Beyond the Buzzword - Visibility Blog Post 1 of 3

Getting Beyond the Buzzwords and Getting Real About Visibility

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series exploring the topic of visibility.

Visibility… Complete, transparent, real-time, control-tower, end-to-end visibility. That’s a mouthful of industry buzzwords. But, isn’t that what supply chain leaders, logistics services providers, and software vendors want to achieve? Perhaps in not so many words, but yes. Visibility is critical to the long-term success of shippers and logistics companies, and good-enough visibility is no longer good enough.

From surveys and anecdotal feedback, we know that true visibility continues to be a tall challenge that everyone in the logistics industry is still trying to overcome. To continue to meet increasing customer service expectations, squeeze more efficiency from our supply chain, and find the gaps that we need to close, logistics operations must find a way to achieve greater, more precise visibility.

Where’s My Stuff?

First let’s look at the term visibility. Everyone has their own, slightly different definition for it. So perhaps it helps to level-set what we mean by visibility. It’s a term that has evolved, like we have evolved from relying on spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls (or have we?). Just 6 percent of companies believe they have achieved full supply chain visibility, according to Geodis’ 2017 Supply Chain Worldwide Survey. And, 77 percent say they have either no visibility or a restricted view.

In today’s modern supply chain, visibility at its simplest level is about knowing where your stuff is, when it’s going to arrive, and being able to identify potential risks or delays in that projected arrival time. The expectations around visibility have evolved past mere track and trace capabilities. True visibility is about gaining deep insights into the data and leveraging that data to be proactive rather than reactive. It gives companies the power to be agile and move more quickly to market.

Full visibility is more than dots on a map. It requires looking past the dots and focusing on the detailed picture that the data paints. Those insights will give you greater awareness about your freight like where it is, where it’s going, and what might get in its way (natural disasters, strikes, congested highways, etc.). Visibility and understanding of where freight is within the transportation network allow companies to avoid such delays and better manage the flow of inventory.

Building a Visibility Toolkit

Not too long ago, it was common for many companies to use spreadsheets, phones, and emails as the tools in attempting to create visibility. Any company that wants to be competitive today must move beyond that outdated toolset. The sheer volume of data and shipments makes it inefficient, at best, to rely on manual processes to verify the location of shipments. And there is too much chance for human error to rely on managing a plethora of spreadsheets and playing phone tag.

Shippers now want visibility of their freight down to the SKU or purchase-order level. That level of visibility isn’t possible through spreadsheets, or most homegrown technology, for that matter. Today, most logistics organizations are replacing spreadsheets with web portals, mobile apps, and APIs to increase accuracy of their transportation network. Of course, you want to be able to trust the system, and that’s why the best systems allow you to manage by exception, looking for shipments that are outside of a certain level of tolerance with regard to location or delivery time.

The long-term solution for improving visibility is investing in the best, most advanced technology to underpin your freight shipment processes. At the core of this technology framework is the Transportation Management System (TMS), which captures the data from fleet activity (ELDs), carriers, and shipping managers. A dedicated TMS is the only “one-stop” shop for real-time visibility of shipments across trading partners, and across the breadth of the supply chain, offering greater control. Visibility is further increased through the integration of the TMS with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Warehouse Management System (WMS), Global Trade Management (GTM) system, and other ancillary systems that augment the data coming from the TMS.

The Future of Visibility

For many companies, visibility is still the primary obstacle to cutting supply chain costs. A lack of visibility can create inefficiencies that impact upstream and downstream activities, which result in unnecessary costs in the form of detention charges, higher carrier rates, or worse.

With the right technology, logistics operations can get a top-down view of freight activity and track every shipment at the most detailed level. The ability to see real-time data is really the only way to stay ahead of potential issues and take control of your supply chain. The next step in this evolution of visibility is predictive analytics that allow companies to look ahead and steer clear of potential issues that could delay shipments altogether.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series on Supply Chain Visibility. In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the role Predictive Analytics Could Pave the Path to Increased Visibility.