Best Practices Achieve Competitive Advantage

Here are five critical steps for developing an e-commerce transportation and fulfillment plan that goes head-to-head with the e-tailing giants. 

  1. Make your website user friendly. This sounds elemental enough in theory, but in reality, very few companies are doing it. Success in e-commerce starts with a user-friendly interface that doesn’t frustrate customers or send them off to buy from another site. If your online store’s ordering system is cumbersome and difficult to use, no one is going to use it unless they have to. And mobile friendly is vital.
  2. Drive up online checkout rates. The retailer that isn’t boosting online checkout rates will quickly find itself struggling to survive in a sea of companies that have figured out the formula. If you ignore the need to drive down abandonment rates, all of the advertising, marketing and sales efforts in the world won’t help you compete against the likes of Amazon and other large e-tailers. Measure key performance indicators (KPIs) like page views to cart conversions in order to get a gauge on 1) current state, and 2) what you can do to drive those numbers up.
  3. Develop a same-day order fulfillment strategy. Handled improperly, same-day delivery can be a logistical nightmare and major risk for retailers. Although becoming a necessary evil that all retailers must do for at least some of their customers, making that happen requires locations and/or warehouses positioned close to those buyers; a modification of existing fulfillment procedures; and ensuring that the right product is in the right place and at precisely the right minute. Aligning BOPIS strategies with profitability is significantly important when developing same-day order fulfillment.
  4. Factor in parcel, heavy home, and customized deliveries. When it comes to bulky goods that require extra muscle and/or assembly, retailers need to factor in three different scenarios: leaving the box in the entryway of a home or apartment; placing it in the room of choice; or both, plus opening up the box, removing the packaging, and setting up the product(s). Retailers must deliver on some, or all of these, expectations for the end consumer, who is typically willing to pay for those additional services.
  5. Select the best and most economical transportation mode. Retailers don’t always have access to the data that allows them to utilize economical mode selection. Instead, they focus only on getting same-day and next-day shipments out the door as quickly as possible (without worrying about whether or not those are the best and most economical decisions). Retailers should be leveraging carrier contract agreements that align with package characteristics/shipping networks. They should also use technology (i.e., transportation management systems or TMS) to select not only the mode that is most economical and provides tracking visibility, but one that also meets customers’ delivery expectations.

By keeping customers at the center of the conversation, providing visibility to shipments, working to fulfill their needs on every order quickly, and developing a transportation plan that aligns with these goals, smart companies can position themselves as suppliers of choice in today’s competitive e-commerce world. 

Ready to learn more ways retailers can improve e-commerce performance to satisfy customer demands for service and choice? Download Transportation Insight’s e-commerce guide, Managing the Risk of Racing Amazon.