Understand how your business objectives set the pace for network design optimization.

Supply Chain Optimization through Visibility

Supply chain optimization depends on your ability to open up the many layers of transportation network visibility.

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 continues to emerge 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 optimization to support the “whack-a-mole” recovery where product demand and service requirements vary widely for customers across different geographies.

In the wake of pandemic, transportation managers determining how to optimize supply chain processes benefit significantly from 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 supply chain 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 and Supply Chain Optimization with Disruption Planning

The U.S. Armed Forces are a role model for logistics and supply chain optimization during crisis. 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 supply chain 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.

A value stream map identifies all supply chain partners and activities to reduce waste, improve network design and optimize transportation cost and service.
Supply Chain Value Stream Map

“For large and complex enterprise with thousands of suppliers around the globe, mapping is a massive exercise that cannot be done on the fly,” Sheffi says.

Likewise, mapping cannot be accomplished without awareness to all activities across your supply chain. Your supply chain network and design optimization depends on your ability gain the visibility required to answer seven important transportation management questions.

Supply Chain Optimization: 7 Questions of Visibility

Peeling into the supply chain visibility layers – the physical (where is my shipment?) and virtual (which customer/SKU combinations are profitable?) – business leaders can uncover data evidence to drive decision-making around optimal supply chain network design.

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 ability to achieve supply chain optimization – and affect 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 modern environment, it is more critical than ever to leverage every bit of available information across the marketplace.

Combine Layers for Supply Chain Optimization

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.

Open Mastering Your Supply Chain: Layers of Visibility to gain the end-to-end network clarity you need to optimize your supply chain. Read it today and uncover information you need to drive competitive advantage.

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.

The Bullwhip Effect: Managing Swings in Demand

The “Bullwhip Effect” is a term often used to describe a phenomenon that quickly turns otherwise accurate forecasts into outdated information, amplifying misinformation along the supply chain. The dust was brushed off this broad concept, and it returned to the shelves not long after COVID-19 began disrupting global supply chains.

“Supply chains allow companies to focus on their specific processes to maintain maximum probability,” Osmond Vitez writes in The Bullwhip Effect in Supply Chain. “Unfortunately, supply chains may stumble when market conditions change and consumer demand shifts.”

That’s exactly what happened when an abrupt change in customer demand plus factory shutdowns put companies in the tight spot of having to forecast demand in the middle of an unprecedented, worldwide pandemic.

With demand for certain items amplified, the tiniest crack of the bullwhip’s handle caused an uncontrolled, snapping motion at the tip of that whip.

Balancing Demand Effects and Available Inventory

“When major swings in inventory occur from panic buying and hoarding, the impact of this sudden demand is magnified as it moves upstream in the supply chain (similar to the way a bullwhip’s thong amplifies in a wave as it moves away from the handle),” Jenny Reese explains in “Preparing for COVID-19 and the bullwhip effect: What happens to the supply chain when you buy 100 rolls of toilet paper?” The customer feels the anxiety of empty aisles, the retailer loses sales, and customer service suffers. “Distributors are left scrambling to determine who should get how much of a given product in a shortage,” Reese continues, “and manufacturers are overwhelmed with sudden, unanticipated spikes in demand.”

With little or no visibility into demand patterns to lean on, many companies wind up flying blind and hoping for the best.

How Does the Bullwhip Effect Work?

Without accurate, accessible, and strong communication across the various partners in the supply chain, the bullwhip effect can occur in any business environment. In a supply chain made up of a factory, a distributor/wholesaler, retailer, and end customer, for example, the retailer and customer tend to be closely aligned. For instance, a customer places an order and a retailer reacts accordingly.

Continue further up that supply chain, however, and that alignment begins to diminish.

Manufacturers don’t always align their forecasts with retailers’ own projections and distributors are, frequently, caught in the middle of two entities that have zero communication with one another.

These gaps widen during events like COVID-19, with even a small variance creating a Bullwhip Effect. In fact, Jay Forrester, who first conceptualized the Bullwhip Effect in these terms, says that even a 10 percent change at either end of the supply chain can result in a 40 percent fluctuation in the middle. That’s when the wheels fall off the cart; all players in the supply chain make quick adjustments to compensate for the problem.

Why Should You Care?

Virtually every organization must address or, at least be aware of, the Bullwhip Effect. Without up-to-date and wide supply chain communication, companies risk having it adversely impact their operations and their customers. Since no organization is an island, even the most vertically-integrated companies should know the signs of the Bullwhip Effect and how to deal with it effectively.

It’s easy to recognize the Bullwhip Effect in retrospect, as customers are cancelling or returning orders that they were clamoring to buy because they bought too much, overestimating their need. In order to meet perceived demands, erratic production, excessive inventory and depletion of resources highlight this effect. During COVID 19, suppliers most at-risk from the Bullwhip Effect included makers and distributors of PPE, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other hard-to-find items.

As a Supply chain professional you’ve been exposed to the Bullwhip Effect. The costly consequences materialize quickly and immediately erode your profitability.

Are you able to make informed decisions based on real time data?

Transportation Insight allows your business to make evidence-based decisions. We amass data about your supply chain to give you a comprehensive understanding of your logistics network. Our expertise and tools enable contingency planning through “what if scenarios” that address the Bullwhip Effect before it impacts your bottom line. Transportation Insight monitors multiple key performance indicators that measure your business activity and reveal threats and opportunities to drive continuous optimization of your supply chain.

Tame the Bullwhip: Manage the Demand Waves

We offer more context around the Bullwhip Effect in our Supply Chain Masters Digital Event. Watch the webinar today and learn how you can manage demand fluctuations with a responsive supply chain management system:

  • Best practices for collecting, retaining and analyzing supply chain data.
  • Processes that encourage scalability and readinesss for decline, recovery and even growth.

Learn the supply chain strategies that minimize risk and protect your profitability today and tomorrow.

Buy Online Pickup In Store: Retail in Evolution

Yet, the store remains a core focus of the buying experience. That’s how it should be. The in-store customer is typically more loyal and tends to buy more than the online shopper.

A robust strategy for “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store,” or BOPIS, can offer the best of both worlds. BOPIS expands a retailer’s online exposure while preserving and deepening the in-store experience. In fact, retailers find that is common for shoppers to buy more product once they arrive at the store to retrieve their online orders. 

A well-designed BOPIS retail program also helps reduce delivery costs because the customer is going to the product, not vice-versa. Consumers prize the ease and convenience of the transaction, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic has made contactless interactions more of the rule than the exception.

Responding to a New Retail Landscape

For retailers with limited resources and insufficient time spent mastering alternate fulfillment methods, the real world suddenly became a very different place in 2020. Many have been challenged to adjust to an unfamiliar “fractured fulfillment” model where products are ordered, fulfilled, and distributed from anywhere to anywhere. It is difficult for retailers to strike the right balance of inventory levels that satisfy in-store shoppers and ensure product availability to support online channel growth.

Retailers often over-order store inventory to avoid the risk of stock-outs. This raises carrying costs, and shrinks inventory  available to allocate to online channels. 

Moving ahead with an ill-vetted BOPIS strategy can make things worse. Customers assured of a product’s in-stock status on a retailer’s website will be displeased if they take time to visit the store only to find the item isn’t available. This could damage a brand’s reputation, especially if word spreads quickly on social media.

Visibility is the pain point. Many retailers lack proper visibility into the inventory flow from their partners to effectively plan and execute an error-proof BOPIS strategy. Without visibility, retailers will continue to prioritize avoidance in-store stock-out scenarios, and will continue to absorb excess and costly inventory.

A strong 3PL provider arms retailers with superior, actionable data that improves inventory visibility without forcing them to increase levels of safety stock. The endgame is to manage appropriate safety stock thresholds for both in-store and BOPIS experiences so the customer is satisfied in either scenario. 

Personalized Solutions Require Visibility

Each retailer is unique, and each shipper-retailer partnership is unique. Working with good data, an experienced 3PL partner creates customized plans to achieve optimal results. Progress and outcomes are constantly measured and refined so fill rates achieve acceptable thresholds. Changes to the plan can be implemented quickly should circumstances change – and they often do. 

For example, a plan could require the partners to issue electronic order acknowledgements indicating changes to item quantities and arrival dates within a specified time of receiving an order. It could call for transmission of advance ship notices within two hours of a shipment’s departure so visibility is optimized. Fully leveraging distribution center connections to stores optimizes shipping flexibility to react quickly to customer behavior. 

It is still most profitable for stores when customers pick up their orders in-store, but the busy holiday season could make it difficult for consumers to get to the store. Data generated by zip codes can identify areas of strong online ordering and in-store activity. This offers retailers insight into how to best position inventory for timely and accurate distribution.

For example, a retailer wants to offer one- to two-day deliveries but its transportation providers are challenged to consistently hit those targets. It may be more feasible to ship that order out from a store versus a fulfillment center. This could require shippers to invest in a drop-shipping strategy to support an e-commerce strategy where goods are brought directly to the store level. All this strategy is grounded in visibility.

This holiday season will be like no other. In-store buying will still be prevalent. However, more consumers have adopted online ordering after being required to do so in the early days of the pandemic. BOPIS utilization will be strong this holiday, but it will continue long after peak season and even after the virus passes. Consumers want options. It is critical for retailers to comply, but to do so efficiently.

Master Your BOPIS Revolution

The last mile is the most complex part of e-commerce fulfillment. It is also the most important. The last mile makes or breaks everything that came before it. That final delivery is the moment your customer will remember your brand most. How well do you finish?

A BOPIS strategy is just one of several last-mile offerings that shippers and retailers are expected to deliver. Done right, it reaps brand loyalty, lower costs and profitable opportunities for new market share. However, it requires a specialized level of resources and knowledge. It also requires skills and vigilance to ensure flawless execution.

We created The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal to highlight some of the things you need to keep in mind when approaching – or modifying – your BOPIS strategy. Watch our SME Roundtable for a deeper dive into the ways we drive top line revenue results through personalized solutions driven by technology and expertise.

To continue the conversation, reach out to one of our supply chain experts. Let’s talk about how we can help you evolve solutions that support final delivery strategies to control cost and consistently wow your customers.

Lean Supply Chain Perspective Required for New Normal

Meanwhile, the pressure is on lean-focused supply chain experts expected to examine internal processes and accommodate supply chain shortfalls. Their perspective is integral not just to the continuous improvement of in-house activities, but, importantly, to the network adjustments that come with the re-shoring of supply production.

Unfortunately, just as COVID-19 disrupted manufacturing networks, it also created new challenges for keeping lean supply chain teams engaged. Workforce reductions and remote operating environments create hurdles for maintaining the close awareness required to identify wasteful activity and efficiency improvement opportunities.

As manufacturers focus on a new normal, a lean perspective supports supply chain corrections, and the timeline for turnaround does not need to be limited by social distancing and remote environments. An expert partner can help you identify and execute the most effective supply network strategy, so you can keep focus on advancing your business.

New Manufacturing Normal Begins to Emerge

Midway through a year of disruption, we are hearing common refrains among manufacturers across diverse industries. It seems that, regardless of the supply chain network, the comments are very similar:

  • Manufacturing is moving toward reshoring to reduce supply chain disruption and distance.
  • Constant supply chain focus is needed to eliminate current and future supply chain disruptions.
  • Supply chain failure is the No. 1 reason a company is having issues in start-up or restart activities.
  • Adjusting product mix and production set-up is a struggle.
  • Lean training and learning is difficult outside the facility “Gemba”

Focused on cost, some companies furloughed or laid off their lean teams. This leads to significant impact across the organization, often requiring executive attention to resolve emerging network problems. Losing the process visibility provided by these experts can lead to costly misalignment across your existing network and in any future supply chain adjustments.

Problem Solving for Inventory Management, Network Changes 

Looking deeper at these trends, some of the specific emerging problems can be resolved through the total supply network awareness your lean expert maintains. 

Inventory management drives the biggest questions manufacturers encounter as they reset to serve a new normal. Common inventory problems in our assessments of  manufacturers include:

  • Too much of it, not balanced or not accurate.
  • Too much of the wrong inventory for the manufacturing product family mix.
  • Not enough of the correct inventory to manufacture replacement parts and service clients.
  • Never adjusted parts inventories for major equipment repairs.
  • Single sourcing from Asia, Europe, etc.

Losing the visibility of your supply chain expert can quickly impact your transportation cost, especially in a volatile environment following a significant disruption.

Organizations that scaled back their lean team during COVID-19 experienced common outcomes:

  • Quickly lost awareness to inbound ocean transportation and ensuing TL freight moves
  • Unprepared for spike in air freight costs for productions and parts inventory
  • Increased costs such as detention fees resulting from misaligned lead times and production planning
  • Reduced capacity for problem solving 

In the “old” normal environment, while your lean resources maintained process awareness required to exert continuous improvement, ongoing training also offered perspective for global practices that are applicable within your organization. Losing access to those resources – usually provided on-site – impedes your ability to evolve your processes.

Leverage a Master Partner to Evolve Processes

There is no doubt that a loss of process monitoring inside the operational environment leads to reduced visibility. Lean operators need to be in the Gemba to be most effective.

In a quarantine or remote environment, it is not always possible to have that consistent on-site presence – but, you don’t always need it. Some organizations have achieved success with lean supply chain teams of two that maintain social distance and COVID-19 protocols. While this has slowed Kaizen work, there has been success, it just takes longer than planned. As a positive outcome, lean leaders have executed administrative items for each Kaizen, a process that can be carried forward.

A problem solver’s mentality supports these types of in-the-trenches adjustments, and they are vital not only to your disruption response, but to the ongoing evolution of your supply chain. We offer our clients access to that mentality on an ongoing basis, using supply chain data analysis to provide awareness of emerging improvement opportunities.

At the same time, we offer organizations the ability to develop their own internal lean expertise. While protocols of a contact-conscious environment can limit on-site activity, the power of modern technology not only supports classroom-like digital learning, it also grants virtual visibility on par with physical presence.

For more information about invigorating your organization’s supply chain capabilities to support reshoring or other new practices for a new normal, schedule your lean supply chain consultation today. Whether you want to bolster the expertise of your internal resources or plan and design a supply chain network suitable for serving your customers tomorrow, we apply our mastery to help you establish efficient processes that control cost and improve service.

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.

How the Global Supply Web is Taking Over for Supply Chains

Over time, supply chains became more complex. Advancements in technology and navigation allows larger ships to enter ports and transport more goods with each pass. Aviation opened the door for faster trade, with critical items arriving to their destination in hours instead of days. As the internet came online for everyone, computers allowed us to track our freight in motion.

However, what hasn’t changed is our reliance on lowest-cost, single-source supply chain strategies. Although organizations of all sizes have the opportunity to map ideal networks and identify origins that balance cost with service, many companies remain fixated on having one supply chain, instead of sourcing through a supply web.

As technology gives us more tools than ever before, it’s time to break the supply chain. This period of COVID-19 disruption provides the perfect opportunity to make a transformation toward a supply web that will drive sustainable success in the future.

What happens when supply chains get too lean?

Before we turned the clock to 2020, supply chains around the world were very lean. That is: companies would order just enough inventory from overseas and relied on a soft market to get good prices on regular freight shipments.

When the Coronavirus disruption started, some businesses were unaffected. Because of the planned Chinese New Year shutdown, many ordered extra inventory to cover them through the two-week break. As the pandemic spread and disruption expanded, we started discovering the weakness of a lean supply chain: The most in-demand items, like personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, ran out quickly, forcing new suppliers to ramp up production not out of opportunity, but out of necessity.

Although the global disruption is providing a healthy correction on inventory, it also illustrated why companies need to develop a supply web for critical components. Organizations that relied primarily on Asian sources are experiencing a much slower recovery due to the extended shutdown of Chinese factories , combined with month-long lockdowns declared by other countries in the region.

Today, sourcing must take a multi-region approach. Those companies that took a multi-region approach are able to recover faster because they were not dependent on a single supply chain. While there is no “perfect” model to prevent sourcing disruption, creating an inbound supply web can help reduce challenges. By relying on alternative network strategies mapped during contingency planning, companies can bring in components from multiple continents and experience a faster recovery and return to production and distribution.

Creating and extending the global supply web

Identifying global sourcing opportunities is only the first step in creating a robust supply web. If your previous supplier base was only in China, do you have the infrastructure available to expand beyond Asia?

Take this moment to think about how a physical web works. A web retains its strength because the tension is spread out across several anchor points and supported by internal joists between each key line. The strength of the center hub is all based on the web’s construction and proper tension at the anchor points. Build on a weak anchor, and that corner of the web could be ripped out entirely. If the internal supports aren’t strong, the web will be ineffective at best, creating a liability at the center.

The supply web works in a similar manner. Inbound “anchor” suppliers must be strong enough to support the web as a whole, while the internal “support” comes from robust transportation networks. If you rely on a lowest-cost, single-source for all your components, it can be cut off from one single support. If you only have one mode to move that freight, any industry change or a drop in partnership can cut off component movement, weakening the web as a whole.

Just as you have to think about diversifying the web for strength, distributors also need to build an equally flexible transportation system. The best systems are set up with the ability to assign preferred mode and carrier to any order at any location, ensuring the best possible contract rates.

Managing the supply web beyond your base

What does it take for a distributor to build a robust supply web? It starts with network modeling and mapping. Companies that o create multiple models to react across scenarios have more flexibility in both operations and costs. A mapping exercise allows organizations to identify best-in-class carriers and consolidation strategies that not only improve efficiency, but implement future solutions faster.

Network mapping also allows distributors to identify efficiencies they may not see within their web. As more consumers stay home and rely on e-commerce for their daily needs, a network model can identify cost-saving direct-to-consumer strategies, including distribution center fulfillment and drop-shipping from partners to reduce waste.

Creating the right network builds businesses that can outlast any disruption and continue to serve customers with the best possible solutions. How can we help you create the best network map and evolve into a supply web? Contact us today.

From Micro to Macro: The Effect of Social Distancing on the Supply Chain

In restaurants, they are moving tables and putting a hard maximum on the number of people allowed inside. Although the return of patrons generates badly needed revenue, moving tables apart means less diners, resulting in less money coming in the door. In order to maintain a peak level of performance, those restaurants need to turn tables and customers faster to achieve the same amount of revenue.

A similar concept will be introduced into the supply chain, as factories, warehouses and distribution centers come back online. Employees will need to consistently stay six feet apart, forcing managers to figure out how to keep up productivity while adhering to guidelines. Are you prepared for the change?

The Newest Constraint in the Supply Chain: Social Distancing

There are several supply chain constraints that most companies can plan around. These include capacity, throughput, and on occasion, emissions.

Using an Extended LEAN approach, managers and facilities are encouraged to reduce the amount of time and distance per process. This reduces waste throughout the production line, improving efficiency and ultimately providing more output with the resources already in place.

But due to social distancing, there’s a new constraint supply chain managers must deal with: the maximum amount of physical distance you can remove from production. Some of these situations are easier to plan for: Truck drivers can stay in their cabs, while using e-signatures for receipts.

Other conditions are going to be much more difficult to apply: In the interest of keeping employees healthy, they must consistently stay six feet apart. Companies now have to determine what that means for receiving, production and shipping. If employees have to maintain a safe distance, how does that affect their critical daily operations? Some companies say they are experiencing a 40 percent decrease in capacity due to the social distancing protocols.

Social Distancing Extends From the Facility and into the Network

The physical plant isn’t the only stakeholder affected by social distancing. The impact of lost production and capacity also extends to your logistics network.

If your output is slower due to social distancing, it can have a ripple effect on everything from loading trucks and time-in-transit to service guarantees. Capacity decreases mean it takes more time to load trucks and impedes trucks from moving freight from point-to-point. That cuts into your bottom line.

From there, the issues fall like dominoes. The late truck has more time on the dock, so your freight is arrives at its destination later. When it does, there could be a delivery failure due to a closed dock or a receiver bound by rules prohibiting deliveries outside a set window. Additionally, freight bills could increase because transportation providers are unwilling to wait a long time for freight loading and unloading. Your carrier partners might not be able to meet service times because of your approach to social distancing.

There are ways to approach this that will help your business move forward. Once the impact to individual facilities is determined, it’s possible to reconfigure your logistics network to meet the current capacity needs. Some of the options your team can explore include:

  • Do you need to reduce inbound material shipments until capacity can increase?
  • Should you adjust your outbound schedule to ensure you can maximize transit lanes?
  • Can your team or warehouse be more efficient in managing inbound and outbound freight?

Having a Partner to Help You Adjust for Social Distancing

It’s critically important to have a partner in your corner that not only understands how to configure logistics operations using tried and true techniques, but how to translate them to the broader supply network to balance cost, service and risk. While technology plays a key part into this transformation, these solutions need to be approached with a holistic solution in mind.

As we reopen facilities and plan for the “new normal” for the foreseeable future, it’s important to solve these problems now. Because we have no idea when social distancing practices will ease, the problems you face now won’t go away on their own. Instead, solving them will help you become a “shipper of choice” as activity ramps up. You can also maintain profitability and positively plan for the future.

In this race, Transportation Insight is your complete partner in success. Our technology tools allow you to decide between the best carriers and networking options.We can also help you drive success through supply chain mapping, optimization, and applied Extended LEAN strategies with social distancing in mind. Because we’ve worked through thousands of supply chains with hundreds of companies across industries, we know how to apply the best practices and wisdom around your current and future strategies.

Partnership matters – and Transportation Insight is prepared to help you now and well into the future. Contact us today to get started with a consultation on how your facility can manage productivity despite social distancing.

Serve Customers With a Personalized Supply Chain

Society’s sudden move to a shelter-in-place and work-from-home environment dramatically affected buying behaviors, and, in the process, expectations increased on companies responding to demand.

Organizations equipped with an agile, customer-centric supply chain network are capitalizing by evolving their service to the current environment. Distributors are re-locating inventory to meet emergent demand for products needed to support COVID-19 response in specific geographies. Retailers have kept Americans fed and working by adjusting online fulfillment strategies to utilize brick-and-mortar curbside pick-up or alternate home delivery methods. Manufacturers are drop-shipping products directly to homes to meet newfound interests in exercise.

As customer preferences carry even greater weight in modern supply network planning, the organizations with a holistic network view will deliver the most cost-effective shipping strategies that empower choice-conscious clients.

Customers Take Control

In 2016, parcel and express delivery volume bypassed railroads to become the second-largest transportation sector behind motor freight, according to the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ 28th Annual State of Logistics Report. With that leap, consumers seized control of logistics spending and “supply chain as we’ve known it” changed forever.

In the past, traditional retail strategies put the brand in control, using a push-based system with consumers at the end of the supply chain. Throughout the rest of the supply network, past experience drove inventory decisions, and product was pushed to stores based on what consumers “should” like and purchase.

Ongoing expansion of e-commerce has increasingly shifted decision-making for many organizations toward the customer experience. With the outbreak of COVID-19, historical buying behaviors are no longer valid and the consumer is in charge now more than ever. Companies that didn’t have a consumer-centric approach are adapting to survive.

Adopting a consumer-centric approach isn’t automatic, however. It requires thorough understanding of your customers’ preferences from point of purchase to final delivery.

Consumer Behaviors Changing Forever

While society has steadily shifted more buying to online platforms, COVID-19 sent more people online to buy a broader array of products than ever before.

In March, online grocery sales hit an all-time high. And in April, online grocery retailers topped that record by about 37%, according to survey data from grocery consultant Brick Meets Click (BMC) and research firm Symphony RetailAI.

Driving the sales growth was a 33.3% increase in the total number of orders: 62.5 million in April vs. 46.9 million in March. Spending per order grew more modestly, as did the number of online grocery shoppers.

Retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are reporting record online sales growth as well, giving further evidence that more buyers are turning to e-commerce sales channels for everyday needs. As the convenience of online buying appeals to a broader population, the need for diverse delivery options will increase, just as it has since parcel transportation took the No. 2 spot in logistics spend in 2016.

Effectively fulfilling those customer delivery demands requires a transportation strategy supported by multi-modal expertise and technology. Transportation management systems that integrate vital transportation information from freight and parcel service providers, along with historical shipping data, can offer a strong basis for decisions that improve customer service and protect bottom line profitability.

A Case for a Personalized Supply Chain

Organizations that can create a supply chain personalized to the expectations and behaviors of their customers can achieve greater brand loyalty. By allowing customers more control over their delivery experience, brands can create greater loyalty and improve customer retention.

At the same time, the shippers that establish a nimble network can rapidly respond to fluctuations in supply and demand and capitalize on opportunities for growth.

To learn more about creating a truly personalized supply chain that serves your customers’ needs, read Transportation Insight’s Guide to Mastering Your Supply Chain.

In it, we share more data about emerging customer trends as well as strategies and tactics to create a stronger supply chain that ultimately drives growth. Read it today to evolve your supply chain to meet your customers changing fulfillment and delivery needs.