What Is Supply Chain Visibility? Depends on Who You Ask

What is supply chain visibility? Understanding the layers -a nd how they affect your business can be illuminating.

What is supply chain visibility to your organization, and why is it important in your transportation management?

Supply chain visibility, in its most simple form, refers to the awareness of activities happening within any segment of the supply chain. While it is fairly simple to describe, it is not easily attained by supply chain managers and logistics directors.

In the grand scheme of things, several factors can affect transportation and supply chain metrics. These include, but are not limited to, abnormal weather events, wars and social unrest, economic upheaval, natural disasters, worker and driver shortages, fees and surcharges, environmental regulations, and other supply chain disruptions.

Together, these events will contribute to higher shipping costs and potential delays, as further explained by Transport Dive, “Industry respondents said they don’t see an end to current freight conditions, and 2022 TL rates are expected to be up approximately 5.25% compared to this year.” Clearly, significant risk exists for companies lacking effective processes to ensure true supply chain visibility.

What is Supply Chain Visibility? A Broad View

Increasing end-to-end visibility is critical to ongoing growth and success within the modern-day supply chain. It is an ever-changing process as well. This is because new technologies and innovations enter the picture all the time. They drive changes to protocols, procedures, and goals within the network. Simply integrating new processes, tools, omnimodal TMS dashboards, and innovative platforms is not enough to adequately strengthen supply chain visibility.

Recently, many organizations have experienced sudden deviations and major supply chain disruptions. They have been caused by a range of factors with varying degrees of predictability and visibility. While the COVID-19 pandemic is the most obvious and recent example, many factors can impact supply chain and transportation success. They can all be monitored through visibility within the network. When it comes to types of visibility gained from a streamlined management and reporting system, supply chain strategies can include the following:

  • Transportation visibility, which helps answer, at any time, in near-real-time, “where is my shipment?” It allows shippers, carriers, and customers to monitor and review transportation status updates in real-time for accurate data on shipments.
  • Data & analytics visibility, which is an insight into shipping status that the transportation management system (TMS) can provide. It includes key metrics such as carrier scorecards, KPIs, and shipping spend by analyzing data and shipment optimization across all modes and lanes.
  • Insider shipping visibility, which is unique perspectives and insights into the actual process of shipping. The cloud-based nature of a TMS allows multiple logins and parties to see what is going on with all transportation loads and methods.
  • Capacity visibility, which is achieved by utilizing the digital freight network, aggregate capacity, spot truckload capacity, and TMS collaboration. This all can be achieved without phone calls, public load boards, and outdated manual processes.

Top Questions Answered by Real-Time Visibility

Supply chain visibility allows managers and directors to track different goods and/or products while they are actively in transit. It is a real-time view into all shipping activities as they occur, whether it is the next leg of the journey or the delivery to the final destination or customer.
This insight gives a clear view of the inventory impact for each shipment. It helps shippers improve customer service levels and identify cost management measures they can apply to shipments. It gives carriers better insight into how loads are being handled and where potential problem areas exist.

The goal visibility is to gain advanced insights that support real-time answers for your critical questions regarding shipping and tracking. Some of these questions are:

  • When did my order ship/leave the warehouse?
  • What mode/method is my order being shipped by?
  • What is the current ETA for my shipment?
  • How much inventory is available at any given moment?
  • What products/goods are being shipped any given day?
  • Has my shipment been delayed at all?
  • Where is my cargo at this exact moment?
  • How are shipments handling current anomalies and disruptions?
  • Will current weather conditions affect my order?
  • Why was my order delayed, and what’s being done about it?
  • How long will my shipment be held up?
  • When can I expect my order to be delivered?
These and other critical questions can be answered with adequate visibility into transportation activities and management processes across the end-to-end supply chain.

What is supply Chain Visibility from a Carrier’s Perspecrtive?

Expectations are rising for carriers to focus on supply chain visibility to gain insight into operations, improve data flows, and increase collaboration with shipper and logistics service provider customers. Visibility within the supply chain brings into focus these goals that should be shared by carriers and shippers alike. The benefits of improved supply chain visibility ultimately are to improve workflow processes while also working to increase and maintain profits. In addition, better visibility can lower costs for carriers’ customers while reducing the overall risk assumed by carriers.

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A Shipper’s View of supply Chain Visibility

Transportation visibility allows shippers to better collaborate and ensure proper operations within the supply chain network. It can also help to consult with a third-party logistics (3PL) specialist that can align activities and partners operating within the supply chain. By combining several innovative monitoring and collaborative platforms shippers can access a deeper level of transportation awareness across their entire supply chain network.

Why a Cloud-Based TMS Improves Visibility

Fulfillment lines within the supply chain are being disrupted across many different sectors. This makes it more difficult to plan for disruptions that may arise and affect the shipping process. 

For some products and industry niches, e-commerce sales have increased so quickly and so dramatically that many shippers struggle to keep up during stable markets. Peak season surges and shipping struggles exacerbate their challenge. Supply chain agility and visibility today are closely tied to advances in data, communications, and technology.

In the current environment of added supply chain stress, the new technological tools and processes now available offer supply chain visibility that can deliver a significant impact for shippers and carriers alike. 

As highlighted by SupplyChain24/7: “Carriers simply are unable to forecast capacity, can’t leverage the predictability of contract rates, can’t easily find new capacity and are helpless against last-minute mode shift requests. Shippers are facing delays in receiving goods from suppliers.” This is where dynamic visibility can impact the collaborative processes that are essential to the modern supply chain.

Carrier scorecards make it easier to compare transportation service levels and hone in on the best of the best. Insight into transportation spend management makes it easier to cut costs throughout the supply chain network. Real-time insight and visibility into supply chain data and analytics can make it easier to understand current costs in freight shipping while also highlighting increased opportunities for savings. 

All of these benefits can be attained with proper integration and utilization of a cloud-based, fully collaborative, TMS platform for supply chain management.

Additional Advantages of Visibility in the Supply Chain

End-to-end supply chain visibility provides a competitive advantage that allows transportation service providers to improve their customers’ experience and provide the best possible shipping outcomes. While it is clear that overall supply chain visibility is critical to effective management, focusing specifically on transportation visibility can unlock many additional benefits. 

Some of these anticipated benefits to expect from a TMS aimed at improved visibility include:

  • Greater inventory insight, monitoring, and control to speed up order fulfillment and delivery success rates.
  • Better customer loyalty, more customized shipping services, and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
  • Shorter cycle times for all legs of the transportation process, and all shipping modes, from start to finish.
  • Improved collaborations within the supply chain and with 3PL vendors to boost efficiency and productivity.
  • Saved time, money, and resources by automating the tracking process end-to-end.
  • Reduced costs by lowering charges associated with delays, drayage and demurrage, freight claims, and chargebacks.
  • Smarter business decisions for all team members requiring more precise data and faster access to data analytics.

Maximize the Value of Visibility

Traditionally, supply chains have been built with a focus on logistics and monitoring final delivery. There is less attention on the in-between, step-by-step path of a shipment. Increasing end-to-end visibility is critical to ongoing growth and success within the modern-day supply chain. It is an ever-changing process, as well. 

This is the new state of visibility in logistics and it is at the foundation of the modern transportation network. That is why continually improving visibility remains a priority for supply chain and transportation managers.To unlock the potential that enhanced visibility can provide, contact MercuryGate today for a free TMS demo.

Unlock The Potential That Enhanced Visibility Can Provide.


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