2021 Parcel Rates: 3 Areas for Attention

The average rate increase for primary services provided by UPS and FedEx mirrors that same familiar 4.9 percent increase that we have seen for many years. 

And just as we have seen for many years, the 2021 parcel rates increase announcements are just a visible layer in the carriers’ rate and service pricing structures. With multiple layers, the complex pricing and surcharge practices of UPS and FedEx can make it difficult to determine the true cost for your small package shipments. 

Beyond the average increase on standard services, it is also important to recognize that surcharges, accessorials, new fees and tweaks to the carriers’ terms and conditions could require you to budget a 2021 cost increase closer to 8.5 percent. Capacity pressures created by exponential e-commerce growth during the pandemic and uncertainty about mid-year or peak surcharges for 2021 creates an environment of unknowns.

You need to understand how your shipment characteristics align with carrier networks. If you are a large shipper with a great contract, be prepared to defend that as tight capacity drives renegotiation motives for UPS and FedEx. Your parcel partner can be a real asset during this time if they have the ability to analyze your historic performance and determine areas for future cost savings that do not jeopardize performance. 

Let’s explore three aspects of this year’s parcel rate increase that could drive new costs in your transportation budget. 

  • Expanded ZIP Codes for Delivery Area Surcharge 

More ZIP codes than ever before will be eligible for Delivery Area Surcharges (DAS) for both UPS and FedEx. Both carriers adjust the applicable ZIP codes every year, but the past two years have reflected significant changes. In 2021, these charges will apply to almost 38 percent of the United States.

The increase for UPS DAS areas will apply to almost 12.3 million people, while the FedEx changes will affect about 11 million people. Ultimately, that means you are facing an additional surcharge for more of your customers. 

This is a difficult adjustment to calculate on your own, but when that much of your customer-base is affected by new costs, deep analysis is required to determine how these changes will impact your budget in 2021.

We talked more about the changes around DAS during our recent parcel rates webinar. Watch the replay for more insight on the how and the why behind this move by the carriers. 

  • Additional Handling Charges for Large Parcels and More to Come

    If your packages measure over 105 inches in length and girth combined, you will be charged an Additional Handling Fee of $16. This dimension change on the fee targets packages that barely miss the Oversize criteria of 130 inches (L and W combined). It applies to packages that take up a lot of space on conveyor belts, but do not get charged high dimensional weight.  

    Parcel carriers are becoming increasingly selective about the packages that move through their automated networks. Large packages, in certain instances, can cause significant problems in an automated facility. Moving them often requires more work from human resources, a costly and time-consuming element. 

    Beyond this $16 charge, UPS is also implementing a new structure for additional handling and large package rates that will differ by zone. Those rates will be announced at a later date, April 11, 2021 for non-hundred-weight packages and July 11, 2021 for hundredweight packages. 

    For heavy retail customers that are not clothing-oriented, this change could create a significant impact. We work with clients to identify specific impacts and solutions to mitigate the added cost.
  • Lightweight 2021 Parcel Rates Face Steepest Increases

    It is important to understand that when the carriers have a rate increase, it is not a universal rate increase across all weights and zones. The average rate increase is 4.9 percent. The level of rate increase for your volume depends on your shipping characteristics. For many shippers a larger percentage of their packages qualify for minimum charges, especially larger shippers with more aggressive pricing. 

    This year, parcel shippers charged at the zone 2, 1-pound minimum will face a steeper increase – about 6.4 percent – than their counterparts in other weight and zone combinations. Likewise, UPS and FedEx rates match between 1 and 15 pounds, and for these lightweight shipments the increases are generally higher than those for heavier packages. 

This strategy of larger increases on lightweight packages is an abrupt change for UPS and FedEx. Two factors likely affect the decision:

  • Competition from Priority Mail: Last year (before COVID-19), FedEx and UPS were both concerned with competition from Priority Mail. Lightweight Priority Mail rates are significantly lower than UPS and FedEx Ground rates, especially to residential addresses. Heading into 2021 with the parcel industry at capacity, there is less concern on competitiveness and more emphasis on profitability.’
  • Profitability: Lightweight packages are typically less profitable for small package carriers than heavier weight packages. Carriers are likely to continue to increase lightweight packages at higher levels as long as there are capacity constraints. Regional carriers can offer an efficient alternative in some of your lightweight shipping scenarios. In light of capacity challenges and other disruptions during 2020, many of these operations have filled a niche and grown. These carriers can sometimes be easier to implement, and they don’t often bring the surcharges the national carriers apply.

    During our Parcel Rates Roundtable we share tips for leveraging regional carriers as part of your parcel program. Watch the webinar to make sure that type of move does not drive up cost with your national carrier due to your tier commitments.

Parcel Bills: Do Not Pay Late

Another area for attention: when its GRI takes effect Jan. 4, 2021, FedEx will begin applying a 6 percent late payment fee. UPS implemented this fee in 2004, and this gives FedEx customers cause to pay close attention to the payment terms in their contracts. 

Not paying your bills on time now becomes a more financially impactful decision, and these fees can add because they apply at the invoice level.

Master Your Parcel Plan, Minimize Rate Impact. 

Do you have your finger on the pulse of your parcel program so you can understand the true cost impact of the 2021 annual General Rate Increase across your end-to-end supply chain?

Questions to consider:

  • How do your contract terms and conditions address volume caps?
  • How will volume caps affect your actual rate increase, surcharges and other fees?
  • How does your customer base change now that more than 11 million people have been added to the DAS delivery charge?
  • How do you budget for these changes?

Open our Parcel Rate Outlook 2021 for our expert support in preparing a plan that carefully considers these questions – and all changes across the parcel environment. Leveraging deep parcel expertise, tools and technology, we’re able to provide rate impact analysis specific to your personal needs and design a business solution that controls cost and protects experience.

Get our Parcel Rate Outlook 2021 today and make sure your 2021 transportation budget considers the nuances lurking in the layers below the 4.9 percent average rate increase.

6 Qualities to Look for in an E-Commerce Logistics Partner

With changing customer demands, new carrier surcharges, COVID, and other challenges taking a bite out of shippers’ bottom lines right now, those companies are best served by logistics partners that bring a high level of value to the table. Even better, they do this while helping shippers overcome their key pain points and achieve their organizational goals.

If your e-commerce logistics provider isn’t living up to expectations in these six areas, it may be time to find one that will.

  1. Technology Systems that Mirror the Carriers’ Own Systems
    This allows the provider to estimate cost impact and predictive modeling to the penny. Every time the carriers make a change, that change should also be made in your provider’s system.
  2. A Strong Team of Subject Matter Experts
    That team should include engineers and analysts that know how to leverage the carriers’ profitability areas to gain better advantages for you (versus what a traditional account rep can manage). Our experts regularly share their insight with the marketplace.

  1. Ongoing Analysis and Strategic “Thinkery”
    Look for a partner that thinks well beyond the “one and done” approach. Today’s business environment requires a partner that focuses on continued delivery optimization and cost mitigation.
  2. A Proactive Auditing Function
    Rather than relying on a reactive mindset (e.g., asking for the same refunds over and over again), your provider should be working with an “identify and repair” mindset to eliminate these potential issues and mitigate ongoing costs.
  3. Advanced Analytics and KPI Tracking
    As e-commerce continues to grow, you need a partner that is constantly innovating and adding functionalities like margin management, SKU-level profitability, KPI tracking, order performance management and high levels of supply chain visibility.   
  4. A Problem-solving Mindset
    When new accessorials or surcharges are released, your logistics provider should be measuring the impacts of those changes on your budget and helping you mitigate those impacts.

Master Your E-Commerce Supply Chain

Possessing these key qualities, we bring our client partners ongoing value as they race to meet demands for delivery speed, service and choice. Supporting your efforts to enhance customer experience, we also implement strategies to control costs so that you can maintain awareness of how each and every product and customer is performing. 

Our Parcel Experts created “You Shipped It, but … Did it Make Money?” to identify some of the emerging challenges that jeopardize your profit. It highlights our approach in the marketplace and gives you a glimpse into the level of analysis that we bring our customers. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the supply chain challenges you are experiencing. Reach out to our supply chain masters today to begin a conversation about your personalized solution.

Margin Management: Why Are You Selling Money-Losing SKUs?

In July, Coca-Cola announced that it was cutting some “zombie brands” and focusing its resources on more profitable lines by introducing margin management. The company has about 400 master brands, half of which are brands of little or no scale and that account for about 2% of the firm’s total revenues. 

These brands (Odwalla juice and smoothie brand was among the first to get the axe) consume resources and divert money and time away from Coca-Cola’s more profitable businesses. 

Do you know the products that are consuming your resources without delivering the profitable benefits of sale?

Following Suit

Shippers of all sizes can borrow a page from Coca-Cola’s playbook which takes the examination of SKU viability to new levels by assessing (and in some cases, eliminating) entire brand portfolios in order to determine which products are making money, and which ones aren’t. 

When you understand SKU viability, you can refine your marketing messages, pricing, pass-through costs, and other elements that determine whether you make money on an order (or not). The key is to determine which products are “winners” and which are “losers,” and then focus on the former. Weed out the products that are not making money and focus on the ones that are profitable.

Use the 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) comes into play here, and asserts that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Recognizing that 20% of your SKUs typically represent 80% of your sales volume, determine a baseline. Focus on what it costs to pick, pack and ship each of those different SKUs. 

There aren’t many companies that have a good handle on profitability at the individual SKU level, particularly when factoring in fulfillment costs, inbound costs and shipping costs. Combined, these drivers can make a major difference in an order’s profitability.

Consider the manufacturer of outdoor goods that typically sells to big box retailers. During COVID, this company began shipping directly to consumers when more people started placing orders online. Shipping a pallet of 25 outdoor umbrellas to a large retailer at no charge was a profitable venture. On the other hand, free shipping for those 9-foot, 75-pound umbrellas bound for 25 different households via Parcel takes a huge chunk out of the bottom line.

This is a situation where evaluating SKUs based on the price that customers pay doesn’t work. Offers like “Buy $50 in merchandise and get free shipping” can further complicate the circumstances. Complexity increases when orders must be shipped in multiple boxes—a reality that quickly consumes the profitability on any order. 

Find a Partner to do the Heavy Lifting

Without good transportation analytics, SKU profitability becomes an expensive guessing game. And the more SKUs you’re selling, the more complex your margin management profile will be. 

Avoiding these problems requires a pick-and-axe approach similar to what Coca-Cola is using to whittle down its brand portfolio. If you don’t have the time, staff, or technology in-house to manage it on your own, Transportation Insight is here to do the heavy lifting for you.

To help you better understand all that’s required in determining SKU profitability, we created “You Shipped it, but … Did it Make Any Money?” Download it today for strategies that will help you protect profitability on every order.

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.

Business Objectives Determine Supply Chain Visibility Needs

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

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

What is Supply Chain Visibility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internal link: Guide Landing Page

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.

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?

Supply Chain Risk Management Lessons from the Military

When you think about the biggest risk to your company, what comes to mind? A data breach is probably high among concerns, and there’s good reason:this year alone, the Center for Strategic and International Studies identified 16 significant cyberattacks around the world, leaking hundreds of thousands of records.

What about a breach in your supply chain? Natural disasters, factory fires, rising tariffs, geopolitical issues and disease epidemics can all threaten your logistics network. Do you have a plan in place to respond in the event of significant disruption? If so, when was the last time you dusted it off and tested it?

Supply chain risk mitigation is more than sourcing. It requires an understanding of supply and demand. You need to be able to maintain continuity across your networks. If you don’t have backup plans and network strategies in place, one slip could jeopardize your entire business.

Mapping direct risks to your supply chain

Every supply chain has risks, regardless of how well it is planned. In the past five years, we’ve seen multiple threats to the global supply chain, ranging from natural disasters to labor disruptions.

Some of those issues are easier to prepare for than others. When union members across West Coast freight terminals walked off their jobs in 2015, indicators were present. Nine months of contentious negotiations, led to public jabs thrown by both sides, and ultimately, a work stoppage. In this situation, companies had time to make plans and consider alternative ports of entry. Without those preparations, there’s a risk of being affected by the $2 billion in lost productivity a full shutdown can cause daily.

Other situations are impossible to foresee. When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, widespread flooding damaged homes and threatened lives. Factories were forced to shut down, only opening as part of the massive cleanup efforts. For some businesses, this created two problems: The disaster created a spiked demand for cleaning and construction supplies, but crippled local availability to produce them.

In these situations, do you have alternate network maps available to identify where you need to ramp-up production? Do you have a secondary port identified to support your inbound shipments? Without a smart contingency plan, you not only risk losing inventory – you put in jeopardy your operational success as a whole.

Supply chain lessons learned in the Marine Corps

While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps I learned military logistics strategies that have been integral to global success. Among the supply chain support available to the Marines is the Maritime Pre-Positioning Force. Today, two ship squadrons – one in the Indian Ocean, and one in the South Pacific – stand ready to provide necessary combat support. If a Marine expeditionary brigade is deployed anywhere in the world, these ships can quickly drop all the equipment and supplies they would need for up to 30 days.

The MPF is one of many tools Marines have to ensure operational victory. Logistical strength also comes from the chain of command: Generals communicate goals to senior officers, who create multiple plans and execution strategies. A plan of attack goes to junior officers, who work with the non-commissioned officer brigade to map out an execution path. The NCOs are then empowered to enact the plan with platoons and squads, while changing and adapting to the developing situation.

There should be a direct alignment between your organization’s chain of command and your supply chain. If you have multiple strategies in place and can execute on any given one in the event of disruption, you can set up for operational success.

Using military intelligence in risk mitigation

As illustrated, the military does logistics very well. When thinking about that supply chain, we broke it down to three key needs: beans, bullets and bandages. Those items summarize our critical needs for success. Without food, we would run out of sustenance and the strength to fight. Without ammunition, we would have no means of defense and advance. And without bandages, we wouldn’t be able to self-care and prepare for the next wave.

Because these three items were crucial, the supply chain for each was diversified, so that we could always source them. Think about how that reflects in your logistics network. If you can’t access a key component for your flagship product, what would you do to ensure production doesn’t stop?

We experienced this risk process with a large Consumer Packaged Goods client that was considering a new location on the U.S. Gulf Coast. By incorporating hurricane strike probabilities at different locations, the site identified was 200 miles away from the “optimal cost” solution when risk was considered. In addition, by running sensitivities, we were able to identify the optimal secondary sourcing locations in case of a shut down.

It’s important to know how your supply chain is prepared with the essentials for success. Although your company may not survive on beans, bullets and bandages, there are components and pieces that you can’t live without. As you plan your network design and consider options and scenarios, consider the following questions:

  • Are active contingency plans in place?
    If you don’t have an active plan to circumnavigate crises in your supply chain, you don’t have mastery over it. Before another international disruption takes place, it’s important to take down the binders with contingency plans and simulate alternate sourcing scenarios. If you train for an emergency, you are empowered to execute when it happens.
  • Can you prioritize the most urgent needs at every supply chain node?
    When supply and inventory are threatened, you need the ability to prioritize customers and orders. This requires intelligence at every supply chain node: source, distribution center and end client. By creating a plan for every potential point of failure, you can get in front of the situation and drive customer satisfaction through disruption.
  • Where do I need operational redundancy?
    When you look at the most important items in your supply chain, how are you sourcing them? If you are ordering components from a single lowest-cost supplier, you could be in jeopardy. Although it may cost more in the short term, creating operational redundancy can give you both regional and port independence, ensuring key items don’t get stopped in an emergency.

Any given part of your supply chain may fail not because of stress, but because of the unknown. As we think about all the issues that could occur – from geopolitical conflict, to natural disasters, to labor disputes – your supply chain needs to be optimized regularly for continued mastery.

By utilizing Transportation Insight as a logistics partner, your company can access the software and expertise it takes to keep your network model up to date. Contact us today for a consultation, and learn how we keep your business driving forward.

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?