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.

Blockchain Data Sharing is Caring – Can You Trust Your Partners?

Not everything is changing.

When it comes to the blockchain, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies we’ll increasingly implement in go-forward supply chain practices, we’ll still rely on the same essential element: trust.

Now more than ever, to benefit from these technologies, all parties in the supply chain will be required to share data at an unprecedented level. Possibilities for improved efficiencies, real-time visibility, data security, vendor compliance and other benefits will flow from shared data streams.

Yet many companies are culturally uncomfortable with the depth of transparency that will be required. Those organizations that do not participate will find themselves increasingly isolated from the economic mainstream.

Certainly, organizations should exercise due diligence in understanding the partners who will access their information and how it will be used. Organizations don’t have to share with every vendor or service provider that requests access. But enterprises must prepare for the new world of shared data with policies and procedures for these technologies emerging in the supply chain environment.

Do you have concerns about sharing data with your supply chain partners? If so, do you know why?

Blockchain Builds on Trust

Technologies like blockchain create a new “trust economy” where the old intermediaries are replaced by new systems. As blockchain and artificial intelligence enter day-to-day use, sharing data with third parties and vendors will be necessary. The system creates security through technology rather than relying on familiar relationships of the past.

To be useful, your organization’s data must be validated to ensure it is accurate and complete. Information stored in the blockchain isn’t valuable if it’s wrong.

Blockchain, in particular, is developing as a safe, customizable standard to share data in a way that protects proprietary information while providing value from the openly available information. For example, companies can manage supply chain vendor compliance issues without revealing specifics about their supply chain.

As the use of blockchain moves forward, it will be critical to strike a balance between transparency and confidentiality for all stakeholders as they adopt the technology to record and share supply chain data. With well-thought-out restrictions, a company could use the blockchain for internal purposes and share only the necessary data with other stakeholders.

Sharing data makes the most sense when it’s part of a strategy to improve processes or connect with partners in the supply chain. Blockchain information will drive tactical and strategic decisions that support predictive analytics and demand forecasting. Companies fear losing control of their data for any number of reasons, from baring their operations to competitors to sharing accurate costs with vendors. Some internal organizations see data management as their base of power and are reluctant to be open to external engagements.

Validate Captured Data to Maximize Technology Capabilities

Most organizations don’t have the internal capabilities to support endeavors focused on utilizing emerging technology applications like blockchain. An Enterprise Logistics Provider with deep analytical experience can help you identify and focus on the actionable information that you already capture on a regular basis.

With a trusted partner, your organization can manage its data-sharing strategies to share only what’s required and maintain control of your information, while connecting with the benefits of blockchain.

To find out more about why and how you should share your organization’s data, read our resource guide: AI, Blockchain, Machine Learning: Is Your Data Ready?

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?

Where is zip code 99999? A Piece of Clean Data Makes a Big Difference

Of course not. It doesn’t exist. In fact, the highest real zip code is 99950, for Ketchikan, Alaska. Still, if you scour your database, there’s a good chance you’ll find more than a few 99999 zip codes. 

Most organizations find that it’s been entered as a placeholder in their shipment database. If shipments go as planned, what’s the problem? If your strategy calls for automating your processes, you’ll encounter serious challenges created by a lack of data accuracy. Let’s talk about how data becomes inaccurate and what you can do about it.

Dirty Data Drives Supply Chain Inefficiency 

Depending on the solutions in use, a database may fill in 99999 if no zip code is entered, or 99999 may have been entered rather than taking the time to look up the correct number. While a placeholder zip code may not be a fatal problem, it’s likely an indicator of deeper issues. That’s one reason industry experts estimate that data is faulty in 35 to 40 percent of supply chain systems.

For example, look at a company’s fundamental systems such as the Item Master, Customer Master and Vendor Master. They must be comprehensively reviewed and corrected. Basic data such as dimension and weights could be filled with default numbers. That means there’s been a lack of validation of the data that’s been input. The lack of accurate, clean data leads to expensive inefficiency through mistakes and a lot of manual handling. 

While individual data problems are not good, they are also a symptom of the more significant challenge of potentially suspect data. Without the right numbers as a baseline, it’s impossible to make accurate strategic decisions. If you’re looking at adding or repositioning distribution centers, rationalizing your product lines, or myriad other initiatives, clean data makes all the difference. 

Clean data is also essential for implementing automation, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. Poor data quality can lead to problems with carrier compliance, shipment tracking and predictive and prescriptive analytics. As shipments generate more and more data in real-time, quality data is essential. It’s also vital for decision-making and sharing with strategic partners to drive benefits across your shipping eco-system.

Solving the Dirty Data Problem

How do you correct the zip code 99999 problem in your company? 

The key is to evaluate the integrity of data collection and management programs continuously, not only against your internal requirements but also in relation to external demands. Does your organization have the capability to dig deep into your data collection and management programs, identify challenges and fix them with internal resources? Or will the organizational structures and culture prevent you from making the necessary changes? Third-party analysis may be required to identify the data issues that will derail your competitiveness.

To find out more about ensuring your organization is prepared for next-generation technologies, read our resource guide, AI, Blockchain, Machine Learning: Is Your Data Ready?