Order Orchestration: Enabling Agility in the Supply Chain

There is a lot written about the importance of having an “agile” supply chain, especially in the context of disruptions such as the pandemic or the Suez Canal incident. But what does having an agile supply chain really mean? How does it fit into an order orchestration strategy? And what actions should companies take now to create an agile supply chain to handle the next disruption? Those are some of the key questions I discussed with Glenn Jones, VP Product Strategy & Marketing at Blume Global, during a recent episode of Talking Logistics.  

Order Orchestration

I began our discussion by asking Glenn to define order orchestration for those who might not be familiar with this term. Glenn describes it as, “Organizing what needs to happen in order to fulfill an order. There are many types of orders, but for us, this means organizing what needs to happen to fulfill a transportation order.”

Glenn explains that transportation orders can be for anything from simple point-to-point full truckloads to the more complex multi-modal, multi-leg shipments involving ocean, air or rail. “These are complex orders that need orchestration,” says Glenn.

Factoring in Disruptions

While orchestrating multi-modal, multi-leg shipments has always been complex, all of the disruptions that occur in today’s supply chains make it even more so. Glenn notes that while the objective has traditionally been to orchestrate for the most efficient way to get goods to their destination, the fact that many of these shipments may take 30-45 days opens them to potential demand changes and disruptions enroute. 

“Although the emphasis has always been on efficiency, now agility is so important,” says Glenn. He gives the example of hammers made in China already enroute for Indianapolis may need to be rerouted instead to the location of a recent hurricane. “What happened during the pandemic really drove this need for agility much higher.”

Linking Agility and Orchestration

I asked Glenn how orchestration and the need for agility are linked. Watch the clip below for his response: 

Agility as a Competitive Differentiator 

Because changes and disruptions are a given in today’s supply chains, logistics providers can no longer compete just on price. I asked Glenn how supply chain agility can be a competitive differentiator. Glenn states that it’s all about being able to make changes dynamically. He paraphrases Mike Tyson as saying, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Glenn goes on to explain that handling disruptions and changes to plans is more than knowing who to call. In today’s fast-moving environment, the leaders have that orchestration automated as much as possible. “Whether that’s cancelling the original plan or finding new capacity, the leaders can do that dynamically. Many freight forwarders and even ocean and rail carriers are offering extended services now to help make changes dynamically. The laggards are not able to reroute and offer these new orchestrations on-the-fly.”

Glenn also points out that all of the stakeholders in this process, not just the shippers, have to be part of the digital transformation process in order to complete this dynamic orchestration. That’s why this capability has become part of the selection process. 

Creating Agile Orchestration

So, how can companies create agile orchestration disciplines and use them for competitive differentiation? Glenn states that the key technology is the Control Tower. “All of the data that you need for agile orchestration is out there in the world. You just need to collect and digest the data to understand what matters and make recommendations on what to do about it. You need to know what the options are and what they’re going to cost. Being able to do that on-the-fly is very important.”

Glenn had many more comments on how to use agile orchestration to create competitive advantage, as well as some helpful insights on how agile orchestration can support sustainability initiatives. Therefore, I encourage you to watch the full episode for all of his insights and advice. Then post a comment and keep the discussion going with your own thoughts and experiences.