Dock Appointment Scheduling: Beyond Traffic Control

Dock appointment scheduling (DAS) is a powerful tool to eliminate congestion in the distribution center. However, there is even more value to DAS when it is considered as part of an overall inbound supply chain visibility strategy. DAS provides critical data to allow forward deployment of product and cross-docking to accelerate the flow of goods reducing out of stocks and inventory at the same time.

The following is an example of how DAS information can be exploited by more than distribution center operations.

A leading retailer had a large volume (1,000s of inbound shipments monthly) and recognized that it needed to do a better job load leveling the inbound traffic to minimize warehouse receiving overtimes and scheduling resources. This retailer had also deployed a purchase order (PO) to dock door visibility solution to reduce inventory and gain a greater understanding of the flow of goods through the network. It recognized that if the scheduled dock appointment time could be tied to the POs associated with the delivery, it would have another critical milestone in its overall visibility strategy.

The dock appointment time was critical to this retailer’s inbound visibility strategy because supplier or carrier scheduled appointment performance was very reliable (high 90% probability). If it knew the contents of the shipments (the POs, goods and quantities), and felt confident of its delivery time, it could provide that information to the store replenishment and buying organizations. Store replenishment could deploy the goods in advance of their arrival and buyers could better track performance to plan for their goods. In addition to improving on-time delivery compliance, the retailer was able to reduce inventory by over $1 billion and maintain high in-stock levels at its stores.

There were a number of important lessons learned by this retailer:

  • DAS needed to be integrated to the visibility solution to be able to link the scheduled dock appointments to the flow of goods and actual POs. This retailer’s strategy was to manage not just the appointment scheduling process, but the entire PO to dock door delivery cycle — and DAS is part of that cycle. For example, the retailer was able to see the relationship of dock appointment to the rest of the PO milestones and determined new ways to reduce order cycle time.
  • The retailer needed a supply chain-wide as opposed to a DC-centric DAS solution. Integration with the warehouse solution was critical to manage the docks and unloading resources. However, the greater value to the retailer was to provide PO visibility to organizations that drive the flow of goods across the inbound supply chain network. In addition, the DAS performance and order visibility is shared with suppliers and carriers, so all three parties can see the impact of changes as they occur.
  • The DAS solution needed to manage the flow of all inbound goods through the network. In this case, a large percentage of the inbound goods are delivered through supplier-managed freight. Transportation management solutions only control goods that operate on retailer-managed freight which is just part of the inbound flow. In addition, this retailer had a lot of goods coming in via LTL carriers and did not control the pre-consolidation happening in the LTL network.

Dock appointment scheduling is a powerful concept that can go beyond controlling traffic into distribution centers. When dock appointment scheduling information is integrated and shared with the rest of the inbound supply chain, its benefits can be more fundamental and impactful.

Chris Jones is the Executive Vice President for Marketing and Services at Descartes. He has over 20 years of experience in the supply chain market, holding variety of senior management positions including: Senior Vice President at The Aberdeen Group’s Value Chain Research division, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Development for SynQuest and Vice President and Research Director for Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions at The Gartner Group.