Despite industry professionals talking about it for 20+ years, many companies still don’t have real supply chain visibility beyond a rudimentary level. So how can we achieve this? What business processes will it impact? How can we convert greater visibility into sustainable business value, especially in light of today’s increasing transportation costs and more demanding customer expectations? To get insights on these questions and more, I spoke with JP Wiggins, Co-Founder and Vice President of Logistics at 3Gtms, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.
Visibility Isn’t a Smartphone App
If you can track an Uber driver or an Amazon package delivery on your smartphone, why can’t supply chain visibility be just as easy? The simple answer is that B2B shipments are orders of magnitude more complex.
“When you think about it, a parcel shipment from Amazon is a controlled process and involves a single mode,” said JP. “But in the B2B world, visibility is much more of an overall supply chain management problem. I have to know where the order is in the order management process; where it is in the warehousing process; where it is in the physical transport process. Also, the order may have multiple line items covering multiple shipments. Maybe there is a third-party logistics provider (3PL) or dropship vendor involved. Perhaps it requires multiple carriers and modes of transportation. B2B visibility is a much more complex process.”
TMS as Single Source of Truth
JP points out that we’re not starting from scratch on supply chain visibility. Today’s systems — order management, warehouse management, financial management, carrier tracking, etc. — have excellent visibility within their area of operations. What’s needed is the ability to pull all of that information together to connect the dots for total visibility. JP says, “Today’s tier one transportation management systems have the ability to pull data from many sources into a single view. These integrations with internal and external sources are much simpler and more cost-effective than previous attempts at systems integration. You need to meet the data where it’s at. You can’t have long, complex integration projects [which was the norm in the past]. Most importantly, you have to have good workflow and systematically respond to problems and exceptions as they occur because in today’s environment, exceptions are the norm.”
Workflows to Automate Exception Management
JP went on to discuss that the focus is on automating the knowledge transportation analysts have developed through experience. If this happens, do A, B and C. If that happens, do X, Y and Z. By building unique workflows to handle common exceptions, analysts are freed up to address the more challenging and inevitable new exceptions. What kicks off these workflows is the data captured through supply chain visibility.
JP notes that this visibility is a must in the food industry, especially with legal requirements in cold chain monitoring and chain of custody tracking. He also says many 3PLs are now using this extended visibility as a competitive differentiator. “This was something they couldn’t afford in the past with expensive and complex control tower integrations for each customer. Now, through simple TMS integrations, they can offer these capabilities to their customers. Because if they don’t, their competitors will.”
JP offered many other insights and examples of how companies can drive value from supply chain and transportation visibility. He also talked about what companies should look for in a visibility solution. (Hint: it’s a lot more than just “Where is my shipment?”) As usual, I don’t have the time or space here to detail all of JP’s insights and advice, so I encourage you to watch the full episode, then post a question or comment and keep the conversation going!